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How to design a circuit training session

Brian Mackenzie explains how to design a circuit training session.

Circuit training is an excellent way to improve mobility, strength, and stamina simultaneously. The circuit training format utilizes a group of 6 to 10 strength exercises that are completed one exercise after another. Each exercise is performed for a specified number of repetitions or for a prescribed time before moving on to the next exercise. The exercises within each circuit are separated by brief, timed rest intervals, and each circuit is separated by a longer rest period. The total number of circuits performed during a training session may vary from two to six depending on your training level (beginner, intermediate, or advanced), your period of training (preparation or competition), and your training objective.


Identify the possible exercises that can be performed with the available equipment. Identify on paper 3 to 4 circuits of 6 to 10 exercises. In each circuit, try to ensure that no two consecutive exercises exercise the same muscle group, e.g. do not have press-ups followed by pull-ups.

A circuit should be set up so that you work each body part as follows: Total-body, Upper-body, Lower-body, Core & Trunk, etc.


The following are examples of exercises that can be used in a circuit training session:

  • Upper-body: Press-ups, Bench dips, Pull-ups, Medicine ball chest pass, Bench lift, incline press-up
  • Core & trunk: Sit-ups (lower abdominals), Stomach crunch (upper abdominals), Back extension chest rise
  • Lower-body: Squat jumps, Compass jumps, Astride jumps, Step-ups, Shuttle runs, Hopping shuttles, Bench squat
  • Total-body: Burpees, Treadmills, Squat thrusts, Skipping

Example Sessions

  • 6 Exercises: Treadmills, Press-ups, Squat Jumps (forward astride), Sit-ups (bent knees feet on the ground), Squat Thrusts, Bench Dips
  • 8 Exercises: Treadmills, Press-ups, Squat Jumps (forward astride), Sit-ups (bent knees feet on the ground), Squat Thrusts, Bench Dips, Shuttle runs, Back extension chest rise

How much and how long

  • 20 to 30 seconds of work on each exercise with a 30 seconds recovery between each exercise
  • 3 to 5 sets with a 3-minute recovery between each set

The duration can be based on time (e.g. 30 seconds) or set to half the number of repetitions of the exercise the athlete can complete in 60 seconds of 100% effort. Suppose training is based on the number of repetitions. In that case, regular testing (e.g. every four weeks) will need to be carried out to determine the maximum number of repetitions that can be completed in 60 seconds for each exercise.


It is vital to warm up with easy jogging and dynamic stretching exercises and an easy jog with static stretching as a cool down after the session. For each circuit, I use a set of linoleum (lino) cards (6 inches by 6 inches) with an exercise written on each which I lay by the equipment to indicate to the athletes the required exercise at each stage of the circuit.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2005) How to design a circuit training session. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 21 / April), p. 12

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2005) How to design a circuit training session [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance, and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years and has 45+ years of experience as an endurance athlete.