Are you looking for a circuit workout that exercises to tone all major muscle groups, a good dose of cardio, and is completely customizable? Here’s one of my favorites that does all 3 of these, and that you can personalize in infinite ways.
A lot of workouts have a focus – maybe it’s an upper body workout, a leg workout, or straight-up cardio like running or biking. For me, I run on certain days, do an upper body workout on Tuesday and a lower body one on Thursday. But Friday? Those are circuit days, when my aim is to do a variety of moves, work all muscle groups, and get my heartrate going. Plus, circuit workouts can be fun and different vs body-part-or-cardio-heavy ones. So, are you ready to try something new at home or in the gym? Welcome to my Friday Circuit.
3 Essentials for a Full-Body Circuit Workout
two three aims to this circuit workout:
- Engage major muscle groups for strength, stability, and flexibility. We’re talking pullups, lat pulldowns, rows for upper body; various abdominal exercises; and burpees, squats, or lunges for lower body.
- Work hard enough to improve or maintain cardiovascular fitness. This includes running or walking, jump rope, stationary bike, rowing – whatever you have access to.
- Flexibility – in time and difficulty. We’re talking 10 – 50 minutes and lots of exercise variations.
Basic Circuit Instructions (only two steps!):
- Complete one circuit of 4 exercises (cardio, upper body, core, and lower body) in a row.
- If you wish, repeat the circuit 1 – 5 times (or more, if you have the time) for a total of 1 to 6 times through.
For reference, one circuit (one set of each of 4 exercises) takes me about 8 minutes, and if I stay focused, I can do six times through in under 50 minutes.
ONE: Engage Major Muscle Groups: Upper Body, Core, and Lower Body
The default upper body exercise in this circuit is the pull-up or chin-up. If the pull-up is not accessible to you, here are a list of alternatives that will work similar muscle groups, from easiest to most difficult:
- Bicep curls (here’s a cool video on how to do them without weights)
- Single arm rows with dumbbells
- Band-assisted pull-ups
Note that these are all suggestions, and this is in no way an exhaustive list (so many bicep and back-centric exercises)!
Maybe the thought of doing sit-ups gives you trauma-inducing flashbacks to 6th grade gym class. I know it does for me, so I like to do a different core exercise for each set, and none of them are straight sit-ups (thank goodness!). Here are the ones that work best for me, meaning I get my abs worked and don’t hurt my lower back:
- Russian Twists
- Oblique V-ups (I do one side each set)
- Bicycle crunches (bent or straight legs)
- Straight Leg Toe Touch (Floor Toe Reach)
- Alternating Side Plank Hip Dips
- Flutter or Scissor Kicks
- Knee Tuck on Exercise Ball
Feel free to do the same core exercise each time through the circuit, or change it up every time – remember, flexibility is key!
The default upper body exercise in this circuit is the burpee. We all love to hate burpees, but they are excellent for all four of upper body, core, leg, and cardio fitness. If burpees are not accessible to you, here are a list of alternatives that will work similar muscle groups, from easiest to most difficult:
- Body Weight Squats
- No-impact Burpees (or variations)
- Sumo Squats (or jumping sumo squats)
- Single-leg split squats
- Jump Squats
- Jumping Lunges
Note that these are all suggestions – I usually just alternate between regular and side burpees.
TWO: Build Cardiovascular Fitness
My cardio in this circuit is almost 100% running, meaning I run for 5 minutes for each time I go through the circuit. If you hate or don’t run, here are some alternatives:
- March in place
- Jumping rope
- Cycling (stationary or ride your bike around the block)
- Jumping jacks
- Jog in place
- High knees (admittedly, 5 minutes of these sounds like hell – start with 30 seconds)
Note that you don’t have to do 5 minutes of cardio. If you don’t have the time or equipment, do as little as 1 minute and move on. Increase the duration as you have more stamina (and time!).
THREE: Customize – Choose your time, choose your difficulty level
One time through the circuit (assuming 5 minutes of cardio) will take 8 – 10 minutes. So, if you have 10 minutes, you can do this workout.
Increase the duration by adding repetitions of the circuit.
Speed workout/Beginner: 1 – 2 repetitions (10 – 20 minutes)
Half-hour/Intermediate: 3 – 4 repetitions (25 – 35 minutes)
Under an hour/Advanced: 5 – 6 repetitions (40 – 55 minutes)
Make it easier:
Select more accessible exercise variations from the lists above to suit your fitness and skill level.
Decrease the number of reps or cardio time:
- If 15 repetitions is too much, no problem – decrease the number until you feel like you are stretching (but not hurting) yourself.
- Instead of 5 minutes of jogging or jumping rope, try anywhere between 30 seconds and 4 minutes.
Example “beginner” circuit would take 5 – 7 minutes and look like this:
- 1 minute walk or march in place
- Bicep curls (6 – 10)
- Body weight squats (6 – 10)
- Crunches (6 – 15)
- 60 second rest between sets
Make it harder:
Choose the most difficult exercises for each set.
Do the maximum number of reps for each set.
Example “advanced” circuit would take about 8 minutes and look like this:
- 5 minutes of running at a challenging pace
- Unassisted pull ups – Do as many as possible, rest for three breaths, then try another set, adding a 10 second negative on the last rep
- 15 burpees with a high jump at the end
- 15 reps of knee tucks on stability ball
- No rest – start another circuit with 5 minutes of running
Ready for a circuit workout that works for YOU?
To recap, here’s what we’ve discussed:
1. How circuit training can break up the monotony of body part or cardio-focused workouts, be kind of fun, and work multiple muscle groups.
2. Different exercise variations for any fitness and skill level for each of upper body, core, lower body, and cardio sets.
3. How to easily scale up or down the time and intensity of this Friday Circuit workout.
Now you know how to create your own circuit workout, using this one as a guide – simply modify the exercises and times to your preference. This is a full-body, equipment-optional workout that can be done in as little as 10 minutes and suits almost any fitness level. I hope this workout and its many variations are helpful to you on your own health journey!
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