Although traditional circuit training workouts are effective, they can soon get boring, predictable, and lack the fun you may want if your goal is to run a popular group fitness classes.
In this article, we'll answer the question. How do you make circuit training more interesting, the benefits of circuit training, and a couple of creative circuit training formats that make group fitness fun.
Circuit training benefits:
- Circuits offer a quick and easy to plan a full body workout around bodyweight exercises, equipment based or a combination of both.
- You can plug almost any exercise into a circuit, giving you an huge amount of exercise variety to play with. You can also focus on one piece of equipment such as kettlebells of dumbbells.
- You can run rep based, time based, or even timer keep circuits.
- Perfect for all abilities. Allows players to work at an intensity that is right for them, with exercise modifications to suit each ability.
- You can get a good quality workout in a short amount of time.
- Combines both cardio and strength training, improves muscular strength and endurance, promote heart health, and support fat loss.
How Do You Make Circuit Training More Interesting?
With a typical circuit, you might have 9 circuit training stations (alternating lower, core and upper body exercises) laid out in a circular format, with each station being completed for 1-minute x 3 rounds straight through, or with a short rest between rounds.
Now, from a fitness/results point of views, there's nothing wrong with this full-body circuit, and at 27 minutes it packs a punch.
From a fun point of view, this format kinda sucks, and thats why I prefer to use more entertaining/dynamic formats, like the one below.
This fun circuit training format was sent in by Damion Godwin over at DG Outdoor Training UK. This was featured expert design for members of the Workout Design Club.
Mark out a large circuit with 10 exercises then play a high energy upbeat song of your choice. Have players run in a clockwise direction. After a set time between 40-120 seconds (you decide) stop the music and ask players to complete the exercise closest to them for 1-minute. Play 10-15 rounds in total using different tracks.
Vary the running time in each round but don't tell players how long they'll be running for. For example, round 1 might be 120 seconds, round 2 might be 40 seconds, round 3 might be 60 seconds.
Mixing up the times and not telling players creates suspense and makes it a bit more interesting, it also ensures that players land on different stations frequently instead of landing around the same ones.
Circuit Training Stations
With the above circuit training format, you can include lower, core and upper body exercises. A combination (I.e., alternating between lower and core). Or you can focus on one area of the body (I.e., all lower, all core, all upper body exercises) for a more intense and laser focused session.
The great thing about circuit training is that you can use whatever exercises you like, be that bodyweight exercises, equipment based, or a combination of both.
The best way to make your circuits more interesting is to stay energetic as a coach, your personality goes a long way to how clients perceive a session to be. Music is helpful, but too often used to mask poor programming. Exercises should be creative, yet they should also be strategically used. You don’t want to add in exercises just because they look fun.
Creating a theme or an identity for each circuit workout is a great way to make things more interesting. People will train harder if they are halfway through “ULTIMATE SPARTAN WORKOUT” than they will “boot camp circuit workout #5”.
If possible, adding equipment to your circuits can make a massive difference. Sure, it takes time to educate your members on how to use them safely, but once you have invested the time you will have increased the number of exercises available to you a thousand times over.
You can do themes such as a kettlebell circuit, or you can mix and match a lot of equipment for a truly creative workout. Perhaps have one station be kettlebells, one be medicine balls, have a prowler or sled station, sprinkled in with some bodyweight exercises.
Increasing the number of exercises and reducing the number of times around the circuit can also help. But make sure that it is easy to remember what exercises are being performed. If you have 15 circuit stations then you will probably want a written sign to remind everyone what exercise they are supposed to be doing.
How Can I Make Circuit Training More Fun?
There is a difference between being fun and being interesting. Making a workout fun is more about you as a coach. Clever names for the circuit, good music choices, interaction with members, enthusiasm, and encouragement. The most boring circuit (on paper) in the world can become fun if you as a coach are able to make it so.
Partnering people can help with that, particularly if you know which members can feed off each other’s energy (and which ones won’t work well together). Injecting humour wherever possible can also make a big difference. Be self-deprecating, have a laugh with the members. If you know that a member responds well to banter then engage in it, but no who likes it and who hates it beforehand.
A lot of this will come with experience and with enthusiasm. If you are brand new to boot camps, or you have recently taken over a new boot camp and don’t know the members, then focus first on making interesting and professional boot camps. Then build up a rapport over time.
The sooner you can make your members smile and laugh the better. Average coaches think that their members come to them to get results and nothing else. Whereas good coaches know that their members come to be entertained, motivated, and encouraged. The results are the bonus, not the other way around.
How Do I Make Circuits Harder?
The first question you need to ask yourself is whether making your circuits harder is a good idea or not. Many boot camp coaches (and personal trainers in particular) pride themselves on how difficult their workouts are. Trying to “beast” their members. Some will even boast about the number of members who have thrown up during a workout.
Make no mistake, if you are training your members too hard you are going to do more harm than good. That being said, there is nothing worse than a circuit that doesn’t challenge people. To get progress, members need to progressively increase the challenge of their workouts.
Because you are training a large group of people, this means that you need to be able to customise your workouts for different fitness levels. It means a bit more research when creating your circuits. But nothing that you can’t handle!
Check out the example of a circuit in our “Typical Boot Camp Circuit” section. Almost every exercise has an alternative that can make the exercise easier or harder. It took an extra 30 seconds for each exercise (often much less) to think of these alternatives.
You want to add a kettlebell swing station to your circuit? Great! Now think of a way to make it easier, and a way to make it harder. What’s easier than a kettlebell swing? Kettlebell deadlifts work similar muscles, and provided you are using the same weight they are much easier. Or you could use a lighter kettlebell.
How can you make a kettlebell swing harder? You can do one-armed kettlebell swings, you can do alternating kettlebell swings, you can increase the weight, or you can use two kettlebells. It’s about building up a mental (or physical) library of exercises that is vast enough to include everyone.
How Do You Increase Circuit Training Intensity?
There are three ways to increase the intensity of your circuit training sessions. You can increase the difficulty of the exercises (push ups turned into plyometric push ups for example). You can shorten the rest periods between exercises. Or you can shorten the length of time spent on each exercise.
This last point may sound counterintuitive, you are spending less time exercising so how would that increase the intensity?
Well, you obviously need to communicate this to your members, but the idea is that because they are training for a shorter period of time, they are able to train harder and faster. Like sprinting a 100m race is more intense than walking a 100m, even though you are spending more time walking it than you are sprinting.
Here is a quick checklist of ways to increase the intensity of your circuits:
- Shorter rest periods
- Shorter time spent per exercise
- Higher tempo music
- Good communication with members beforehand
- Encouragement and motivation during
- Use less technical exercises, keep things simple
- Good warm up beforehand
- Avoid static exercises such as planks
Small Group Circuit Training Ideas
A lot of the advice so far has been based on the idea that you have a large boot camp with many members, but of course there are many PTs and small group coaches who also use circuits. So what advice would we give?
The benefit of small groups is that you can spend a lot more time focusing on each member in turn. This allows you to teach more complicated and technical exercises. It also allows you to be more specific when creating programs.
It is easier to bring equipment into the sessions, space is less of an issue, and the chances are that you are performing them indoors in a studio or gym. So barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells etc are more accessible.
People are not a monolith, and it is a bad idea to stereotype them based on age or gender. That being said, here are some common small groups and how you can cater to them specifically.
- Older women – One of the best groups to train, focus on compound movements, keep intensity medium (increase to high intensity as they progress). Entertain them, have a laugh, be encouraging.
- Older men – Same exercise advice, medium intensity increasing to high intensity as they progress. Making your circuits more competitive, partnering up people, and having a back and forth while you do is a good idea.
- Younger women and men – Very similar training style, obviously younger men will be more excited by push ups (for the most part) while younger women may prefer squats, glute bridges etc. But most will be happy with a full body circuit that is high intensity.
- Beginners (any age) – Compound movements (squats, push ups, lunges), nothing too technical. Add in more games. Keep intensity low but offer variations for those who are fitter. Focus on building confidence and keep them motivated. Your main goal should be getting them to turn up consistently.
- Advanced (any age) – Equipment is a great idea here. Higher intensity circuits, more challenging and technical exercises. Less need for games or for “fun” workouts (though still throw these in occasionally).
The bottom line here is that you don’t need equipment or a special plan to make your circuits more interesting. You need to invest your time and money on becoming a great coach. Confidence, enthusiasm, a sense of humour, and knowledge will make a huge difference.
However, creating exciting, fresh workouts each week can really help with this. If you struggle to find the time to do this then check out The Workout Design Club, where there is a massive library of circuit workouts that are specifically designed for boot camp owners.
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