Circuit training exercise programs: Do they really work?

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Circuit training exercise programs: Do they really work?

Question

I'm thinking about starting a circuit training exercise program, such as Curves. What can you tell me about such programs? Are they safe and effective?

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Answer

Circuit training programs involve moving from one strength training exercise to the next, usually at a series of machine stations, in a specified amount of time. The goal is to work the major muscle groups in your upper body, lower body and core.

Some circuit training programs alternate strength exercises with short bursts of aerobic activity, such as running in place. In addition, some centers and programs, such as Curves, provide this type of exercise session for women only, which many find appealing.

Circuit training programs have several advantages. Circuit training can help improve strength and muscle endurance. Because you move through the exercises quickly, you don't have to spend long hours in the gym. Also, the range of exercises provided by a circuit training program can help prevent boredom — which makes you more likely to stick with it.

In addition, if you move quickly through the circuit exercises, you will get some aerobic benefits as well. Unfortunately, this type of program alone typically doesn't burn enough calories to promote much weight loss.

Making exercise practical, efficient, enjoyable and easy to fit into your day is key to a good exercise program. However, here are a few points to keep in mind about circuit training exercise programs.

  • There is no perfect exercise that can do everything for you. You may get some benefit from short duration aerobic activity between machine strength sessions. But this benefit is not as great or complete as regularly performing a specific dedicated aerobic activity, such as walking or jogging.
  • Individual exercise needs or concerns are difficult to address in circuit programs. If you are recovering from a specific injury or you need special adaptations to an exercise program because of a medical condition or injury, these programs may not be able to completely address your needs.
  • With respect to strength machines, 'one size does not fit all.' If the machines used in the circuit are not adjustable to your body, they can place excessive stress on joints and increase the risk of overload and strain injuries.
  • Technique is king (or queen). How you do an exercise is as important as what you do. Often in group settings, individual supervision of appropriate exercise technique by a knowledgeable exercise specialist is not possible. Also, don't succumb to time pressure. Make sure you position your body appropriately for each exercise and use slow and controlled movements during your strength training exercises.
  • Listen to your body. If a particular exercise is painful beyond expected muscle soreness or causes joint pain or swelling, stop doing it. If pain persists, have the injury evaluated by a doctor.
  • Don't worry about what others are doing. You may be tempted to try to keep pace with those around you. Don't worry about what everyone else is doing. Just concentrate on your own technique and exercises and do it at a speed that is comfortable for you.

Last Updated: 05/09/2006
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