Do you find exercise boring? Give circuit training a spin

With it’s mix of strength training and aerobics at a fast tempo, you’re too busy to be bored.

Long before becoming a personal trainer, I worked out in a fashion most people can relate to.

I joined a gym and exercised three to four times per week. I warmed up for 10 minutes on the Elliptical, then hit the strength machines for 25 minutes. I performed roughly 90 seconds of ab exercises, popped back on the Elliptical for another 10 minutes, then split.

It was an even-paced, tolerable workout: Unremarkable (i.e. boring) but manageable, with no surprises. Needless to say, the results were modest. I felt a bit stronger, but I didn’t really see a whole lot of change in my body. So it goes with comfy, ho-hum workouts.

Three months in, I felt I was fit enough to brave a group exercise class. Circuit training was on the gym calendar, with the following description: A fast-paced class in which participants perform an exercise for 1 to 2 minutes before moving on to another exercise. A fun mix of cardio, endurance and strength.

Fun, my glutes. Had I known of the torture that awaited me, I never would have attended. The warm-up alone damn near killed me. One round of push-ups, body-weight squats, ball slams and speed-steps on a bench had me gasping for air and frantically planning my escape.

We hadn’t even started the workout, and my lungs and quads were on fire. I was too proud to bolt, so I toughed it out through neverending rounds of burpees, tricep dips, lunges, planks, jump squats — each exercise more dreadful than the next. Every muscle in my body ached for the next two days.

I survived, but swore I would never return. I went back four days later. I attended the class religiously, three days a week, for a year and a half.

Why on earth would I return to this misery? Such is the paradox of circuit training. We hate it, we complain vehemently about it, and yet it’s addictive for the following reasons:

It is remarkably effective. The mix of strength training and aerobics at a fast tempo makes for a big caloric burn. I thought I was in decent shape until I tried circuit. With my previous workouts, I was maybe working at 25 percent of my ability. Circuit demanded 100 percent of me, whether or not I wanted to give it. Within eight weeks, I achieved noticeable results in my body: less flab and more muscle definition.

It is the ideal format for those who find exercise monotonous. Boredom doesn’t enter the picture. It can’t. You’re too busy struggling for oxygen and worrying about the uncontrollable shaking in your legs. Just kidding (sort of). The lack of boredom comes from the quick pace and the wide variety of exercises. Most circuits will have eight to 10 exercise stations, so you are not slogging away on a treadmill for 30 minutes or mindlessly pedaling a bike.

It is easy to modify. If the cardio is too much, there is a simple remedy: slow down. A quality trainer will frequently remind you to pace yourself, and will never scream at you to do more than you are ready for. She will offer knee-friendly, low-impact cardio alternatives, as well as substitute strength exercises that won’t aggravate cranky shoulders or a stiff lower back. If she doesn’t, find a different trainer at once.

It really is fun. Maybe not the first few circuits, when your body is in shock and begging you to cease such lunacy. Once it realizes you’re not a quitter, it takes on the challenge and excels. There’s no better feeling than performing your first unassisted pull-up or getting through a round of cardio without having to put your head between your knees. A fit body is a treasure.

Still petrified? Try building your own circuit at the gym or in a space at home, making it as gentle as it needs to be. Pick four cardio exercises and four strength exercises, and alternate between aerobics and building muscle.

Here’s an example work out: First, high knee march, skip or jog in place. Then do squats. Then step-ups, sprints or stairs. Next do tricep extensions — and so on. Get your heart rate up and your body out of its comfort zone, but do so at your own pace.

Circuit is one of my favorite ways to train myself and my clients. It’s challenging, effective and fun. It’s time you join in on the hoopla. And, if you somehow manage to survive your first circuit workout, let me know how it went.

Catherine Bongiorno is a personal trainer, nutritional therapist and owner of Lift To Lose Fitness & Nutrition. Email her at or visit for more information.

Talk to us

More in Life

Kid 'n Play members Christopher "Kid" Reid, left, and Christopher "Play" Martin perform on NBC's "Today" show during the "I Love The 90's" morning concert at Rockefeller Plaza on Friday, April 29, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Relive the music of the 1990s with Kid N Play and other stars of the era at the Tulalip Casino Amphitheater.

Contestant chef Brian Madayag (left) of Edmonds and West Coast team captain Brooke Williamson on “Beachside Brawl.” (Food Network) 20220616
Edmonds chef reps Pacific Northwest on new Food Network show

Barkada owner Brian Madayaga will compete on a new Food Network series that premiers Sunday.

After two years of wellness, Covid finally hit this family, but thanks to vaccinations, the symptoms were mild. (Jennifer Bardsley)
Jennifer Bardsley’s fighting COVID-19 with vaccines and TLC

But even with vaccinations, the disease is scary for people like her with less than robust immune systems.

Turkey vultures’ pervious nostrils are among the features that help them feed on carrion. (The Columbian files)
In praise of turkey vultures, nature’s cleaning service

These raptors should be revered, not reviled, for their disposal of stinky, disease-laden animal matter.

close-up of gardener's hands planting a tomato seedling in the vegetable garden
This summer, it’s smart to go big or go home at the nursery

When buying annuals, vegetables or perennials, go for the 1-gallon pots. And don’t skimp on the soil amendments and plant food.

Writing on Belfast's Peace Wall.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Europe tears down walls — and builds bridges

The walls of antiquity — and of the Cold War — were symbols not of strength, but of mistrust and insecurity.

Coming home for the summer: Your college student and you

It can be tough going and conflicts will arise, but don’t worry, parents — they’ll be back in school soon.

He booked his JetBlue tickets on Orbitz. Now they’re gone

When Benjamin Eckstein shows up at the airport for his flight from Boston to San Jose, his airline says he doesn’t have a ticket. Whose fault is this mess, and how does he clean it up?

Musicians Rod Argent, left, Hugh Grundy, Chris White, and Colin Blunstone of The Zombies attends the 2019 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Barclays Center on Friday, March 29, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Get your tickets now to see rock Hall of Famers The Zombies in Everett. Plus there’s a month of music planned in Langley.

Celebrate national pollination week

This year, the week of June 20-26 is National Pollination Week and… Continue reading

The GPP for this Friday is Clematis 'Rooguchi' and the image credit goes to Richie Steffen.
Great Plant Pick: Clematis ‘Rooguchi’

This charming, non-twining vine is ideal for tight situations, and does well in a container.

What causes gut infections, and how to avoid them

Gut infections are the top cause of acute diarrhea, and can be life-threatening if severe.