Different military services, ranging from the U.S. Army Rangers to the British Royal Marines, use circuit training as an efficient way to improve both strength and cardiovascular fitness. A circuit’s menu of exercises can be tailored to accommodate the combat-specific needs of the service. For example, the Army Rangers use circuits to build endurance for long treks on the ground in which they have to carry heavy packs.
Circuit training enables military personnel to gain functional strength and endurance without adding excess bulk, which can hinder mobility on the battlefield. Because circuit training typically combines resistance training and a cardiovascular workout, soldiers can build the endurance required for prolonged warfare. Circuits are also time efficient and can be performed nearly anywhere. For example, you can perform a bodyweight circuit with no equipment on the deck of a ship. Depending on the type of circuit, you can also improve explosive power and flexibility. In general, perform circuits at 75 to 80 percent of your maximum effort for at least 30 minutes to achieve military fitness.
Preparing for the Army
Individuals aiming to join the military perform strength-training circuits that condition all of the major muscle groups. A total-body circuit that prepares potential candidates for the U.S. Army can be performed with kettlebells and a pull-up bar. The 10 exercises include a sumo squats, deadlifts, forward lunges, step-ups, pull-ups, chest presses, bent-over rows, overhead presses, supine body twists and hanging leg tucks. While pull-ups and hanging leg tucks require only your body weight, all of the other exercises can be done with kettlebells of various weights. For example, use one 50-lb kettlebell for a sumo squat and two 20-lb kettlebells for bent-over rows. Rotate through all 10 exercises, spending 60 seconds on each exercise. Aim to complete three circuits, taking an active rest between exercises as well as circuits.
Types of Circuits
Various military services rely on different types of circuits to train their members, ranging from color circuits used by Britain’s Royal Marine Commandos to pyramid circuits designed by U.S. Navy Seals. To work the upper and lower body as well as core, the Royal Marines’ general circuit consists of 10 reps of the following exercises: bench presses, crunches, lunges, military presses, deadlifts and squats. For the lifts, the load is determined by the heaviest weight you can lift for 10 reps. The Marines perform the circuit three times, taking a 30- to 60-second rest interval between exercises. Color circuits involve assigning a color to an exercise station, which signals the level of difficulty of the exercise and the number of required reps. Individuals with different levels of ability can progress through a color circuit by gradually taking on the more challenging exercises as they grow stronger.
Endurance for Rangers
Compared to other elite forces in the U.S. Army, the Army Rangers require greater endurance to infiltrate deep into enemy terrain, according to P. North Fitness. (Reference 2) Their circuit training helps Rangers perform lengthy pack marches. For example, a lower-body circuit consists of a one-mile run at a 6- to 8-minute pace, five reps of a deadlift, five reps of a weighted glute-hamstring raise, and 10 reps of lunge with weights. Rangers repeat this circuit five times, resting for only one to two minutes between circuits.
Explore In Depth
- U.S. Army Physical Readiness Training Information: Strength Training Circuit
- P. North Fitness: Military Circuit Training: Types and Workouts
- Military.com: Creating a Circuit Training Routine
- McPherron AC, Guo T, Bond ND, Gavrilova O. Increasing muscle mass to improve metabolism. Adipocyte. 2013;2(2):92-98. doi:10.4161/adip.22500
- Sperlich B, Wallmann-Sperlich B, Zinner C, Von Stauffenberg V, Losert H, Holmberg HC. Functional High-Intensity Circuit Training Improves Body Composition, Peak Oxygen Uptake, Strength, and Alters Certain Dimensions of Quality of Life in Overweight Women. Front Physiol. 2017;8:172. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.00172
- Edwards M. Planes of motion explained. American Council on Exercise. Updated August 1, 2017.
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.