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Circuit Training: Time Efficient Fitness
By: Matt Pitcher

If you're like me, you don't have the time to spend hours and hours in the gym everyday to get in a great workout. However, we DO want to make sure we're doing everything we can to be as healthy and strong and fit as possible -- only without it TAKING OVER OUR LIVES. So, wouldn't it be great if there was a program we could follow that would allow us to get in all the cardio, resistance training, stretching, etc. we need in just one 20-60 minute full body workout a few times a week?

There is! It's called circuit training, and my clients and I have found it to be one of the most fitness effective and time efficient exercise programs in existence. Circuit training is an ideal type of fitness program for those of us who want to improve our general fitness levels in the most time efficient manner possible. It's also a quite flexible type of program because you can do it virtually anywhere.

The International Sports Sciences Association defines circuit training as "a series of exercises, performed one after the other, with little rest between". The major goal of circuit training is to gradually decrease your rest periods in-between exercises over time. That way, not only are you getting the benefit of the specific exercise you're performing at any given time, you're also getting cardiovascular benefits as a by-product of the routine. You can either group a few exercises together in one 'circuit', create multiple circuits, or perform your entire workout as one giant circuit.

Next, I'll give you an example of a specific circuit training routine along with some guidelines you can use to change them up over time so your workouts don't ever get 'stale' or boring.

As mentioned before, circuit training can be totally customized, which means there are an unlimited number of different ways you can structure your circuit training routine.

Types of Circuit Training
However, here are a few examples to give you some idea of the different types available.

Timed Circuit

This type of circuit involves working to a set time period for both rest and exercise intervals. For example, a typical timed circuit might involve 30 seconds of exercise and 30 seconds of rest in between each exercise.

Competition Circuit

This is similar to a timed circuit but you push yourself to see how many repetitions you can do in the set time period. For example, you may be able to complete 12 push-ups in 30 seconds. The idea is to keep the time period the same, but try to increase the number of repetitions you can do in the set time period.

Sport Specific or Running Circuit

This type of circuit is best done outside or in a large, open area. Choose exercises that are specific to your particular sport, or emphasize an aspect of your sport you'd like to improve. Then instead of simply resting between exercises, run easy for 200 or 400 meters. You can even use sprints or fast 400 meter runs as part of your choice of exercises.

Tweaking Your Circuit Training Routine Over Time
So, based on the TYPE of circuit training you're using, you can "tweak" the workout in several ways by changing up the following key program variables:

Rest Times

Decrease the amount of rest time between exercises over time. For example, rest 30 seconds between each exercise for 2 weeks, then cut the rest time down to 20 seconds for the next 2 weeks, then 15 seconds. You can also intervalize your rest periods. For example, rest 30 seconds between leg exercises and then 15 seconds between upper body exercises or vice versa. You can also challenge yourself to change the time it takes to do each workout. So, perhaps you start with a 60 minute workout and you work your way into making the same exact workout into a 40 minute routine over the course of several months.

Amounts of Resistance/Repetitions

You can change up the amount of resistance and number of repititions also. For example, one week you might lift heavier weights in a lower rep range (say, from 8-12 reps per exercise). Then, the next week you might lift lighter weights in a higher rep range (say, from 10-15). Or, do 8-12 reps with heavier weights for some exercises and 10-15 reps with lighter weights for others in the same workout. Then, you can reverse it the next workout.

Order of Exercises

You can change up the order of exercise you perform from week to week as well. For example, on weeks 1-2, you start with lower body exercises. Then, on weeks 3-4, you start with upper body exercises. Or, one week you start with ab exercises and the next week you end with them.

Equipment

You can also replace out equipment for the exact same bodyparts. For example, you can switch out free weights for machines (i.e. do flat bench dumbbell presses for a few weeks and then use a seated chest press machine for the next few weeks). Or, you can switch out compound joint movements (both joints working at once) for single joint movements (one joint working at a time). For example, do camber bar bicep curls for a few weeks and then seated alternating arm dumbbell curls the next few weeks.

Tempo

Another fun way to change up your circuit training routine is change the tempo by which you perform an exercise. For example, one week you can perform each repitition super slow and the next week you can perform each repitition relatively quickly. I like using the tempo counting method to determine exact tempo speeds. For example, a 3:1:3:1 tempo for a flat bench dumbbell press would look like this: take 3 seconds to lower the weight, hold for 1 second at the bottom, take 3 seconds to push it up, and then hold for 1 second at the top before lowering it again. So, you could do a 3:1:3:1 tempo for a few weeks followed by a 2:2:2:2 tempo the next few weeks. Or, use different tempos for different exercises within the same workout and then reverse the tempos the next workout.

Circuiting the Circuit

You can even create mini-circuits within a circuit training routine. One good way to do this is to group exercises for complimentary bodyparts together into their own circuit. For example, group all your chest, shoulders, and triceps exercises together in one circuit by resting 15 seconds between those exercises. Then, once you're done with them, take a 60-90 second break and go into another circuit for another group of complimentary bodyparts (back and biceps for example).

There are literally hundreds of ways you can tweak a circuit training program to keep it constantly fresh and challenging. And, as the above suggests, you don't even have to make huge changes to get great benefits and results.

Word of Caution
Circuit training can be very demanding on the body. Before you start a circuit training routine, be honest with yourself about your current level of conditioning and keep that in mind when designing your program. Start slow and gradually increase the intensity over time as your conditioning improves.

Conclusion
So, if you need a program that is easy to update and keep fresh yourself and/or if you are finding it hard to fit in your workouts into your busy schedule, I highly recommend trying circuit training. It can certainly be a fun, challenging, beneficial, and time efficient way to meet your fitness goals.

About the Author

Matt is a certified fitness trainer through the International Sports Sciences Association, author of numerous health and fitness related articles, an entrepreneur, investor, and co-founder of the Internet's biggest search engine and directory of fitness related websites, articles, and news stories: DeepFitness.com.


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The Power of Stretching    - Dave Snape

 

Your muscles ache from a good stretch. This is quite
normal and is part of the process. Stretching has
seemingly been with us and particularly with athletes
since the beginning of time.

A very key point to good stretching is to hold the
stretch for at least seventeen seconds. This is a
pearl of wisdom gleaned from a ballet teacher a few
years back. She said that any stretch under 17
seconds was just not effective.

The 17 second rule is exceeded in the high intensity
Bikram's yoga where stretches are held for about 30
seconds. Don't forget the high level of heat that is
used in Bikram's to extract that last little bit of
stretch out of your muscles. An interesting twist that
is not necessary to gain benefits from stretching. But,
it can't hurt, right?

So what kind of benefits can you expect from
stretching? That's an easy one. Have you ever seen the
movie, Blood Sport? Did you know that Frank Dux could
truly stretch his body to the extreme. The actor that
played him was quite elastic as well.


Great elasticity is also something you might see in
well trained Spetsnaz (Russian) agents. They often work
out with Russian kettlebells too. They are for superior
strength gains and the ability to withstand ballistic
shocks.

Why are stretching and flexibility considered important
to these people? Stretching gives one the ability to
have explosive power available at one's fingertips
without the need to warm up. Of course most of us are
not martial artists or agents. But, you'll be happy to
know there are plenty of other benefits.

Let me give you an example. After learning to sit in
the full lotus position for long periods of time, my
ankles became very flexible. One day I was walking
along and my left foot fell into a pothole. This mishap
pushed my ankle sideways to about 90 degrees from it's
normal position.

Amazingly, this didn't even hurt, not one bit. If my
ankle hadn't been so flexible, I may have suffered a
sprained ankle. At the very least, it would have hurt
for days.

Key point: stretching helps you to avoid injuries.
Not only that but if you do have a muscle, tendon or
ligament injury it should heal faster, theoretically
speaking.

Stretching actually grows the ligaments, tendons and
muscles being stretched. They really grow longer over
time.

Check with your physician before undertaking any type
of exercise, including stretching.

Here is some good instructional material on stretching:
http://tinyurl.com/6c6kq
 

Dave Snape

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