Take a Shortcut to Fitness With Circuit Training

Take a Shortcut to Fitness With Circuit Training

Get strength and cardio benefits in 30 minutes a day By Carol Sorgen
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH

While her kids are at dance class, Elaine Magee goes two doors down toCurves gym and knocks out a 30-minute circuit-training workout designed toexercise every muscle in the body.

Actually, because she is a dancer and exercise devotee, Magee, -- betterknown as WebMD Weight Loss Clinic''s "Recipe Doctor" -- is not thetypical client of Curves. The 10-year-old franchise operation, which now ownsone in four gyms in the United States, targets sweatsuit-wearing, overweightfemales in their 30s who may have never worked out before. There''s littleSpandex in sight. No juice bar. No hunks. And the workout? Simple. Just music,an array of circuit-training machines, and the command to "changestations."

With the popularity of Curves, circuit training has come into its own,although it''s been around for decades. And though the Curves philosophy appealsto many, you don''t have to join any particular gym to reap the time-savingfitness benefits of a circuit workout.

What Is Circuit Training?

Circuit training is short bursts of resistance exercise using moderateweights and frequent repetitions, followed quickly by another burst of exercisetargeting a different muscle group.

Because the exerciser switches between muscle groups, no rest is neededbetween exercises. This gets the heart rate up, which usually doesn''t happenduring resistance exercise. Sometimes, to up heart rate further, aerobics aresprinkled between the resistance exercises.

"The stations are all set up with the right machines when I get toCurves," Magee says. "They are set to give more resistance the fasteryou go, so you don''t have to adjust that. There are 15 machines. So you go onone machine for 30 seconds, and then jog on a pad for 30 seconds. Then you goon the next machine, and then jog. Once around [the machines] -- 15 minutes. Wego twice around. Then you''re done!"

A recording signals when to change machines or jog. Every 10 minutes, theexercisers check their heart rate.

"Ideally," says Wayne L. Westcott, PhD, fitness research director atthe South Shore YMCA, in Quincy, Mass., "you get to 40% to 60% of maximumheart rate."

Why Circuit Training Works

"I am not there to lose weight, but to firm and tone," Magee says."But I have noticed that my pants are looser."

Westcott cites the "classic" Cooper Clinic study done in 1982, whichstudied the effects of doing a circuit workout three times a week. The studyhad 77 participants, who were divided into three groups.

"One group did not train at all," Westcott says. "One group justdid the weights. And the third group jogged in between the weightsessions."

Not surprisingly, the group that didn''t train saw no improvement in itscardiovascular fitness. The weights group improved cardio fitness by 12%. Andthe weights-and-jogging group improved 17%. (The weights group also improvedstrength by 17% and the weights-and-jogging group improved strength by22%.)

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