If the mention of the word fat loss training brings to your mind the word “circuit training”, then you are not alone. Countless magazines, best selling books, and websites have clearly stated that doing circuits is the ultimate way to burn fat. While I would like to argue that circuits are NOT the only way to lose fat, you can still lose fat with regular strength training and some sprinting.
The fact is that circuits do surely burn a lot calories, and compared to sitting on the bike at the gym, I would prefer that you do some circuits involving compound exercises instead. Now before you rush to your gym or workout space at home to do a circuit, hold on! All circuits are not made same, and some of them can actually slow down your rate of progress.
The problem lies in what exercises and the sequence you use in the workout. I am referring to circuits that use the same muscle group for all the exercises in the circuit, and the resultant lactic acid build up. For example, if your circuit looks like the following one, then you will build up too much lactic acid in the legs:
Now while the above circuit might appeal to the hardcore fanatics, in reality what will happen is that if you are using some decent weights, then midway through the circuit you will end up getting too tired to continue and the following rounds will be too tough to execute. Or you will have to use some really light weights. And please understand that even though circuits do not require you to lift your max weights, lifting very light weights will not do much to stoke your metabolism.
Ideally you need to lift about 50-70% of your one rep max (1RM) to really increase your calorie burn. So while a circuit like the one above could be a good finisher to your workout, it will not be ideal if you want it to be your entire 20-45 minute workout.
Peripheral Heart Action Training
Enter Peripheral Heart Action or PHA training. Developed by Dr. Arthur Steinhaus, and brought to the forefront of the muscle world by 1960's legendary bodybuilder Bob Gajda (who holds Mr. America and Mr. Universe titles), this style of training works muscle groups of different extremities to avoid too much lactic acid build up while still allowing you to train hard. In the PHA style training, you will perform a circuit of 5-6 exercises for about 4-5 rounds.
However, unlike regular circuits, in PHA training you will alternate between muscles of extremities. For example, you can start with an upper body exercise like the overhead press and follow that with an exercise for the lower body like the squat, and then go back again to an upper body exercise like the push ups, etc. This way your muscles will get some rest before another related muscle group is worked again.
To be honest, I feel that PHA is the best way to go for anyone starting with circuit style training. With PHA you can perform a circuit and build your fitness and lose fat, without having to encounter too much muscular fatigue in one area, which they might not be able to handle in the initial stages. Even for advanced trainees, this style of training can work wonders.
So what about the rest periods? My suggestion is that when you begin, take a rest of about 30-45 seconds between exercises and 1-2 minutes between each PHA circuit. With time, work on cutting down the rest between exercises to zero.
When you can do that, you will need to increase the weight that you use or increase the number of reps for the bodyweight exercises. This will again require you to take a small break between each exercise, which you will reduce as you get fitter.
Here are two sample workouts that you can try.
Sample Workout - Option #1:
- Barbell squats: 10 reps
- Lat Pull Downs: 10 reps
- Push Ups: 10 reps
- Romanian Deadlift: 8-10 reps
- Leg Raises/Reverse Crunches: 10-12 reps
Sample Workout - Option #2 (dumbbells only):
- Overhead Press: 10 reps
- Squat: 10 reps
- Dumbbell Row: 8 reps (each hand)
- Floor Crunch: 10 reps
- Swings: 12 reps
Repeat the entire PHA circuit 5 times.
If you find that initially you cannot do the full 5 rounds, then you can start with 3 rounds and work your way up to 5 rounds. If you want you can use other exercises of your choice instead of the exercises that I have mentioned. However, do keep in mind to alternate between muscles of two different extremities to do a proper PHA circuit. Try PHA, you will love it!