Circuit Training Workouts For Fat Loss

Supersets are normally done in a push pull fashion so one muscle group does not tire out. I’ve always believed supersets are the best, but strength coach John Barban says we should be using a mix of 3 or more exercises that are then followed by a period of rest known as circuit training.

Like myself, John is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and a varsity strength and conditioning coach, specializing in training female varsity athletes, and has his masters in nutritional science and human physiology from the University of Guelph.

Today, let’s hear what the expert has to say about Circuit Training.


Craig Ballantyne: How does a 6-minute circuit compare to 30 minutes of slow cardio? How can 6 minutes of exercise possibly be just as good, or even better than traditional cardio workouts?

John Barban: The 6-minute circuits’ workouts use all the muscles of your whole body, and they are at a high enough intensity to build some lean muscle mass, which stimulates your metabolism long term. Slow cardio usually only engages your legs (like jogging, biking, efx trainers, etc.) and not enough to really build any muscle. Our circuits work your back, chest, arm’s shoulder’s core as well as your legs. You end up doing a lot more work in the same amount of time.

Craig Ballantyne: Do you have an example of the exercises you would use in a circuit?

John Barban: Do the following exercises back to back to back no rest between each:

– Reverse Lunges 12 reps per leg
– Incline Push up 12 reps
– Squat and Press 12 reps

I’ll use different exercises in each mini circuit to workout all the muscles in the body in different ways. Typical slow cardio can’t get this many muscles working this hard.

Furthermore, the intensity is much higher with these workouts. You end up burning more calories during the workout, and getting a longer afterburn (the calories you burn once the exercise is over) Slow cardio has much less of an afterburn effect.

Craig Ballantyne: Why are people so hung up on doing a LOT of cardio for fat loss?

John Barban: I think they just get used to it. It’s easy, and you don’t have to think about it, and they probably read the calorie counter display once on a cardio machine and believe that they are accurately showing them how many calories they are burning.These machines have been shown to be off by as much as 20% in some cases, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in them.

Whole body high intensity circuit intervals don’t have any sort of calorie counter attached to them, so people may not be able to visualize how many calories they are really burning with these types of workouts, and I can assure you its more than any slow cardio session of the same length.

Craig Ballantyne: I totally agree, it’s a lot harder to “think” your way through a tough workout than to do mindless cardio.

John Barban: Also, I think people may be afraid of high intensity workouts if they have never tried them.
They might think it’s not for them or only for advanced trainers.

This is simply not true. Anyone can do a higher intensity workout by just moving their bodyweight with a few dumbbells. My circuits’ workout is actually very easy to set up and follow.

Craig Ballantyne: John, how would you set up a 6-minute circuit? I don’t need a bunch of machines all set up in a row, do I?

John Barban: Each mini circuit can be completed just with a set of dumbbells and your bodyweight. A bench helps, but if you don’t have one, you can use a stability ball. If you are doing the circuits at home, and you don’t have either, a chair or the stairs, or even the edge of your couch can be substituted in for many of the exercises.

In the workout, I explain how to make these substitutions at home. At the gym, you will be fine, all you need is one bench and a set of dumbbells for the whole thing!

Craig Ballantyne: Interesting, this could change the many trainers look at fat loss workouts. How did you even come up with the idea?

John Barban: It was part of our athletic training program for our women’s varsity hockey team. I needed to create a whole body workout that gave the girls a great cardio workout, as well as strength conditioning. The other catch is we needed to be able to get it done in a limited amount of space. (in the winter we didn’t have access to the track).

So we created this workout, met all our needs, it got them in great cardio and strength endurance condition, in minimal time. They continue this workout throughout their competitive season. The workout became available to everyone when my regular non-athlete clients started asking what I was doing with the athletes. The female athletes were in great shape, and my other clients demanded to be put on the same program. And the rest was history, now everyone is doing it and loving it.

Craig Ballantyne: Since we talked last, I’ve had guys asking me, can the 6-minute circuits’ program work for them if they are short of time? Would you change anything for guys?

John Barban: Yes, this program definitely works for guys too. I have some guys on it right now, and I currently use it. Three times per week for strength conditioning myself. I find that if I follow the program exactly as it is written I can handle about 80-90% of my usual weight for each of the lifts. If guys want to use it for max strength I would suggest giving some more rest between circuits and dropping some of the reps down to a power range between 6-8.

Craig Ballantyne: Very interesting.

Check in tomorrow for more effective fat burning advice!

Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Author, Turbulence Training