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If the term ‘circuit training’ makes you want to switch off, it’s time to re-energise and crank up the power says Michael Steel.

What comes to mind when you think of circuit training – a confusing class that’s hard to define, perhaps? I can still recall my first experience of a circuit class – but it’s not because of the buzz it gave me.

Rewind to 1989: I rushed from work to my favourite Monday night class only to find a ‘no-show’ by the instructor. Rather than cancel the class, the gym manager saved the day by sending in a gym instructor to ‘teach’ a circuit. My eyes glazed over and heart sank as skipping ropes, hand weights and other small pieces of studio equipment began to litter the periphery of the studio. Circuit cards were hung on the wall with images of the exercise that we were expected to complete at each station. The gym instructor stood in the middle of the music-less room, whistle in one hand, stopwatch in the other. At the sharp blow of his whistle, we proceeded to attack the singular activity identified at our station for a set period of time while he wandered around the studio eyes glued to his stopwatch. Rescue, albeit briefly, from the torturous activity, came with a secondary blow from his whistle, indicating it was time to move on to the next station.

I had expected the workout to be hard – after all, that was a unique selling point of circuits. What I hadn’t expected was for it to be dull. The format lacked any collective group energy – something I usually found highly motivating in group exercise experiences – and the individual activities at each station, while biomechanically effective, seemed dated and somewhat pointless. Some of the equipment was unsuitable, and despite the fact that we were united in sweating it out station after station, my workout partner and I barely acknowledged each other’s presence. Mentally I was marginally engaged, emotionally I was AWOL!

Leaving the studio, I did appreciate the fact that I had worked out effectively – probably more effectively and efficiently than in my usual class of choice – but the overriding memory I took away with me was how boring it had been to participate in the circuit. You can create the most effective class on the planet, but if it’s too tedious for most people to take part in then its potential impact is hugely curtailed. The question at the front of my mind as I made my way home was ‘would I do a circuit class again?’

Happily, the answer to that question was ‘yes’ – and in time I also went on to teach circuit classes. Unfortunately, in those early days nobody taught me how to teach a circuit – or more importantly why I should. I simply followed the examples of other instructors in my club and somehow found my way. Billed as the class for ‘Type A’ personalities, circuits traditionally attracted competitive, confident, risk-taking participants who loved the adrenaline highs that working against the clock can create. Lacking true group cohesion, however, they weren’t for everyone.

Returning to my original question, ‘What comes to mind when you think of circuit training?’ many people still, unenthusiastically, describe a station-centric set-up in which participants complete a singular activity for a designated period of time before moving on to the next station. While, disappointingly, this is still as exciting as some circuit classes get, it is by no means reflective of the modern circuit training class.

Fast-forward to 2013 and the landscape for circuits has begun to change, both in terms of who participates and the type of circuits available. One such example of a circuit class that has been overhauled and reinvigorated for today’s savvy fitness consumers is High Voltage Circuitry (HVC).

“Participants interact not only with their partner, but also other pairs in the circuit. They have a dual role as ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ as they transition between stations.”

So what makes this circuit different? HVC has a specific concept with equipment USP. I believe it is essential for every circuit we teach to have a specific measurable outcome while still being highly enjoyable. Clients love working hard, and they love it even more when they know why they are working hard, because it’s motivating and it’s meaningful! The three elements that elevate HVC to being more than ‘just a circuit’ are;

  1. Equipment. With Total Gym’s incline bodyweight trainer and PlyoRebounder reaction trainer taking centre stage – and supported by battle ropes, kettlebells and ViPRs – the mix of equipment is critical for maintaining participant interest, and therefore, to the format’s success.
  2. Specificity. A nine-station circuit that is specifically designed to work the body in all three planes of motion – frontal, sagittal and transverse.
  3. Variable Training Protocols. By incorporating protocols based on Time, Repetition and Pyramids, HVC is ‘on point’ when it comes to leveraging current training methodologies.

The combination of these three elements produces ‘high voltage stimulation’ on many levels. Firstly, it’s a physiological experience targeting the circuitry of the body; the central nervous system, the vestibular system and other integral systems that keep us highly functional.

Secondly, it’s a learning experience. Participants learn movement in three planes, driving chain reactions that occur throughout the body and that integrate musculoskeletal activity to improve balance, coordination, strength and endurance.

Thirdly, an emotional connection is created between trainer and client and participant-to-participant, which is both empowering and motivational. Participants interact not only with their partner, but also other pairs in the circuit. They have a dual role as ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ as they transition between stations.

By taking inspiration from this format, and bringing the elements to life in a cohesive manner that can be replicated time after time, you too can deliver a robust and highly charged circuit experience to every participant.

Michael Steel
Actively involved in instructor training and development, and recipient of the Fitness Professional’s UK Fitness Leader of the Year award, Michael is at the forefront of many of the industry’s established freestyle and pre-choreographed training programs. He combines his trainer expertise with his business acumen in his international business development role for Total Gym and GRAVITY.

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