“Use interval training to burn the fat and resistance training to sculpt your body,” instructs fitness pro Craig Ballantyne. We’re getting the best of both worlds with metabolic circuits. Yet, while the varied exercises and intervals are what make them so effective, they aren’t plateau-proof.
To keep getting optimal results, you need to continually make your metabolic circuits more challenging.
Is It Time for a Change?
People often ask how often to adjust their circuit routine. Well, there’s no general rule: it’s going to be different for everyone. Your level of conditioning depends on how often you work out, how hard, and lots of other factors. While many advise that you should vary your exercise routine every month, you can usually just feel when you’re ready to progress. The routine becomes less challenging… You’re hungry for more… You’re just plain bored.
There are several ways to mix up your metabolic workout. Incorporate one progression at a time:
- Reduce rest time
- Increase intensity
- Change/add exercises
- Increase reps or time spent on each exercise
Switch It Up By Splitting It Up
Split circuit routines let you alternate working opposite muscle groups. One circuit focuses on lower body, one focuses on upper. Do the lower body workout, wait two days and do the upper, and in another two days, do lower again or do a full body workout. Instead of alternating upper and lower body workouts, some people switch off between pushing movements (squats, lunges) and strengthening movements (pushups, chest presses, deadlifts, leg curls).
There are lots of benefits of doing split routines. By focusing on a few muscle groups, you can max them out for a powerful workout. And with split routines, DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) will be less likely to interfere with your workout. If you often find that your legs wobble or your arms feel like putty just when it’s time to train again, you probably need more recharge time. By doing split circuits, the most you’ll work a muscle group is twice in a week, allowing four days to recover instead of one or two.
Alternate Muscle Groups During a Single Workout
If you need to make the most of your gym time, you can do non-competing circuits to work your whole body without straining your muscles. “Non-competing exercises simply refer to putting a series of exercises together that allow one muscle group to rest while another muscle group is trained,” explains Ballantyne. An example would be alternating upper and lower body movements (called a superset). Not only does this give you a full body workout, but it lets you power through your lifting without shifting to cardio to rest.
Pointers for Your Circuit Lineup:
- By doing upper, lower, core and cardio—in that order—you can demand the most of each muscle group. You need the most strength for your upper body movements, so get your kettlebell presses and bent-over flys in early. Abs can come later, and when your muscles are maxed out, finish with cardio.
- You shouldn’t be able to do more than 6-8 reps with free weights—buck up and lift heavy.
- You can mix cardio into your routine as long as you don’t wipe yourself out too early in the game. Stationary bikes, treadmills and ellipticals can all be incorporated in your circuit. Just remember to go hard!
- Protect and improve your muscle quality by starting with active stretching and foam rolling. End with a cool-down stretch and roll your muscles out again. You’ll notice a huge difference in the way your muscles feel the next day (and you’ll be able to walk up and down stairs).
Finally, it’s important not to up the ante too quickly: increase intensity or duration too fast and you’ll probably hurt yourself. Listen to your body for cues about when and how much to progress.