By Mia and Ritch Finnegan

Do you make excuses for not working out consistently? Or, do you spend countless butt-numbing hours on the stationary bike only to achieve no results? Either way, there’s no excuse for not trying a workout that will help you tone your muscles, give you more energy and enable you lose fat all at the same time. This super-circuit training program is a great way to kill two birds with one stone – complete your strength training and cardio in one unit of time.

Circuit Training Defined

Circuit training is a term that’s used quite loosely. Many strength and conditioning coaches define traditional circuit training as a series of exercises performed one after another until all have been done to complete the “circuit.” Regardless of which exercises are performed (i.e., weights, medicine balls, calisthenics, sprints or jumps, etc.), the number of exercises performed, or the length of the rest intervals, it’s still a circuit. Some trainers view circuit training as only weight-training exercises and cardio intervals followed one after another. It really doesn’t matter if it’s called a “super” circuit or a “semi” circuit – it’s still an awesome way to get fit, fast.

For years, circuit training has been utilized in gyms as a way to achieve low-cost member service rather than for the tremendous benefits. Gyms all around the world have dedicated entire rooms to super-circuit training simply to increase revenue. By setting up this “assembly line,” which moves members in and out of the gym quickly, it allows clubs to sell more memberships without being crowded. Nautilus, for example, built its entire reputation on circuit training. Its 30-minute, one set per body part workout was incorporated to get the unfit working out (circa 1970). But circuit training is not just for the unfit or the beginner – it’s a workout that will kick your butt all the way to the barf bag if you’re not careful!

Getting Started

To get started on circuit training and not get too nauseous or too sore, simply use your normal exercise routine for the first few sessions. Turn it into a circuit by performing one set of each exercise, and then repeat the circuit. Once you feel like you’ve got the hang of it, move on up to this “super circuit” for fat loss by adding 30 seconds of cardio between exercises. When just starting out, keep your cardio segment to a moderate intensity.

The first step in any training program is to determine your goals, and in this case, we’re burning fat all the way. Setting realistic exercise and weight-loss goals are the keys to your long-term maintenance and success. Likewise, as with any exercise program, fat loss can be successfully accomplished as long as a balanced nutrition program accompanies it. If you have a ways to go, a reduced-calorie nutrition plan (less than you eat now) may be necessary to obtain desired results. 

Don’t Worship Tradition

As we’ve said, there are many aspects to circuit training. One is the order of exercises. You can work upper to lower, lower to upper, alternate upper and lower, etc. In this workout, we’ve chosen to train upper to lower, then we finish with abdominals. The high-intensity cardio intervals will involve jumping jacks, heavy bag boxing or speed jogging in place on the floor or on a mini-tramp.

We’ve chosen these particular cardio exercises because of time constraints and intensity concerns. While we like stationary biking and treadmill running, setting up the bike or getting the treadmill up to speed wastes too much precious time and lowers intensity. Our focus is maximum intensity in a short amount of time with fat burning in mind.  Combining all types of resistance exercises with 30-second high-intensity cardio intervals and little rest will yield maximum fat and calorie burn.

Fat as Fuel

Remember, the only way to lose fat, outside of liposuction, is to cause your body to use fat for fuel. As your exercise intensity increases, the rate of calories burned increases. Therefore, this high calorie-burning workout will raise your metabolism and force your body to use fat for fuel much faster than a moderate or low-intensity workout.

Be Flexible

When performing circuits at gyms, a common problem is availability of the machine you need at precisely the right time. Stay flexible by selecting substitute exercises and don’t limit yourself to just machines. Once you’ve mastered our super circuit, be creative and make up your own. Variation in exercises, reps and sets is a key to preventing boredom or reaching a plateau.

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Total Body Fat-Loss Circuit

• Warm up with cardio five minutes

• Head-to-toe stretch

• 30 seconds high-intensity cardio intervals can consist of either jumping jacks, heavy bag boxing, or speed jog in place or on mini-tramp, or a combo of the three.


Push-Ups. Begin with feet slightly elevated, about four inches. Assume the push-up position, with your hands only shoulder-width apart and your feet raised slightly on a block. Keeping your neck in neutral position and your knees straight (or bent if you have to), bend your arms as far as is comfortable and then press to finish. 

30 seconds cardio


Seated Row. Using a low pulley, attach a close grip handle to the cable. Seated on the pad, begin the exercise with your back in neutral position and your arms stretched out and holding the handle. Start by pulling the handle into your torso while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Pause, and return to starting position.

30 seconds cardio


Dips on Bench. Sit on the side of a flat bench with hands on each side of your hips. Place a plate weight on your lap. Begin by walking your feet out in front of you until your butt is off the bench and knees are slightly bent. Start lowering yourself down until you feel a slight tension in your shoulders, then push back up to starting position. Concentrate on the triceps contraction as you push back up, remembering to keep your elbows close to your side.

30 seconds cardio


Dumbbell Curls With Twist. Stand with feet about hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Keep abs tight to maintain good back position. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging by your sides with palms facing in and elbows in line with your shoulders. Keep upper arms still and bend elbows, curling dumbbells up toward your shoulders. Your arms will naturally twist so that in the end position your palms will face your shoulder (anterior delt). Return slowly to starting position and repeat

30 seconds cardio


Dumbbell Lateral Raises. Stand with feet about hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Keep abdominal muscles tight to maintain good back position. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging by your sides, with palms facing thighs and elbows slightly bent. Raise dumbbells out and up to shoulder height, no higher. Return slowly to starting position.

30 seconds cardio


Squats With Dumbbells and Ball Behind Back. Stand erect with your feet hip-width apart and an exercise ball behind your back and touching the wall. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Start to lower yourself to the floor by bending at both your hips and knees, while leaning against the ball. Go as far as you can, but don’t go further than the 90-degree position. Keep your head, chest and shoulders high at all times. Return to starting position and repeat.

30 seconds cardio


Seated Leg Curls. Position your legs straight ahead and place heels over the pad. Grasping the handles tightly to make sure your back stays firm against the backrest, slowly curl legs under; squeeze the hamstrings for a moment and release slowly.

30 seconds cardio


Walking Lunges With Dumbbells. Stand with feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Lunge forward far enough with the front foot so that your knee remains over your foot and does not cross the toe line. Push upward by straightening the leg and return to starting position. Do not alternate legs; do all right leg, then do all left leg. As legs straighten, try not to push off the back leg, concentrate on the glutes being worked.

30 seconds cardio


Seated Outer Thigh (Knees Bent). Using an abductor machine, position your legs so the outsides of your knees rest against the leg pads. Your back and hips should be in contact with the backrest. Without lifting your hips or leaning forward, spread your legs apart slowly. When your legs are opened as far as possible, pause momentarily in that position and then slowly return to start.

30 seconds cardio


Standing Calf Raises. Stand with the balls of your feet on the edge of a standing calf machine, feet parallel and hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Position the pads comfortably on your shoulders. Grasp the handles lightly and maintain good posture. Lower your heels just below the edge until you feel a slight stretch in your calves. Then, rise up onto the balls of your feet as high as you can, without lifting up onto the tips of your toes. Slowly lower and repeat.

30 seconds cardio


Hyperextension Machine. Position the pad under your thighs. Placing your hands across your chest, start the set in the up position by maintaining a straight body position from head to toe. Slowly lower the upper body by releasing the glutes, hamstrings and lower back simultaneously. Continue the motion down until your body is at a 90-degree angle. Slowly raise the upper body to the parallel position by engaging the glutes, hamstrings and lower back simultaneously.

30 seconds cardio


Full Extension Crunch on Ball. Lie faceup with the exercise ball under the thoracic spine. Place your hands either across your chest or behind your head as support only. Contracting your abs, raise your torso up as far as you can, rounding your chest into the rib cage. Every person has a different flexibility level in his or her spine, so only go as far as your range of motion takes you.

30 seconds cardio

Workout Schedule

Novice Exercisers

Perform circuit for 8-12 weeks

Workload: 60% max

Number of exercises: 12

Number of circuits per session: 2

Number of reps: 12-15

Total time of circuit training session: 30-35 minutes

Take rest intervals as long as needed between exercises   

Rest interval between circuits: 2-3 minutes, or as long as needed

Frequency: 2-3 times per week

Experienced Exercisers

Perform circuit for 8-12 weeks

Workload: 75% max

Number of exercises: 12

Number of circuits per session: 3

Total time of super-circuit session: 40-55 minutes

Take rest intervals as long as needed between exercises   

Rest interval between circuits: 1-2 minutes

Frequency: 3-4 times per week