Metabolic Circuit Training for Fat Loss

I have always been a huge advocate of Circuit Training.  Circuit training is a form of conditioning combining multiple types of strength exercises back to back or they can be combined with high-intensity anaerobic exercises.  By incorporating multiple modalities into one workout, you not only save time but you will ramp up your hormonal response,  metabolism and results…dramatically!

There’s been many studies that show how circuit training can improve your strength, muscle mass, aerobic and anaerobic capacities as well as decrease body fat effectively in a very short period of time.  Most of these results occur through the hormonal effects that training at a high intensity, with shorter rest periods have on the human body.

Long duration aerobic workouts followed by your typical weight training session is a thing of the past.  3 times per week at about 30 minutes or less per session is all that it takes to take your bodies fat burning ability to another level! The key to this type of training is the amount of effort you put into it.  Now of course that goes without saying right?  Effort is the key to most types of training.   You could casually stroll through one of these workouts or you can put forth the effort that will get you real results!

Here are a few different methods of circuit training I prefer to use with clients that are trying to drop body-fat…and there are plenty!

  1. Strength exercises performed back to back.  I like to set these up with one exercise per major movement pattern( horizontal push and pull, vertical push and push, lunge and or squat, some type of core exercise, such as a plank, chopping or anti-rotation exercise.
  2. Strength mixed with high intensity conditioning drills(various body-weight drills, jumping rope, plyometrics or rowing etc.) with set rest periods.
  3. The third method, which is basically the same as the previous two but you greatly reduce or eliminate rest periods so you are not completely recovering.  It’s brutal and effective but you save a lot of time.  I like to call this method “Metabolic Circuit Training”, because you’re taxing the body’s energy systems to the point that it’s forced to increase the metabolic and hormonal responses in order to recover.  The benefits of these types of circuits usually kick into overdrive the hours following the workout.

These circuits can be done for a time period (ie. 10-30 seconds) or set repetitions.  I find the variable with the greatest impact, which can be changed quite often, is the rest periods.  You can set rest periods between exercises and or complete circuits.  It all depends on your goals and fitness level. For fat loss  clients,  I prefer minimal rest periods.  For muscle-building and specific energy system training, I would prescribe more of a complete recovery during the circuits, but that’s a whole other topic.

Another major factor in circuit training is the use of large, multi-joint movements (squats and presses), instead of smaller single-joint movements(bicep curls or knee extensions).  Using the largest amount of muscle during your training will have huge implications on your hormonal and metabolic responses and will give you the greatest bang for your buck.  This is a must!

Here is an example of a “metabolic circuit” that I know will kick your butt and give you a huge edge in your quest for a lean strong body!

“Metabolic Circuit” – Body Weight Training

The strength exercises in this circuit will be done for 10 – 15 explosive but quality and controlled repetitions.  Try to be as explosive as you can be.   Each strength exercise is followed by a 30 second conditioning drill immediately after.  Once you’ve complete the first pair of exercises rest for just 30 seconds before moving on to the next pair. If you have a hard time doing push ups for instance, modify them(kneeling)or do as many as you can at a clip and just do a few less than prescribed.  Just pick a rep scheme and stick to it…you can always increase over time.  Try not to take these exercises to muscular failure.  Well, maybe toward the end!

Pair #1

  1.  Air squats – 8-15 reps (body-weight)
  2.   Squat Thrust or burpees – 30 seconds

Rest 30

Pair #2

  1. Inverted Row, pull-ups – 8-15 (if you can do them) or some type of pulling movement like a bent-over row or even a pull-down if you cannot do the first two.  However,  I recommend body-weight exercises for this circuit.
  2.   Sprint or Run hard – 30 seconds

Rest 30

Pair #3

  1.   Push-ups – 8-15
  2.   Rowing machine (if you have one) or Jump rope – 30 seconds

Rest 30

Pair #4

  1.  Plank with alternating Hip extension – 8 -15 per hip – this exercise is performed in a plank position,  you will dynamically stabilize one side as you raise your hip(with a perfectly straight knee)on the other.   Hold at the top for a second.
  2.  Mountain Climber – 30 seconds

Repeat for 4 rounds with just 1 minute rest between rounds.

Key points for circuit training:

  • A good warm-up is necessary;  Foam rolling, a little muscle activation work(like bridges and planks) and a functional dynamic warm-up will go a long way before you begin.
  • Choose exercises that utilize large movement patterns to maximize results.
  •  Be sure to put as much effort into your circuit as possible.  It’s all about intensity!
  •  If you need to rest a bit longer between rounds, that’s OK.  It just means you were pushing really hard…hopefully.  Just don’t be a slacker!
  •  If you have a hard time with any of these exercises just modify the movement or break up the reps  during the circuit(do as many as you can…rest…then do a few more).  Be sure not to move onto the next exercise until the reps in the first exercise are completed.
  • Eat well or you’re wasting your time!

Circuit training can be your tool to a lean strong body.  Many people believe that it takes hours and hours of long duration “cardio” to drop body fat and get into great shape.  I challenge you to drop those long, boring cardio sessions and start hitting some hard circuits 3-4 times per week.  Of course great nutrition is a MAJOR factor.  So don’t expect good results if your still washing down those greasy cheeseburgers and fries with a can of soda.

This is a lifestyle…not something we do part-time.  It’s your choice!

If you have any questions about anything I discussed or would like to work with a trainer to set-up your own circuit training program, just leave a comment or email me at

Strength For Life,

Jim O’Hagan

Jim is an N.A.S.M CFT Certified Fitness Trainer,  N.A.S.M. CES Corrective Exercise Specialist and Certified Functional Movement Screening Specialist FMS. With over 15 years of experience helping hundreds of clients get ready for life and sport,  Jim’s passion for nutrition, fitness, strength and conditioning will never be satisfied!

Jim is also the founder of Core Dynamics Gym, an exclusive fitness club located in Water Mill, New York.


  1. Great Blog, Jim ! I definitely will give this a shot. Please give me another recommendation for the Mtn Climber as I assume this is a piece of machinery I dont have.

    • Hey Mike a mountain climber is not a machine. It’s an exercise performed in a full plank position(hands and feet on the ground while bracing your core). You begin by pulling one knee under your body, then explosively switching legs. You will alternate back and forth between legs for the entire 30 seconds.

      • ahhh, so that’s what it is ! I remember this exercise from my Football days ! It was not fun after doing sets of wind sprints, but it kicks your butt and is well worth it! I will definitely be trying this circuit out !
        Thank you !

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