Last week, I wrote about my strategy for improving your life in any way by making incremental improvements. My main example was using walking and running to get into the exercise routine, but I want to take it a step further this week by covering the best beginner workout you can start using immediately.
Whether you don’t workout at all, or you do/used to and are in a rut, here’s a simple, straightforward and effective workout that can be done in a short period of time, and can be adapted so that you can use it week after week.
Intro to Circuit Training
When I first started working out, I made the same mistake as most young guys and would head to the gym, pick a muscle group, do a few massive repetitions (or “reps”), take a 3 minute break, rinse and repeat for different exercises. While this form of lifting can definitely be effective depending on your goals, it wasn’t a good fit for me. I’m not a pro athlete or body builder, and my goal from going to the gym is to get an efficient, effective and enjoyable workout in as little time as possible.
I do NOT look to spend more than 45 minutes in the gym at a time (ideally, 25-35), and so I looked into circuit training. You can read a ton of information on the benefits of circuit training, but the main reason I do it is because it’s fun, quick and can be done almost anywhere. Not only that, but you’re building muscle AND getting a cardio workout at the same time. Killing two birds with one stone= ideal in my books. If you want to read more about the benefits, just google “circuit training benefits”.
While the exact workouts can differ, the main idea behind circuit training is that you’re very quickly moving between a range of exercises without much of a break. This really gets your heart rate up, and is why you are effectively building muscle (through the exercises themselves) and getting a cardio workout (constantly moving around, getting your heart rate up and keeping it up, just like you would be on a treadmill, bike, etc.) at the same time.
There are so many variations of circuit training, but I’m going to give you a simple way to get started if you’ve never done it, or to get back into a good routine if you’ve fallen out. Note: this workout is aimed at taking between 25-35 minutes, because no one wants to spend all day at the gym. Here’s what you’ll need:
- A gym or open space (you don’t need tons of equipment or space, even going outside or using your living room is fine)
- Weights and/or machines are a plus, but not required
- Proper workout attire (mostly just decent shoes in my opinion, not much else matters)
- Music (this is a personal preference, but definitely improves the experience)
Now, take out a piece of paper or open a notepad on your phone, and write/type out 5-8 exercises. They can all be for a similar body part (eg. Upper body exercises, or leg exercises, etc.), or they could cover a wide range. What they are isn’t as important as the fact that you can do a reasonable amount of reps of each one (6-12, depending on the type of exercise and/or your level of fitness).
Next, put them in an order that makes sense. For example, if you’re doing a workout of only back and chest exercises, it’s probably best to mix the two up, instead of having 3 chest exercises back-to-back-to-back, but if you’re up for the challenge, then great! If you need help creating the list, just google “(whatever body part) exercises”. I do this all the time when I’m looking to mix things up or focus on a particular body type. Also, if you don’t have a gym, you can look up “body weight exercises” or “outdoor exercises”. Get creative, and don’t use not having a gym as an excuse.
The idea is that you want to be able to do 6-12 reps of each exercise, and a full round of those exercises (going through each one, without a break in between), should take 4-8 minutes. The workout will look like this:
- 3-5 minute warm up (for me, usually a run on the treadmill but it could be anything, such as jumping jacks, skip rope, bike, stretch, whatever)
- Set #1 (this means you will do 6-12 reps of each exercise once, without a break in between)
- 3-5 minutes of cardio (or if you’re new/out of shape, just rest)
- Set #2 (so you are doing each exercise all over again)
- 3-5 minutes of cardio (or rest, if needed)
- Set #3 (one last time, you got this!)
- Cool down (usually a walk, or stretching, or both)
- You’re done!
In case the above description was confusing, I define a “set” as doing each exercise once, for 6-12 reps, without taking a break. So if you picked push ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks as your 3 exercises, you would do your designated amount of reps for each exercise without taking a break, and that would be your first set. Then you’d rest or do cardio, and start them all over again for set #2.
The workout is fast, fun, and can be adapted in a million ways. It’s good to mix up the types of exercises you’re doing every few weeks, and you can adapt it based on how many times a week you are able to workout. For example, if you are working out twice a week, maybe do one as an upper body workout, and one as lower body. There are weeks where I’m playing sports so I only have time for one workout, and I’ll make that one a full body workout.
Also, make sure to adapt it based on what type of shape you’re in. If you’re newer to working out, stick to fewer exercises per set (aim for 4-5), and use the breaks in-between each set to recover and/or go for a light walk. Once you’ve been doing the workout a few times a week for a few weeks, try and work the cardio in in-between sets. Adjust the reps and weight you’re using accordingly. The goal is to do 5-8 exercises for enough reps so that you’re short of breath at the end of each set. By the time you finish the whole workout, you should have a good sweat going. I know I always do.
Beginner Workout Example
Lastly, don’t be intimidated. You can start out at a really basic level and it can be such a benefit to your fitness level. Here’s an easy one to get started this week:
- 3-5 minute warm up of your choice
- Set #1 (10 push ups, 10 sit-ups, 20 jumping jacks, 15 burpees, 30 seconds of running on the spot)
- 2 minute rest
- Set #2 (exact same as set #1)
- 2 minute rest
- Set #3
- 5 minute walk
Do a circuit training workout like this 2-3 times a week, or use it once or twice to supplement other exercise (such as sports, running/biking, hiking, etc.) and you’ll notice a huge difference. One last note: pick music that gets you pumped up, make a long playlist beforehand and start it up before you start working out. It will get you into the “zone” and have you excited to get started.
Give it a try and let me know the results! And as always, if you have a question or comment feel free to leave it here or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading!