Sample Class: Circuit Progressions

Add specific challenges to help participants get stronger.

By Melissa Weigelt
Sep 23, 2015

To achieve results, your participants need to be challenged in new ways. If your strength training classes are circuit-style and you want to up the ante, try adding strategic progressions. This workout, a traditional circuit format, cycles through several exercises with minimal rest. The key is to challenge participants by adjusting a variable during each cycle. With this approach, they enjoy the familiarity of the sequences, as well as fun surprises.

Circuit Progressions Details

Goal/Emphasis: muscular strength and endurance, emphasizing compound movements for a more functional approach

Time: 60 minutes

Equipment: steps, dumbbells

Music: 125–130 beats per minute

Additional notes:

  • In each circuit, perform the four exercises for 1 minute each, allowing 15 seconds to transition between moves.
  • Rest for 1 minute after each circuit.
  • After the first circuit, adjust the following variables:
    – Circuit Two: Add a balance challenge.
    – Circuit Three: Increase range of motion or add power.
    – Circuit Four: Add movement in an additional plane of motion.
  • Preview exercises before class. There is little rest between moves and, therefore, limited time for demonstration during class.

Warm-Up (7 minutes)

Do 8 reps of the following exercises, 3x:

  • step-touch side to side
  • alternating knee lift
  • alternating traveling squat
  • alternating rear lunge
  • modified burpee (step back to plank)
  • push-up on knees

Work Phase (48 minutes)


General tips for alignment and safety:

  • Cue abdominal bracing to stabilize spine during squats, lunges and plank exercises.
  • Encourage participants to take advantage of modifications as needed.
  • Encourage students to maintain neutral neck position during planks and push-ups.


Circuit One: Simple Option

  • Squat, holding dumbbells. Prog-ression: Use heavier resistance. Regression: Use no weights.
  • Incline push-up, hands on step. Progression: Use lower step for more challenge. Regression: Do push-up from knees.
  • Quadruped row, alternating sides. Progression: Bring knees closer together for narrower base of support. Regression: Use wider knee position.
  • Alternating front lunge, holding dumbbells. Progression: Increase range of motion. Regression: Decrease range of motion.


Circuit Two: Balance Challenge

  • Squat, holding dumbbells. Rise to toes while standing. Progression: Squat while holding weights overhead. Regression: Use no weights.
  • Incline push-up, hands on step, with alternating hip extension (lift one leg with each repetition). Progression: Use lower step for more challenge. Regression: Do push-up without hip extension or with knees on floor.
  • Plank row, hands on weights (alternating row from plank position). Progression: Bring feet closer together for narrower base of support. Regression: Use wider foot position or move to quadruped.
  • Alternating front lunge with knee balance, holding dumbbells. Do two lunges right, lifting R knee to single-leg stance in between; repeat left. Progression: Add resistance. Regression: Tap foot on floor instead of balancing between reps.


Circuit Three: Increase Range of Motion/Add Power

  • Squat, holding one weight. Swing weight overhead on standing. Progression: Add toe raise. Regression: Use no weights.
  • Incline push-up, hands on step, with plyometric push at top. Progression: Increase tempo. Regression: Eliminate power or reduce tempo.
  • Plank row, hands on dumbbells, alternating sides, with frog hop in between (hop feet forward to end in deep squat, feet outside hands, and hop back to plank). Progression: Add two frog hops between rows. Regression: Eliminate frog hop.
  • Alternating front lunge, with plyometric lunge switch in between (step R foot forward to lunge, then hop to switch feet twice, step back to start position, then repeat L). Progression: Increase tempo. Regression: Eliminate plyometric lunge switch.


Circuit Four: Add Movement and Planes

  • Squat, holding one dumbbell. Circle weight overhead in frontal plane, alternating direction with each rep. Progression: Increase tempo. Regression: Use no weight.
  • Incline push-up, hands on step, with side plank after each push-up, alternating sides. Progression: use narrower foot position. Regression: use wider foot position.
  • Plank row, hands on dumbbells, with rotation, alternating sides. Progression: Bring feet closer together for narrower base of support. Regression: Use wider foot position.
  • Alternating front lunge, holding one dumbbell, with chop. Progression: Increase range of motion. Regression: Decrease range of motion.


Repeat the entire 24-minute sequence.

Cool-Down (5 minutes)

Hold each of the following stretches for 30 seconds each:

  • standing quadruped (switch sides)
  • standing pigeon, crossing R ankle over L thigh in semi-squat (repeat L)
  • standing forward fold (hamstrings)
  • chest expansion
  • side bend with arms overhead (alternate)
  • overhead triceps stretch (alternate).
Melissa Weigelt

Melissa Weigelt

I am owner of Flow Fitness Training and provide continuing education for fitness instructors, specializing in sculpting, stability training, functional fitness, and step. I have been teaching fitness for 20 years and love helping my students to be fit and healthy,. I also truly enjoy sharing my knowledge with other fitness professionals.

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