You’ve undoubtedly come across circuit workouts designed to help you build muscle in minimal time.
But like most, you probably wonder how that can be the case. After all, dedicated meatheads spend at least an hour training, so how can it be possible to build muscle in half or a third of the time?
What is Circuit Training?
As its name suggests, circuit training is an exercise modality where you string together multiple activities and do them back-to-back. For example, instead of doing:
Push-ups ⇒ Rest ⇒ Bench press ⇒ Rest ⇒ Chest flyes ⇒ Rest
You could do:
Push-ups ⇒ Squats ⇒ Barbell rows ⇒ Rest
Circuits allow you to do more work per unit of time, so each workout takes less time to complete. Instead of resting after each bout of activity, you push yourself hard, take a shorter break, and resume training.
What Makes Our Muscles Grow?
Muscle growth might seem complicated, but it isn’t. Our muscles grow in response to external stress, which can come in many forms: training, manual labor, and other things. For example, a farmer might never step inside a gym, but you can bet he will have some muscle on his bones.
With that said, building muscle at optimal rates requires a few things
- Adequate training volume (sets and reps)
- A moderate training intensity (doing most of your training in the 6 to 30 repetition range)
- A variety of exercises to train different muscles at various angles
- Progressive increase in stress (progressive overload)
- Adequate recovery between sets, allowing us to do more work
Is Circuit Training a Good Way to Build Muscle?
Circuit training is a way to build muscle. But it isn’t a good one. As discussed previously, muscle growth heavily depends on doing enough work (sets and reps). To achieve this, we need to rest long enough between sets. The issue is that circuit training forces us to do a lot of work in little time. As a result, we can’t rest for the recommended 2-5 minutes between sets.
First, not resting enough hinders our ability to accumulate enough training volume. Second, lack of recovery prevents us from pushing harder in upcoming workouts.
With that said, circuit training can result in muscle growth, so long as you work hard, recover between workouts, eat well, and make performance improvements. But more traditional gym training is better geared for muscle gain.
Who Might Benefit From Circuit Training
Despite its shortcomings, circuit training offers some benefits. Most notably, it works great for people on a tight schedule. For example, instead of not training because you don’t have an hour of free time, you can have a quick circuit session and still progress.
Circuit training is also beneficial for people who are interested in more balanced fitness development. Instead of only focusing on muscle growth, you can do circuits to improve your aerobic abilities, whole-body strength, coordination, and agility. Sure, you might not build as much muscle, but you will still shape up nicely, improve your health, and become more athletic.