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 info@lifttolose.com or visit www.lifttolose.com for more information.

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