The typical person at the gym who wants to “lose a little weight and tone up” may spend a lot of time doing cardio (to burn calories) and then gets off the machine to do a bit of aimless resistance training. He or she will say, “Then I do, you know, some biceps, triceps, chest, shoulders, and some of these thingies,” and then will awkwardly demonstrate some kind of frontal or sagittal plane motion.
“How many sets and reps do you do?” I’ll ask.
Usually 1 or 2 sets of 10.
If it’s a woman, she probably doesn’t want to “bulk up.”
Interesting, since a set range of 1 to 3 sets, and a rep range of 8-12 reps is what causes hypertrophy (in Greek, hyper means “excess” and trophy means “nourishment”), that is, an increase in the volume of tissue. Hypertrophy causes muscles to grow bigger–to “bulk up.”
“Toning up,” on the other hand, means having more visible muscle definition; it means burning the fat off the top.
Theoretically, in order to tone up, one would want to burn as many calories as possible in order to lose pounds of fat. One should probably dedicate more time to cardio–which burns the most calories–and less time to resistance training, right?
Wrong. And this is the mistake I see people making over and over and over again at the gym. It’s usually women, too.
Cardio, as defined by personal training textbooks, is defined by any activity performed on a machine designed to maintain an elevated heart rate: ellipticals, treadmills/running, stair-steppers, etc. Cardiovascular fitness is essential for health, as it trains the heart (the body’s most essential muscle), increases stroke volume, VO2 max, cardiac output, oxidative capacity of muscles, and it also decreases both resting and exercising heart rates.
But cadio, as defined by me, is any activity that keeps the heart rate elevated period. After all, that is how the heart gets trained. It doesn’t care what kind of activity you’re doing.
Circuit training is perhaps the most beneficial form of cardiorespiratory training out there. Circuit training is basically a series of resistance training exercises performed one after another, with minimal rest in between. Resistance training, we know, is also a very important component of a balanced fitness program, and the benefits of it are numerous: increased bone mineral density, increased strength, increased range of activities and motion, improved mobility, improved stability, and more.
- Circuit training breaks the body out of the traditional, limiting movement patterns and required the body to change position and direction often. This burns more calories than maintaining the same direction of movement. It also dynamically improves an individual’s range of motion and flexibility.
- Circuits can combine different intensities of exercises, rep ranges, and times with extreme ease, enabling the individual to target higher or lower heart rates during activity.
- Circuits can be designed with hypertrophy or muscular endurance in mind, depending on the individual’s goals.
- Circuits allow for “active recovery.” For example, after working the legs by doing squats, the individual can switch to a non-competing exercise.
- Circuits more easily elevate heart rate and oxygen consumption. Because of active recovery, its easier to maintain a higher heart rate throughout the workout by switching to another muscle group before the first group reaches its lactic acid threshold. Higher intensity leads to higher EPOC, which leads to more calorie burn outside of the gym.
- A circuit can be designed to work any part of the body that has the energy to exercise.
- Circuit training is cross training.
- Circuit training is cardiovascular, resistance, and dynamic range of motion training in one. Think “cardio weight lifting with improvements in flexibility.”
Why wouldn’t you circuit train? Try it.