Fat Loss

Circuit Training

With the holidays and travel and gyms being closed, I figured regular trainees might have limited time to work out. Thus, a post from the archives on circuit training hopefully will provide a few useful ideas for training with limited time. Enjoy! 

Picture this:

You got out of work later than ususal... perfect timing to hit rush hour at its height and extend your normal 20-minute commute to the gym into an all-out 45-minute crawl full of frustration.

By the time you get to the gym, you only have about 25 minutes before you need to leave.

What do you do? Do you literally throw in your towel and just go home? How can you possibly salvage a decent training session out of the train wreck that was the afternoon?

Circuit Training is waiting to save the day! Well, so are Time Turners, but us Muggles don't have access to one of those things...

What is Circuit Training?

The possibilities are limited only by your imagination (and your physical capacity. I know from personal experience that performing box jumps after a barbell sumo deadlift is a baaaaad idea).

Typically, circuits are comprised of 5-8 exercises and you want to work with weights about 75-80% of your max. Translation: pick weights that you could probably perform for 8-10 challenging repetitions. String them all together, and work through the circuit with minimal rest between exercises.

In terms of time, you can set up your circuit a couple of different ways:

1. Set a particular rep goal per exercise and then have at it for 15-25 minutes and see how many rounds of the circuit you can perform.

2. Pick a number of rounds to complete and try to finish as quickly as possible. Usually, if you have about 5-8 exercises, 5 rounds will be around 20-ish minutes.

Benefits of Circuits:

1. They're a great way to improve overall conditioning without watching  your hard earned muscle mass wither away. Two recent research reviews (abstracts here and here) have found that steady state cardiovascular training can a) decrease power output (yikes! Not good for athletes that need to produce power aka: everyone) and b) compromises muscle mass (and thus strength) gains. This effect is seen most prominent when aerobic training is 3x/week for greater than 20 minutes- so one jog here and there won't hurt you. The metabolic pathways that aerobic and anaerobic (that is, strength training and sprint/interval training) are conflicting. It's very hard to maintain a large amount of muscle mass and be a long-distance runner!

Circuit training is similar, metabolically, to sprint/interval/hill training in that it preserves lean muscle mass.

Steady state cardiovascular training, on the other hand, can lead to elevated levels of cortisol (stress hormone) which can decrease the effectiveness of muscle-building hormones such as testosterone and insulin-like growth. It also encourages muscle protein break down. Again, based on the research, this was steady-state cardio training 3x/week at 20 minutes or more.

While strength training too breaks down muscle tissue, the anabolic  (building) environment produced by strength training encourages repair more than the catabolic (break down) environment of aerobic training.   Strength coach Charles Poliquin says:

Whereas endurance exercises compromise anaerobic performance and body composition, anaerobic training modes such as sprint intervals and weight lifting will benefit endurance athletes if programed properly. To improve endurance performance, do a strength-type resistance training program with loads of 80 percent of the 1RM or heavier. This will train the type IIA muscle fibers so they increase the rate of force development and get faster.

Type IIA muscle fibers = strong, powerful muscles. We want those!

fiber types
fiber types

So if you're still with me, we'll move on to the second point.

2. It's time-efficient. After a quick dynamic warm-up and maybe a warm-up set or two of the planned exercises, the total time of a circuit should be no more than 25-minutes start to finish. 15-minutes would even be sufficient depending on the intensity of the exercise selection and weights used. Nice huh? It's just long enough to make you feel like you've worked out but not too long that you're home late for dinner.

3. (but really 2.5) Not only are they time-efficient but they're efficient in the sense that a circuit can hit a lot of muscle groups, through full ranges of motion, in one fell swoop. While a jog will really only get your legs (and, I would argue, not very well since the range of motion is small, the force production is low, and the intensity isn't that high either) and maybe some low level core activation, a circuit can be full body. Take a look at this sample:

Goblet or barbell squat x 6-8

Pushup x 8-10

Step back lunge x 6-8/side

3 Point Row x 8/side

Kettle bell swing x 10

Can you see the total body genius in that? We have lower body (both bilateral and unilateral movements), upper body (push and pull) and a delightful amount of full range of motion exercises. All of which, if one wanted, could be done with just one kettlebell.

Run through that baby 5 or 6 times and try to tell me that's not cardio. Oh wait, you can't. I can't hear you over your screaming lungs and gasping breaths.

4. Because circuits demand so much from your muscles and cardiovascular system, they're pretty calorically expensive, which means your body will be burning calories longer post-workout than they would after a lower intensity training session (aka: low-intensity, steady state cardio). On those above-linked research reviews, it was found that athletes reduced body fat when they performed high intensity exercise (sprints or circuits).

So, if you're looking for an efficient way to reduce body fat, preserve lean tissue, AND improve your cardiovascular fitness, circuit training is definitely a tool you want in your toolbox!

I feel obligated to note that strength training, solid strength training sessions, need to make up the bulk of your training week. Picking up heavy things repeatedly is the best way to build muscle and get stronger. Circuit training, while it won't make you weaker and can aid with strength gains, is inferior overall to 80-90% max lifting in terms of producing maximal strength gains. While I don't recommend basing your entire training plan around circuits, they are beneficial and even fun (yes, fun.) to throw in every once and a while.

The Battlefield is in the Kitchen: Part II

Maria Halkiadakis, once again, graces the Blog of SAPT. Take it away Maria!

Last Friday’s post began the discussion, The Battlefield is in the Kitchen.  Before moving on to Part II let’s do a quick recap on the topic…

Training alone is not enough to help anyone achieve the results they are after. Common sense tells us that eating right and exercising are the two key elements to taking care of our bodies. It is important to find a balance between the two by not over training or depriving oneself of proper nutrition. Translation = pick up the right amount of heavy things and eat the right amount of good food.

Today we are focusing on what needs to be done in the kitchen to reach our goals. Last week we discussed how planning and preparation are crucial factors. This means creating weekly menus, using these menus to make grocery lists, and dedicating time to prepare meals. Two days a week my kitchen counter looks a little something like this…

We also discussed purging your pantry last week. If you find yourself eating junk food because it is around the house, get rid of it! Donate it, throw it in the trash, or give it away. It is perfectly okay to have snack foods in the kitchen, but it needs to be the healthy kind, which brings me to the first new point of today’s discussion.

EAT REAL FOOD

There are no secrets or anything new to be learned here. Just eat real food. It really is that easy.  Eating a variety of real food, meaning fruit, vegetables, meats, grains, legumes, nuts/seeds, and dairy, will provide the human body all the nourishment it needs.

A good rule of thumb is not to eat anything that has more than five ingredients. Unless of course you made it yourself and know it is filled with wholesome ingredients.  For example, grains and dairy products are perfectly acceptable as part of a healthy diet.However, be cautious when deciding which ones to purchase from the grocery store. As far as ingredients go on prepackaged items, less is definitely more. (Note from Kelsey: How To Read Food Labels.)

EAT IN MODERATION

Slow down, set aside the fork for a minute, and enjoy how your food tastes. I hate seeing people practically inhale their meals. Food is NOT fuel, it is so much more than that. Therefore, don’t treat your body as if you would treat your car at the gas pump: by filling up with the cheap stuff and going on with your day.

Food is delicious! Slow down and enjoy every bite of it. Strive to be mindful of what you are eating while you are eating it. Avoid distractions during meals such as watching television or talking on the phone. Doing these things won’t allow you to pay proper attention to your body’s hunger signals.

It takes approximately 20 minutes for the human body to realize it’s full. For this reason it would make sense to allow yourself at least 20 minutes to eat a meal.

Below are a few tips:

- Try drinking water between bites to slow down.

- Eat meals with friends or family whenever possible.

- Lengthen mealtime by enjoying their company and engaging in conversation. As a bonus you’ll be killing two birds with one stone; adopting healthier habits and spending time with the people you care about.

Sometimes you may need to eat in a hurry. If this happens make an active decision to do so and pay attention to your portion size realizing you may not feel full by the time you have eaten enough.

You do not have to deprive yourself of your favorite foods and restaurants.  Follow the 90% rule, meaning aim to keep your diet on point about 90% of the week.  If you eat 3 meals a day, roughly 21 meals per week, and 90% of that is 19. Therefore, you can eat out twice a week, make your favorite meal twice a week, or some combination of the two.

MAKE SMALL CHANGES

Don’t expect to do a complete 180 over night. This is why hasty, lofty New Year’s resolutions tend to fail. In order to be successful it is better to start by making small changes rather than throwing all caution to the wind and diving into unknown territory. Here are a few ways to implement small changes into your routine:

  • Start by swapping out snacks like chips or candy with something healthier such as fruits, veggies, or nuts.
  • Try learning one new recipe a week or every other week if you all ready have some healthy favorites.
  • Gradually reduce portion sizes if you are eating too much.
  • Be willing to try new things! You might just fall in love with a fruit or vegetable you’ve never had before.
  • Substitute things in your diet one at a time. For example, swapping out yogurt with a list of unpronounceable ingredients you can’t understand for plain yogurt with fruit or honey mixed in.

Remember to apply these suggestions at your own pace. Set small term goals while you are planning your menu each week and write one at the top of it, such as, “this week I will put one less teaspoon of sugar in my coffee and next week I would like to try this new kale recipe.”

Take care of your body, feed it right, and you’ll see the results you are working so hard to achieve.  Use this advice, find people to support you, and ask for help if you need it.  It may not always be easy, but you can do it!