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Sample Class: High-Intensity Circuits

High-intensity, short-duration circuit training is a type of metabolic training that breaks the mold of traditional group exercise. You can use this circuit format with recreational exercisers—to jumpstart their routines—or intensify it to challenge your fittest participants and athletes with great success. Circuits consist of three to five compound exercises that challenge major upper- or lower-body muscle groups, as well as some type of cardiovascular interval for a complete workout. Structure the circuits using time or repetitions, and perform the exercises at an intensity level that creates a very high level of fatigue by the end of the circuit. Rest is self-selected.

Short Circuits Details

Format: high-intensity, short-duration circuit training
Total Time: approximately 60 minutes
Equipment Needed: Some circuits use no equipment, while others use a step and/or resistance tube.
Music: Music is optional. You can do the class boot camp–style with no music or use music as background. If you choose to perform the exercises in time to the music, you’ll need to adjust the music speed for each move. In general, exercises should be performed as quickly as possible while maintaining proper alignment and stabilization, as well as full range of motion.
Each circuit is designed as a stand-alone workout that takes 20-30 minutes. Combined with an extended warm-up, a cool-down, abdominal exercises and stretching, it can fill a 1-hour class.

Warm-Up (10–12 minutes)

Keep the warm-up simple and athletic, to match the style of the class. Use an extended format, and gradually increase intensity to prepare for high-intensity intervals. Here are some suggestions:

  • Jog in place, narrow and wide.
  • Alternate quarter squat and full squat with rotation (touch floor with right hand outside left foot and vice versa).
  • Do cross-jacks (perform regular jumping jacks, but cross feet when they come together).
  • Try high-knee jog in place, narrow and wide.
  • Perform plank with opposition lift (lift left hand and right foot, maintaining alignment, and switch).
  • Throw in some mountain climbers.

Sample Circuit #1

Perform each exercise at nearly maximal intensity for 30 seconds. Complete 10 rounds.

Lateral Jumps Over Tube. Place resistance tube on floor beside you in straight line. Jump side to side over tube. Advanced participants, perform tuck jump as if there was a hurdle (or use a step).

Tube Biceps With Front Raise. Standing on tube, perform three biceps curls and one front raise. Advanced participants, have both feet on tube and wider leg position or use stronger tube.

Balance Lunge With Hop, Right-Leg Lead. Standing on right (R) leg, perform single-leg lunge, reaching left (L) leg behind you, but not touching ground. Drop R hip as low as you can while maintaining joint alignment and balance. Swing L knee up and hop on R leg (swinging arms in opposition). Return to lunge position on same leg. Repeat with L-leg lead.

Sample Circuit #2

Perform 10 repetitions of each exercise. Finish 10 rounds as fast as you can.

Push-Ups. Do straight-leg or bent-knee push-ups. Advanced participants, lift one leg.

Burpees. Crouch down and touch hands to floor. Jump or step feet back into plank position. Jump or step feet back to hands. Stand up and jump.

Squat Jumps. Squat and touch both hands to floor, keeping back flat. Jump high in air, landing in squat position with hands on floor.

For other sample circuits and tips on designing cool-downs in circuit classes, please see “Sample Class: Short Circuits” in the online IDEA Library or in the January 2011 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

Eve Fleck, MS

Eve Fleck, MS, has a master's degree in exercise physiology and is the owner of Gym Without Walls in the Los Angeles area. She teaches exercise physiology at California State University, Northridge, and is a co-author of Growth and Development Across the Lifespan. Eve was a finalist for the 2018 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year.

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