Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.
One of the main purposes of researching and reading all about training and nutrition is to one day become equipped with the knowledge to go out on your own, experiment and be your own architect. To build your own programs and put them through your own trials to fit your personal needs is a skill-set that should be the ultimate goal of every gym-goer.
Everyone is different, so fine-tuning a routine and making it your own is what you should be after. Build something that suits your specific desires to change, build and burn. Of course, you may already be familiar with this concept through traditional resistance training – adjusting certain movements, focusing on weak points and exploiting your strengths. But what about building the perfect fat-burning circuit? Where to begin?
Benefits of a fat-burning circuit
Before I go into detail about the steps to construct your perfect plan, let’s talk a little about the benefits.
- A well-structured fat-burning circuit will do exactly what it says – burn fat. The fast pace, combination of exercises and full-body blast will stoke your fat furnace and keep you burning fat while you down your protein shake.
- A fat-burning circuit will burn fat in little time. Since you will perform a circuit-style workout, the time it takes to run through the program will be minimal with not a lot of loitering allowed.
- A fat-burning circuit will use minimal equipment found in most gyms. No fancy contraptions necessary. You will use simple pieces of equipment such as barbells, dumbbell, kettlebells, TRX trainers, rack bars and your own bodyweight.
- A fat-burning circuit will keep your interest and your body guessing what’s next. Consistently switching up your program – subtracting and adding certain moves to keep you on your toes and your learning curve fresh will force you to focus on the task at hand instead of just going through the motions.
Selecting your own exercises shouldn’t be rocket science. Simply pick certain moves that you are familiar with and take off.
Steps to building the perfect fat-burning circuit
Now, let’s go through some basic steps to building your perfect fat-burning circuit. These aren’t hard and fast rules, just some points to remember when constructing a plan to suit your specific needs.
Step #1 - Learn the five elements
There are five basic elements to a circuit. These will also look a lot like elements of a traditional body part training program.
- Lower body hip hinge: This includes squat-type moves for total lower body stimulation. Starting a circuit with a big, dynamic lower body move will stoke the metabolism and your heart rate. Examples include prisoner, barbell back and front squats, Bulgarian split squats, walking, static, lateral and reverse lunges, jump and split squats, box jumps, step-ups, pistol squats and kettlebell swings.
- Upper body pull: A weakness for a lot of trainers (so many focus on pushing exercises) pulling is next in line for the circuit. Of course you can always mix up the order of exercises but working on a weak point early has its advantages. Examples include wide, close and reverse-grip pull-ups, inverted rows, renegade, dumbbell and kettlebell rows, TRX trainer rows and barbell, dumbbell and kettlebell deadlifts.
- Upper push: For every pulling move balance out with a push move. Here you will incorporate big push exercises that stimulate a lot of muscle and burn a lot of fat when combined with an effective circuit. These can include floor, feet-elevated and inclined push-ups. TRX trainer push-ups, diamond push-ups, dumbbell and kettlebell shoulder presses and TRX trainer fly.
- Core: What is a circuit without a little core work? Some may see the core portion as a short break in the action but that is so far from the truth. As some core “moves” won’t actually be moves at all (such as planks), the amount of muscle action and focus will send your efforts into overdrive. You can include traditional and decline sit-ups, crunches, regular, TRX and 3-way planks, hanging and lying leg raises, bicycle crunches, windshield wipers, TRX trainer tucks, V-ups, Russian twists and TRX trainer pikes.
- Cardio: Last but not least we come to cardio. As the entire fat-burning circuit is built around the fat-burning concept, ramping up your cardio work even further will put the finishing touch on your perfect circuit. Anything from treadmill and outdoor sprints, sprints on a stationary bike, shuttle runs, elliptical, stair-step, jumping rope or rowing machine will do.
Step #2 - Select exercises and rotate
Selecting your own exercises shouldn’t be rocket science. Simply pick certain moves that you are familiar with and take off. If you start to delve into unfamiliar territory, be sure to take some and learn the proper way to execute the exercise effectively and safely to avoid injury once you incorporate it into your program.
Another important factor to consider is rotating other exercises into your program always keeping your body off guard and constantly learning something new. The basic act of learning something new will force your body to actually work harder than if it were performing something familiar.
Step #3 - Time/number of rounds
The total time your program takes – which also includes the number of rounds you will perform your circuit, depends on several factors. One: How much time do you have available to train? Two: What is your experience level with circuit training? Three: Where do you stand regarding conditioning? (i.e. what type of “shape” are you in?) The rule of thumb is to start small and build up gradually. If you’re a newbie, don’t jump in head-first or you risk severe burn-out.
Step #4 - Number of days per week
Again, this has several variables attached. What is your experience level? How often are you able to train? And, what are your specific goals which will dictate the frequency of training? As stated above, increase frequency gradually and plan ahead of time. You never know when life will throw you a curve ball and knock your physique plan out the window.
Step #5 - Progressing
The question may arise of how (if desired) to progress on a fat-burning circuit? Perform more sets? More reps? Longer sessions? A few tricks to try once you get to the point where you have adapted to your current routine are move up to a more advanced circuit, perform your current circuit in less time, perform more rounds in less time, increase weight slightly on weighted moves, try more advanced versions of the same exercises or take less of a break between rounds.
Example Fat Burning Workouts
Now that you have the basics of what constitutes building your very own fat-burning circuit let’s look at a few examples to get you started. Below are three levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced) of circuits to try on for size.
Remember, always practice good form, pick an appropriate level to start and give it your all.
1 to 3 rounds, 1 minute rest between rounds.
|Prisoner squats||10 to 15 reps|
|Inverted row||10 reps|
|Push-ups||10 to 15 reps|
|Floor crunches||10 to 15 reps|
|Stationary bike||1 to 2 minutes|
2 to 4 rounds, 1 minute rest between rounds.
|Jump split squats||10 reps each leg|
|Renegade rows||10 reps|
|Feet-elevated push-ups||10 to 15 reps|
|Hanging leg raises||10 to 15 reps|
|Treadmill run||1 to 2 minutes|
3 to 5 rounds, 30 seconds rest between rounds.
|Box jumps||10 reps|
|Reverse-grip chin-up||10 to 15 reps|
|TRX trainer push-up||10 to 15 reps|
|Windshield wiper||10 reps|
|3 to 5 sprints|