Workout trends are kind of like deadbeat family members: They're full of promises they just can't keep. That doesn't mean we should give up on the quest to get fit, though, because whipping yourself into shape can do you a lot of good — good which usually has nothing to do with "looking skinny" in your denim cutoffs. There's a great feeling of accomplishment that comes with reaching a certain level of fitness, along with a spike in creativity, more productive days at work, and a better sleep routine.
Bustle spoke with John Ford, personal trainer at Find Your Trainer and a former Harvard athlete, who agrees that the main focus of getting fit shouldn't be on how you look. He says, "For clarity purposes, lets break down 'getting into shape' as the following things: losing fat, building muscle (size and endurance), improving cardiovascular fitness, and improving maintaining flexibility." In order to hit all these categories in a short amount of time, he recommends a circuit training program.
If you're not familiar with how circuit training works, Ford has provided Bustle with a workout he prescribes to his clients. This is as much for beginners as it is for seasoned folks. It's best done at a gym, but if you've got some dumbbells at home and a place to run outside, you can make most of it happen.
Start off with a 15 minute run at nine to 10 miles an hour, followed by a quick set of pull-ups, dips, and chin-ups (just dips if you're at home). Next, do 20 squats, 10 forward, side, and backward lunges, 20 bench presses, five walking forward push-ups, 20 seated back rows, one 500 meter sprint, 20 seated shoulder presses, one minute of high knees with shoulder press (alternate press with opposite knee lift), and an eight-minute ab sequence of your favorite moves, 30 seconds each. Repeat from the squats to ab sequence, and then finish with a super set of bicep curls, 10 minutes on an elliptical machine, and a stretch.
Of course, this is just an example of a sequence. Feel free to play around with it yourself and gather what you see from videos online. No harebrained fitness fad promises here. Instead, you'll see plenty of results in a short amount of time.
Here are six reasons why circuit training is the quickest way to get fit.
1. It Improves Cardiovascular Conditioning
Ford calls circuit training workouts "steady state cardio" that whips your cardiovascular system into shape. That doesn't mean you'll be doing traditional cardio the whole time, but calisthenic movements make your heart pump all the same, especially when you toss in a super set of bicep curls at the end of your workout, as Ford suggests.
The more you get comfortable with circuit training, you'll learn to alternate between intervals of high-intensity cardio and weight lifting, which turns your workout into an anaerobic exercise that improves your overall cardio-respiratory fitness.
2. It Builds Muscle Strength And Endurance
"The calisthenic and cross-training moves work on your muscular endurance and strength," Ford says, and that's a primary factor in overall fitness. All the hard work you put in pushes your muscles to a state of fatigue, which may sound scary, but is actually a good thing; only from there will you get stronger and see an improvement.
Circuit training is one of the fastest ways to build up your muscles because of the variety of exercises you're doing, as well as the fact that you're hitting both major and minor muscle groups with compound movements. For example, one of the moves Ford recommends is a shoulder press with a dumbbell, along with a knee lift. Do this for a full minute, for two sets. You'll build up strength in your upper and lower body at the same time, enlisting all sorts of muscles to work simultaneously.
3. It Increases Mobility And Flexibility
It's easy to forget that big muscles and fast legs don't necessarily paint the whole picture of fitness. You have to think about full functionality if you want to get fit. That means you want a workout routine that gives you more mobility and a boost in flexibility, two things that will make it easier for you to move around in your everyday life and prevent injury in the long run.
According to Ford, that's why circuit training has a lot to offer. "By working across planes with movements and doing full range of motions, you are even increasing and working on your flexibility," he says. Also, depending on how much you need to work on flexibility, the movements you do in each session can be tailored by a personal trainer to better suit you.
4. You Can Easily Keep Track Of Your Improvement
"In a varied workout like [this] you’re going to have a lot of chances to outperform yourself," Ford tells Bustle. Get yourself a stopwatch and use a notebook so you can taken notes of your progress. Unlike exercise regimens like Pilates or spin classes, every part of circuit training can be recorded every time you workout, giving you a concrete sense of where you started and how far you've come.
Even more than using this program to get fit, though, Ford points out that knowing your physical capabilities and seeing yourself tangibly improve does a lot for you mentally. You'll gain more self-confidence, the kind that seeps into the rest of your life.
5. You Can Adjust The Routine To Your Fitness Objectives
If you have a fitness goal in sight — to run a 5K, to keep up with your best friend at the gym, to carry all those groceries from your car in one fell swoop — you can adjust your circuit training workout to make it happen. Ford says the duration and intensity levels can be varied at any time; you can even devote a whole session to a specific intention, or spend a day on cardio or strengthening your upper body. Additionally, you have full control over how much more challenging each workout gets as your move forward.
6. It's A Sustainable Form Of Exercise
Even though your goal is to get fit quick, that doesn't mean you should take whatever shortcut seems easiest at the time. The point of getting fit is to feel great — for as long as possible. That's why circuit training comes out on top. Rather than a fad that will only keep you occupied for a hot minute, it's a workout that can become a part of your lifestyle and help you accomplish "well-being goals," which Ford outlines for his clients. They include reduced levels of stress, improved eating habits, and better hand-eye coordination.
"There’s a difference between training (which is pushing your body to the max to perform) versus working out, which is more about doing what’s best for your body in the long run," Ford says. Aim for the latter with your circuit training plans and you'll be in shape in no time.