Circuit training has been around for some time now, but today’s classes are still revolving and evolving. In fact, 66 percent of respondents to this year’s IDEA Fitness Programs and Equipment Survey report offering some type of circuit class in their facilities (October 2003 IDEA Fitness Manager). To keep members in the loop, instructors and trainers are putting a new spin on their circuit classes.
A Wider Circle of Clients
“Circuit classes continue to be one of the best ways to reach a diverse membership base,” says Jay Blahnik, owner of Body Dynamics in Laguna Beach, California. “Beginners love circuits because they don’t have to be expert at any one particular move or exercise. And advanced folks love [these kinds of classes] because they are a sure-fire way to get a great workout. When you aren’t sure what kind of class to add to your programming schedule, a circuit class is a dependable way to meet your members’ needs.”
Just a few miles inland from Blahnik, Aileen Sheron has been teaching circuit classes for more than 12 years and is constantly developing new formats at the Sports Club/Irvine and Crunch Fitness in Mission Viejo. “I keep my classes current and innovative by changing the exercises [performed] at the stations and by incorporating the latest fitness equipment,” she says.
Sheron changed the format of her original circuit classes by reducing the number of stations in each class and minimizing the number of times students move from one station to another. “A disadvantage to the standard circuit format was the time lost in rotating stations and setting up with new equipment,” she explains. “My students now have several pieces of equipment at each station so they can move from one exercise to the next with little or no downtime.”
At POW!, a mixed martial arts and fitness facility in Chicago, Katalin Zamiar has also tweaked her original circuit formula to suit her current crop of clients. She says the difference between her old and new
circuit classes is “in the formatting and the equipment used.” For example, Zamiar currently offers a circuit class called “Freemotion and Boxing,” which expands on a traditional circuit model by combining sport-specific and core strength drills with professional boxing combos and drills.
The Business Sphere
Some fitness professionals have had such resounding success with their circuit programs that they are now spinning off new business ventures.
“I am currently building a new 250-square-foot circuit studio, large enough to hold nine stations,” reports Robert Sherman, owner of F.I.T. Inc. in Bethesda, Maryland. “I noticed how popular my circuit classes had become and thought a permanent circuit [studio] would be a perfect new and creative business option. This will be a win-win situation for everyone: more focused training for my clients and an additional revenue stream for the business.”
Sherman says the new studio will fill a need for clients who can’t devote a full hour to circuit training. “The goal is to provide efficient total fitness training in only 30 minutes, with the attention you’d expect in a personal training session. The circuit will be creative, diverse and intense.”
Sherman plans to have a personal trainer in his circuit studio at all times to guide, motivate and educate students. He has purchased multifunctional equipment so that each station can be readily changed for anything from “sport-specific circuit workouts to functional balance to periodized strength training protocols.”
Sherman is optimistic that having a studio dedicated to circuit training will be a boon to his business by attracting a more diversified clientele. “The studio will allow me to specifically train any group or individual,” he predicts. “Simply put, it will provide more focused training in less time.”
Time is of the essence for clients at FitLife in Fairport, New York. That’s why program director Carol Murphy offers a 45-minute circuit workout called “Total Body Conditioning,” which she says “appeals to busy clients and is less intimidating to newcomers” than an hourlong session would be.
In the coming months she plans to introduce a 30-minute circuit formula called “FitQuick” to attract the sedentary population. “The new format will be a simple, user-friendly, instructor-led circuit. We will offer 12 strength stations and four cardio stations, and then we’ll vary the circuit. Participants will spend 1 minute at each strength station and 3 minutes at each cardio station. We will teach three sets of eight to 20 reps for each major muscle group.”
Murphy sometimes adds sport-specific moves to her existing classes to ready weekend warriors. The moves depend on the season. “For example, 6 to 8 weeks before the first snowfall, I’ll integrate ski conditioning into our regular circuit class.”
Murphy also uses circuit training as a revenue stream for her personal training program, especially for athletes training for a specific sport, such as basketball, skiing, golf and tennis.
At the Institute of Human Performance in Boca Raton, Florida, director Juan Carlos Santana offers circuit training as a profitable adjunct to sports conditioning. His FITMOVES™ circuit class features functional training for all sports. “It has it all,” says Santana, “—strength, stability, agility, cardio, power and balance. All sports are based on the body’s ability to move with control. We train the body; the sport takes care of itself.”
In addition to the variety of equipment seen in today’s circuit classes, fitness professionals are adding a musical element to the newer formats.
In her martial arts circuit classes, Zamiar prefers to use “a lot of rock and roll.” Santana is also a proponent of rock music and other kinds of “high-energy” tunes in his circuit classes.
“Music is an essential part of every class I teach,” says Sheron. “I don’t use a specially timed tape or CD for my circuit classes, but rather alternate between regular ‘aerobics’ music and other individual songs. I find that throwing in a different style of music every couple of songs helps pick up the overall energy in the class.”
Murphy also uses music as a motivator in her circuit training. “We use fresh and motivating music that ranges from 128 to 135 beats per minute,” she says. “Music adds energy, builds excitement and helps pace the class.”
In the past, most circuit classes offered a limited inventory of equipment—items like steps, slides, bands/tubing and hand weights. Nowadays, circuit classes feature a wide array of innovative equipment and props, including the following:
- balance/wobble boards
- body bars
- core boards
- hula hoops
- jump ropes
- kickboxing equipment
- medicine and stability balls
- When setting up stations, consider the size and space of the room and the proper flow for the workout; watch out for any physical obstructions.
- Match the difficulty of each movement to the anticipated level of students; be sure to include simple modifications for each exercise. Avoid high-risk exercises in a group setting.
- For sports conditioning, mix multidirectional movement patterns with cardio conditioning, strength training and Pilates moves in a circuit format.
- Consider using music and the latest equipment/props (e.g., BOSU, core boards, etc.) to motivate students as they move from station to station.
- At the beginning of class, demonstrate the exercises at each station so that students observe proper form and technique.
- Post simple instructions or diagrams at all stations to show which exercises are done where.
- Ask experienced circuit students to partner with those who are new to the format.
- During class, control the speed of reps, rest intervals, cardio elements and transitions; it’s easy to lose momentum if the students lose focus, especially in the transitions from station to station.
- Give students latitude to interact at the stations (this format engenders lots of conversation!), but make sure everyone can hear instructions over the din so that safety isn’t compromised.
- Float from station to station during class to correct improper form and offer advice and encouragement.
- Constantly monitor students’ exertion and fatigue levels.
- Throughout class, encourage students to listen to their bodies and rest when needed.
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