Creating Whole-Body Circuit Routines

If you look for a workout on YouTube, then you’ll find there is no shortage of content available to help out. In particular, you’ll find a lot of videos from the likes of Mike Chang, Jeff Cavaliere and other YouTube celebrities that promise you can get great results in 20 minutes by following along. Invariably, these workouts will essentially boil down to circuit routines. They will set up a few stations in a small space and then they will train on each one for a set amount of time before moving to the next.

This circuit training is a very simple way of working out that has been around forever but it is also something that has come back into vogue in a big way since HIIT became so popular. That’s partly due to their similarities and with a renewed understanding of what makes HIIT so effective, we’re keen to apply these same ideas to other types of workout.

Circuit training like this can thereby be designed to work as a form of MetCon while also offering resistance cardio (concurrent training) and being very easy to perform in a small amount of space and short amount of time. But just because circuit training has the potential to be highly effective, that certainly doesn’t mean it always is!

In fact, circuit training can very often be a waste of time — and especially if you watch the wrong channel! (Not all of Six Pack Shortcut’s workouts are that well thought out for example). There is an art to designing the perfect circuit and getting this right will depend partly on your goals.

How to Design the Perfect Circuit Routine

The first thing to consider before you begin your circuit plan, is exactly what it is you hope to achieve through it.
As you’re reading a book on HIIT, chances are that you want to burn calories and lose fat in a short amount of time and essentially turn this into a form of HIIT or MetCon. The problem is that a lot of circuits just don’t offer enough of a challenge for your cardiovascular system for you to accomplish this.

If your workout is made up of sit ups, stretches and pulling against towels (which is a waste of time, in case you’ve discovered these workouts on YouTube), then you won’t be depleting your glucose or increasing your heartrate sufficiently to see results. Instead, look for exercises that will provide a high enough intensity to get your heart rate to reach MHR.

Remember: that is the whole purpose of a HIIT workout, so if it’s not happening, you’re not really doing HIIT. Bodyweight lunges are not intensive unless you’re in particularly bad shape, so instead try high knees, tuck jumps and kettlebell swings. Remember that you can also increase your challenge by performing concurrent training. Kettlebell swings provide a great example of this but so too can various other challenges — like weighted pull ups, or muscle ups!

On the other end of the spectrum are those routines that are too challenging. While you might not like the idea of backing down from a workout, it’s important to recognize that some routines are simply an invitation for injury. Chief among these are any routines that involve exhausting your cardiovascular system and then switching immediately to compound lifts with heavy weights.

Do not exhaust yourself and then perform the muscle up. The same goes for squats or deadlifts. These movements should go at the start of the circuit if you choose to include them and you should use a light(ish) weight to avoid injury. The tireder you get, the more your form will suffer. That doesn’t matter for an incline press up or a jumping jack but it really does matter for a deadlift.

Another tip is to build the active recovery into your routine. If you can get your heartrate up to 95% MHR, then you can build in a small amount of active recovery at the next 30 second station. For example, you can perform tuck jumps followed by plank, or muscle ups followed by light skipping. There will always be a station of actual recovery too though.

Finally, use other tricks to increase the calorie burn in a short space of time. If you switch from your legs to your upper body for example, then your heart will work harder in order to direct blood from top to bottom, as we discussed earlier. Likewise, you can design your circuit with different lengths at each station in order to mimic something akin to cardio acceleration. Or why not use a long session of intense cardio right at the start of your circuit to increase the heartrate and reduce your glycogen stores?

You can also add your own ‘finisher’ at the end of your routines. The best type of circuit routine if your aim is to burn fat and build muscle will be one that uses every muscle in the body. A whole body routine will not only provide the most ‘even’ improvements throughout your physique but will also help you to trigger the biggest release of growth hormone, testosterone and other anabolic hormones.

Building Muscle With Circuits

Want to build more size and less definition with your MetCon circuits? Then a good option is to use the same type of routine but to focus more on one muscle group. For example, you might perform only bicep exercises as your main form of resistance training and schedule CV stations in between — essentially making a structured form of cardio acceleration.

This will then allow you to focus on one muscle group enough to cause real damage and metabolic stress. By continuously returning to the same muscle group, you’ll be able to cause more microtears which will contribute to more repair and more growth/strength. Likewise, you’ll be able to flood that one muscle group with more blood and more hormones, which will make it more likely to grow in a very big way.

This now becomes something more akin to a bodybuilding workout but with the added cardio in order to provide the benefits of HIIT. If you don’t have time to focus each session on a different muscle group, then consider using a ‘push pull’ routine instead and switching between pushing movements and pulling movements to train the muscles.

Last Works: How to Add HIIT to a Healthy Lifestyle

Hopefully this book has opened your eyes to the world of HIIT and just what a powerful training tool this really is. Moreover, I hope that you have discovered some new forms of HIIT and training that you might not have heard of before — and maybe you’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with creating your own protocols that are better suited to your goals.

You know the science, so why not combine fartlek, cardio acceleration and Metcon into one brutal routine? Get inventive! Before we go though, make sure you recognize the importance of combining your HIIT routines with the right lifestyle. If you want to maximize your fat loss and muscle building, then you should look at supplementing with extras like creatine and possibly a protein shake.

Losing weight also means eating a healthy diet that maintains a calorie deficit and if you want to avoid burning out, then you need to make sure you are getting plenty of rest and lots of sleep. And don’t throw the baby out with the bath water! HIIT is amazing, no doubt, but it’s also only one piece of the puzzle. Steady state cardio still has its advantages and is excellent for improving your resting heartrate for example.

Likewise, you can use regular weight training in order to build muscle much quicker. Instead of falling in love with each new training method and forgetting the old routines, instead look at how you can combine new information with what you already know to create something even more effective.

How about using a Tabata routine at the end of your workouts as a finisher and throwing some steady state cardio into your routine as well? Experiment and find what works for you. But the very last thing I want to leave you with is that you must make sure your routine is sustainable. Ask yourself honestly if the routine you’ve devised is something you can stick at indefinitely.

Remember: although HIIT is all about fits and starts, general health is a marathon, not a sprint.




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Lindsay Nelson

Lindsay Nelson

Go to to learn more about me.

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