Advantages & Disadvantages of Circuit Training

Side view of woman lifting dumbbells

Circuit training provides many fitness benefits while failing to target others. For that reason, you should consider your fitness goals when deciding between exercise routines. For example, expecting large strength gains from a weightlifting circuit will result in disappointment. Understanding circuit training with regard to strength, endurance, cardiovascular effects and time requirements will help you design an efficient program. Always consult a health professional before beginning an exercise routine.

Circuit Training Defined

Various forms of circuit training exist. Vivian H. Heyward, author of “Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription,” defines circuit training as cycling through 10 to 15 exercise stations -- utilizing loads of 40 to 55 percent maximal ability -- for two or three cycles. Generally, participants rest for 15 to 20 seconds between stations and up to 2 minutes between cycles. For best results, Heyward advises circuit training on three nonconsecutive days per week for a minimum of six weeks.

Strength Outcomes

Circuit training falls short of traditional strength training in multiple ways, as noted by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. For instance, strength training requires loads greater than 75 percent of your maximal ability to fully activate large percentages of muscle fibers. In addition, heavier loads require 1 to 2 minutes of rest between repetitions for complete muscle recovery. Therefore, if your goal is maximal strength gains, you should not choose circuit training as your fitness routine.

Muscular Endurance Adaptations

Muscle endurance regulates your ability to repeat a specific-intensity muscle action over time. For example, improved muscular endurance enhances your ability to walk uphill, perform more weightlifting repetitions with a given load and carry more groceries for longer distances. The brevity of rest periods associated with circuit training causes your muscles to maintain activity during fatigue. According to Heyward, circuit training increases your muscular fatigue threshold, enabling you to work longer before feeling tired.

Cardiovascular Impact

Although traditional circuits employ only resistance training, you may incorporate cardio stations. According to Heyward, super-circuit resistance training occurs when you replace rest periods with 1 to 3 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as cycling, jogging or stair climbing. Super-circuit resistance training enhances aerobic capacity by up to 5 percent, while non-circuit aerobic training may cause aerobic capacity improvements of 15 to 25 percent, says Heyward. Aerobic capacity refers to your ability to reach and sustain a given heart rate during exercise.

Time Commitment

Circuit training provides a full-body workout in fewer than 60 minutes. Therefore, individuals with limited time benefit from a circuit training routine. Furthermore, circuits promote general fitness by addressing both muscular strength and endurance in one session. However, those desiring optimal endurance or strength gains should choose programs catering more specifically to those goals.