Use a circuit training program for hypertrophy, save time, and get better results. Circuit training won’t work if your training for strength or doing Olympic lifting, but two new studies indicate that it can be effectively used for a hypertrophy/basic strength program.
Hypertrophy/basic strength is a common phase in periodized strength programs, whether they follow a linear or undulating model. An obvious benefit of a circuit hypertrophy program is that it takes less time, a plus for time-stressed individuals or for those who want to either perform more exercises or spend the saved time on sport technique practice.
In a 2008 study, both the circuit training (of the three exercises performed, only the bench was tested, with no rest between exercises) and the traditional training group (only one exercise, the bench press, with three minutes rest between sets) performed five sets of as many reps as possible at 85 percent of 1RM maximum. The groups had similar values for peak power, 1RM strength, reps achieved, and load lifted. The good news is that the circuit hypertrophy training also resulted in a higher average heart rate throughout the session, indicating a greater cardiovascular load, which can improve cardiovascular function and endurance.
A 2011 study comparing oxidative stress markers from circuit hypertrophy training and traditional hypertrophy training used a lower 1RM percentage (75 percent) with three sets of 10 for bench press, cable pull down, overhead press, leg extension, leg flexion, and leg press. The traditional training program had three minutes rest between exercises, while the circuit program had no rest with participants moving from exercise to exercise. Results showed no difference between the training groups in blood lactate accumulation, number of repetitions, or ratings of perceived exertion. Interestingly, the circuit resistance training scheme found that oxidative stress biomarkers (such as creatine kinase or uric acid, whose buildup indicates that the body is under stress because there is not enough oxygen to metabolize them) were lower and antioxidant modulation was less pronounced as compared to the traditional hypertrophy program.
Longtime body builders or power lifters may be reluctant to try a new training scheme but the research indicates cardiovascular and oxidative stress benefits to a resistance circuit training program. While there were no differences in volume between the groups in the studies, it should be noted that these studies didn’t measure muscle cross sectional area, meaning it is unclear how effective circuit training is in actually increasing muscle mass. For the time-stressed or adventurous individual it is worth a shot.
Alcaraz, P., Sanchez-Lorente, J., Blazevich, A. Physical Performance and Cardiovascular Responses to an Acute Bout of Heavy Resistance Circuit Training Versus Traditional Strength Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2008. 22(3), 667-671.
Deminice, R., Sicchieri, T., Mialich, M., Francine, M., Ovidio, P., Jorao, A. Oxidative Stress Biomarker Responses to an Acute Session of Hypertrophy-Resistance Interval Training and Circuit Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011. 25(3), 798-804.