Circuit training is a training term you’ve probably heard before — perhaps from a favorite at-home workout app or from a die-hard fitness enthusiast. But knowing what it is actually means is a little trickier.
However, you can think of circuit training as a surprisingly easy way to program your strength training, and one that offers great benefits, especially for cyclists. “Circuits are one of my favorite forms of exercise and are part of all my clients’ programs,” said Frank Baptiste, CSCS, personal trainer and founder of Honest fitness. Incorporating regular circuit training into your routine can increase your performance in the saddle, reduce your risk of injury, and put you big into your training—perfect for days when you’re short on time.
First, everything you need to know about circuit training for cyclists, including instructions for a super-effective bodyweight circuit you can try at home today.
What is circuit training?
Circuit training is a form of interval training in which you do six or more exercises in a row with minimal rest in between. Then you repeat for a set number of rounds or rounds or for a set time, Baptiste explains.
What specific exercises you do, what type of equipment (if you have them) you use, and how many rounds you complete, well, that’s really up to you. circuit training really is so open and versatile.
What are the benefits of circuit training?
Circuit training has many benefits that might convince you to train this way. For starters, circuit training is a really efficient way to increase muscle strength and endurance, as well as cardiovascular fitness, says Baptiste. “Because you’re doing all the exercises non-stop, your heart rate is guaranteed to stay elevated and you’ll get a sweat — the kind of workout that makes you feel energized,” he says.
Compared to more traditional forms of strength training, where you do all the reps and sets of an exercise before moving on to the next, circuit training doesn’t require you to rest as much during a workout, making it a good choice for busy cyclists. Additionally, the varied format of the circuits can help you stay motivated and engaged throughout your workout.
For cyclists in particular, circuit training is a great way to train the aerobic system, which is the primary energy system you use when pedaling. To be sure, circuit training involves some anaerobic effort, but overall it’s less anaerobic than HIIT training because the rest periods are shorter and the overall intensity isn’t as high. In that sense, circuit workouts more closely mimic cycling, since a typical bike ride is mostly in the aerobic zone, unless you’re doing sprints or crazy hill climbs, Baptitse says.
In addition, circuit training is ideal for reducing the risk of injury and increasing performance on the bike. “There’s a lot of people who just bike or just run, and you’re not going to reach your peak performance unless you’re working all the different muscles in your body and really don’t rely on just one type of workout,” says Olivia AmatoPeloton coach who teaches bike, treadmill and strength classes.
“When you move around on a bike, you’re moving in a plane of motion,” explains Amato. That would be the sagittal plane of motion, which includes forward and backward movements. However, with circuit training, you can incorporate movements in different planes of motion such as the frontal (side-to-side) and transverse (rotational/diagonal) planes. This strain can help you build well-rounded strength while reducing muscle and mobility imbalances — two key elements of injury prevention.
To top it off, circuit training can help you build strength in the muscles that matter most when cycling (like your quads), while also incorporating moves like bent-over rows or glute bridges, which can help counteract some of the over-stressed positioning when riding To go biking. In turn, you can become a stronger, more resilient athlete, both on and off the bike.
How do you incorporate circuit training into your training plan?
For the cyclist who trains five or six days a week, Baptiste recommends training three to four days on the bike and two days in the gym with circuits. Avoid circuit training more than three times a week, he says.
When you fit circuit training into your schedule, make sure to leave a day in between so you’re not doing circuits on back-to-back days, Baptiste recommends. It’s okay to ride and circuit on the same day – you just need to prioritize your workout that day and complete that workout first, when your muscles are at their freshest. That said, if you’re brand new to circuits, wait a few weeks before doing them on the same day as a ride, Baptiste suggests. Once your body has had time to get used to the moves in a circuit workout, you can try stacking them alongside your rides.
The ideal circuit training for cyclists alternates between upper body and lower body movements. “So you can move from one to the next with less rest,” says Baptiste. “The upper body recovers while you do the lower body and vice versa.” The workout should include core and postural exercises to also balance the position you’re in on the bike.
In terms of which specific circuit training exercises work best for cyclists, Baptiste recommends single-leg quad moves (think lunges, step-ups, and split squats) since your quads provide the majority of the power on your downstroke when cycling. “The stronger your quads are, the better your performance on the bike will be,” says Baptiste. Single-leg movements offer the added benefits of increasing stability, accurately mimicking the movement of cycling, and locating and correcting side-to-side imbalances, he explains.
However, don’t forget about your back muscles to counteract all of the quadriceps stress that occurs when cycling. So it’s also a good idea to incorporate moves like bridges, single-leg Romanian deadlifts, and hamstring curls. It’s also smart to include lateral movements to balance out all the sagittal movements we do in the saddle, as well as upper-body movements like pulling exercises that open the shoulders and counteract the hunched-in, in-turned posture that’s enforced on the bike, says Baptiste.
Here is a general circuit training format from Baptiste that cyclists can follow:
- Knee dominant lower body exercise
- Upper body pull exercise
- Core Stability Exercise
- Hip dominant lower body exercise
- Upper body push exercise
- Core anti-rotation exercise
Do 10 to 15 repetitions of each movement, resting about 15 seconds between movements. Rest 2 minutes after repeating all movements and do the entire circuit 2 to 3 times.
A circuit training for cyclists
Are you looking for something more specific? Here’s a no-equipment circuit workout from Baptiste to help cyclists build strength and endurance.
How to use this list: Perform each movement in sequence with little or no rest between movements, following the repetitions listed below. At the end of the circuit, rest for 2 to 3 minutes. Then repeat a total of 3 rounds. You don’t need any equipment other than a chair, couch, or bench nearby. An exercise mat is optional.
Mallory Creveling, Certified Personal Trainer and To go biking Assistant Editor for Health and Fitness, demonstrates each exercise so you can learn proper form.
1. Elevated split squat with back foot to lunge forward
Stand in front of a chair, couch, or bench and look away from it. Place your right foot on the chair behind you. Bend your left knee to lower yourself into a lunge position, left thigh parallel to the floor, and back knee hovering just off the floor. Allow a slight hinge at the hips. Push through left foot to stretch left. From here, bring your right foot forward, off the chair, and place it several feet in front of your body. Plant your foot firmly on the floor and bend both knees to lower yourself into a forward lunge, keeping your torso upright and bracing your core. Push through your right foot to get back up, bring your right foot back and place it back on the chair. To repeat. Do 8 to 10 repetitions. Then switch sides.
2. Alternating side plank with straight arm
Begin in a plank, shoulders over wrists, form a straight line from head to heels, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Engage glutes and legs. Twist on your feet and twist your body to the right, raise your right arm toward the ceiling to form a T-shape with your arms. You should hit a side plank. Pause, then return to normal plank. Repeat on the left side. Continue alternating side planks, with a regular plank in the middle. Do 8 repetitions per side.
3. Prone W
Lie face down with legs stretched behind you and arms stretched out to your sides, palms down and elbows bent. The arms should form a W-shape. Keeping your eyes down, use your middle back muscles to slowly lift your torso off the floor. Once your torso is raised, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Then stretch your arms overhead and keep your torso elevated. Pause, then pull your arms back down into a W shape. Pause, then lower your upper body onto the mat. To repeat. Do 12 repetitions.
4. One-legged inchworm for push-ups
Standing on one leg, bend forward at the waist to touch your toes, then lower your hands into a high plank position, shoulders over your wrists, foot still off the floor. Bend your elbows to lower your body into a push-up. Push through hand to return single leg high plank. Bring your hands back to your feet and stand back up. This is a repeat. To repeat. Do 5 repetitions. Then switch sides.
Start standing. Push off your left foot to jump right, land on your right foot and swing your left leg behind you as you push your hips back and grab your toes with your left fingertips. Then push off your right foot to jump back to your left, land on your left foot and swing your right foot back. Alternately further. Do 10 repetitions per side.
6. Bear grip with alternating shoulder pats
Start on all fours with a neutral spine, knees under hips, and wrists under shoulders. Keeping your back flat, use your core to lift your knees a few inches off the floor so you’re balancing on your palms and balls of your feet. From here, lift one palm up and tap the opposite shoulder, keeping the rest of the body as stable as possible. Place your palm back on the floor and repeat on the other side. Alternately further. Do 10 repetitions per side.