Circuit Training Insanity: 3 Hardcore Workouts to Burn Body Fat

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A soldier takes an Army physical fitness test on Camp Casey, South Korea.
A soldier from 210th Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, takes an Army physical fitness test for the Best Warrior Competition on Camp Casey, South Korea, March 18, 2014. (Spc. Sara E. Wiseman/U.S. Army photo)

If you're looking to shave some points off your body-fat percentage, circuit training workouts are about to become your new best friend. These whole-body workouts combine strength and cardiovascular training into one killer muscle-building, fat-burning session.

The secret is in cutting out rest. While most strength training workouts advise (and wisely so) rest between sets, circuit training workouts are built to cut out downtime. Targeting different muscles, one after the other, enables you to rest the muscle you just worked without resting the whole body. 

As a result, you'll get all the strength-building benefits, plus an infusion of cardio and endurance. Mixing resistance training with a cardiovascular workout in this way has been shown to increase your metabolism. You'll burn fat while you build muscle, shaving off body-fat percentage points as you go.

Circuit training is also incredibly efficient. You'll be amazed at how quickly you can get an effective full-body workout while working through these circuits. Of course, achieving that efficiency means you're cramming a lot of hard work into a short amount of time. 

You may find yourself having to go into beast mode to make it through these workouts. Moving continuously without rest demands major mental endurance, focus and discipline, all of which you'll build as you train.

There are three major types of circuit training workouts. The first two are similar, and in some cases interchangeable, but have some small, differing advantages.  Read below to find out more and see which is most appropriate to your goals.  We've also included a sample body-weight training circuit for each. These are fairly advanced, hardcore workouts. If you can't do an exercise included with good form, simply substitute in something accessible to you that works the same muscles. 

Before the first two (MRT and HIIT), be sure to warm up with light exercises and mobility drills to increase your heart rate gently and keep the joints safe.  As finisher circuits are designed for the end of a workout, you won't need to warm up first.

1. Metabolic Resistance Training (MRT)

If your focus is on building strength, MRT is the way to go.  MRT circuits consist of a series of four to eight exercises, usually multi-joint in nature, with little to no rest between sets. Built to increase the metabolic output of exercise, these workouts fire up your body's circuits, leaving them revving long after your post-gym shower. The effect is shockingly rapid results, maximizing your body's "change capacity" for improvements of 50% in just six weeks.  

This works on three levels: First, basic energy expenditure.  A MRT workout's burn can easily approach, or even surpass, 600 calories.  Secondly, MRT massively increases excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which is a fancy way of saying afterburn.  This is the energy it takes to return to the status quo, post-workout. An MRT workout can up this energy consumption for more than 38 hours.  Thirdly, MRT counteracts the negative effects of lactic acid, building intense endurance that can lead to massive muscle growth.

Madman MRT Circuit:

Move through the sequence, resting 30 seconds or less between exercises. Rest 60 seconds or less after the last exercise, then begin the sequence again. Try to move through the entire sequence three times. As your endurance grows, reduce the amount of rest, until you're taking no rest between exercises and 30 seconds or less between circuits.  Remember: if you can't yet do any of these exercises with good form, replace it with something similar (regular squats for one-legged squats, for example), adding in the more advanced exercises as strength grows.

  1. 5-8 missing arm push-ups (both sides) or 8-12 leaning tower push-ups (both sides)

  2. 5-8 one-legged squats (both sides)

  3. 8-12 archer pull-ups (both sides)

  4. 10-15 single leg hip bridge

  5. 8-10 handstand wall walks

  6. 30s L-sit

2. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT workouts alternate between high intensity and low to moderate intensity intervals as the circuit progresses. If you're looking to burn fat while building endurance, you'll want to work some HIIT workouts into your plan. Like MRT, HIIT does crazy things for your EPOC, keeping your metabolism going strong long after you've left the gym. 

Because they work at such a high level of intensity, HIIT workouts also increase levels of muscle-building hormones. This killer combination means you'll gain muscle mass while burning off body fat. As an added bonus, you'll get your heart rate way up, powering up your cardiovascular endurance.

Hardcore HIIT Circuit:

Move through the four exercises without rest in between. When you finish the circuit, take 30 to 60 seconds of rest, then repeat.  Aim for three to five circuits.  For the AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible) intervals, you can increase intensity over time both by squeezing in more reps and lengthening the interval. You also can lengthen the static holds as strength grows. 

Be careful to maintain good form, even when trying to squeeze in more reps. Doing more reps won't do you any good if you're not doing them with integrity.

  1. Squat thrusts, 60 seconds, AMRAP

  2. Static squat, hold 60 seconds

  3. X-Pushup, 60 seconds, AMRAP

  4. Missing Arm Hold, hold 30 seconds each side

  5. V Up Exercise, 30 seconds, AMRAP

  6. Frozen V Sit Exercise, hold 30 seconds

3. Finishers

Finishers are for those days you need a little something extra. They're quick, dynamic workouts you can add to the end of your normal routine. The goal is to finish your workout having given literally everything you've got. After a good finisher, you shouldn't feel like working out anymore for the day. 

Finishers are extremely versatile. You can plan one in at the end of a workout for a little extra fat-burning power. You also can add one in spontaneously on days when you've got some extra energy left to burn. They're also great for evening out a workout. 

If you're wondering whether you'll be able to climb stairs after a leg workout, but your chest feels like you could lift cars, you could restore equilibrium with an all-out, no-holds-barred, chest-focused finisher.

The Total Exhaustion Circuit

This one is the definition of a "finisher," built to squeeze out every last drip left behind from the day's workout. It's designed for strong bodies. If you're a beginner, you can cut down on sets and work your way up to the full four minutes per exercise.

It's simple:

Tabata push-ups + 60 seconds rest + Tabata squats.

(Tabata method is 20 seconds of all-out exercise, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times. This adds up to four minutes per exercise, meaning this Tabata-style finisher will leave you wiped out in nine minutes flat.)

Todd Kuslikis is the founder of AShotofAdrenaline.net, a body-weight exercise site that helps people build muscle and strength using only body-weight exercises. He has created many training routines, including his most popular 3 Month Bodyweight Training Plan.

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