In this article, we’re going to tell you exactly how to plan a circuit class so that you and your class members get as much as possible out of your sessions!

We’re going to cover the following:

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What Does a Circuit Class Plan Normally Consist of?

tick list how to plan a circuit class graphic

Before we look into how to plan a circuit class, let’s first run through the key components of this type of session.

A circuit class involves continuously performing between 6-12 exercises with little to no rest periods, testing participants’ endurance, strength, and cardiovascular fitness.  

Such exercises are a combination of the following:

  • An upper body exercise (i.e.: bent-over row, lateral raises, renegade rows)
  • A lower body exercise (i.e. squat, lunge, glute bridges)
  • A compound movement (i.e. mountain climbers, jumping lunge/squat) 

Sessions usually last between 30-60 minutes and exercises can be adapted to suit different abilities.

If you want to know how to plan a circuit class there are a few components, other than the exercises themselves, that you’ll need to consider.

You’ll have to make sure that you select the appropriate equipment to use for each different exercise.

You’ll also have to make sure you scale the class based on the abilities of the class members. 

So, without further ado, let’s get stuck into exactly how to plan a circuit class. 

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How to Plan a Circuit Class

Here we have a step-by-step guide on everything you need to know about how to plan a circuit class with relevant examples to aid your planning process. 

Step #1 – Set a Difficulty for Your Circuit Class Plan

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One of the most important aspects of how to plan a circuit class is choosing the difficulty level for your class members. 

The difficulty of your classes may change from day to day depending on who is in attendance so it will affect everything from your class themes to your warm up ideas!

This is why it’s worth constructing multiple plans to accommodate all members of your class and be able to adjust on the fly depending on who attends. 

For example, bodyweight exercises are best for beginners as perfecting the right technique and form is important before moving on to weighted exercises. 

Conversely, intermediate to advanced members are likely already familiar with most basic exercises and want to use equipment to make them more challenging. 

You can give different options within the class so that more advanced members can use equipment for an exercise that can also be modified to suit beginners with just bodyweight.

This way you’re centring your class around your members to ensure they get the most out of the class and return in the future. 

Below are some examples of holistic circuit class plans suitable for beginners, intermediate, and advanced participants. 

You should note that since a circuit class has little to no rest periods, each proceeding exercise must work a different area of the body. 

For instance, you could start with an upper body exercise, then move on to an exercise that works the legs, followed by a compound movement as shown in these examples.

Ideas for Planning a Beginner’s Circuit Class: 

beginner how to plan a circuit class image

10 rounds of 30-seconds of each exercise

  • Sit-ups (core)
  • Squats (legs)
  • Include push-ups (arms and core)
  • Mountain climbers (compound)
  • Tricep dips (arms)
  • Plank (core)
  • Glute bridges (glutes)

As mentioned, bodyweight exercises are best for beginner-level circuits as introducing weights too early increases the risk of injury.

Plus, most participants will be familiar with these exercises already which is important for not overwhelming members with lesser-known exercises. 

Here’s some ideas for how to plan a circuit class for intermediate members.

Ideas for Planning an Intermediate Class: 

intermediate how to design a circuit class image

10 rounds of 40-seconds of each exercise:

  • Squat jumps (legs)
  • Renegade rows (arms)
  • Russian twists (core)
  • Romanian deadlifts (legs)
  • Bicep curl (arms)
  • Burpees (compound)
  • Push-ups (arms)
  • Dumbbell side lunge (legs)

Some of these exercises introduce weights into the class such as Romanian deadlifts, Russian twists, and bicep curls, making the circuit more challenging.

Plus, squat jumps involve short bursts of high-intensity exercise which is more difficult compared with regular squats and lunges which are suitable for intermediate-level participants. 

You can give people the option for each offering a modification. You can also scale your classes and offer different ones for different levels, advertising the difficulty level for people who want to sign up.

Ideas for Planning an Advanced Class:

advanced how to plan a circuit class image

15 rounds of 45-seconds of each exercise: 

  • Kettlebell swings (legs)
  • Plank rows (arms and core)
  • Broad jumps (compound)
  • Medicine ball sit-ups (core)
  • Kettlebell glute bridges (glutes)
  • Dumbbell skull crushers (arms)

With these exercises, the weights and short bursts of high intensity for longer durations make the circuit even more challenging. 

This is an easy way to make your participants work that extra bit harder to promote optimal results. 

Step #2 – How to Plan a Circuit Class: Factoring in the Right Equipment

kettlebell how to design a circuit class graphic

The next step in our guide on how to design a circuit class is to factor in what equipment you need.

Choosing the right equipment, as we’ve mentioned already, will set the level of the class as well as give people options for how they can modify or intensify each exercise.

When you’re teaching fitness classes like circuit some of the most popular equipment includes:

  • Kettlebells
  • Dumbbells
  • Medicine ball
  • Bench
  • Exercise mat
  • Cones for designating stations

For stations that use weights, consider leaving a selection of weights to accommodate different members.

Participants working with too light weights may not feel challenged while weights that are too heavy increase the risk of injury. 

If you wanted to know how to plan a circuit class that’s suitable for different levels, rather than having separate classes for different abilities, including scaled equipment like this is a great way to achieve that.

You must organise each piece of equipment into its relevant station before members arrive to portray a professional image while also allowing you to get straight into the session.

It’s especially important to do this if you work in a busy gym and access to all equipment can be limited.  

Step #3 – How to Design a Circuit Class: Decide How Long Your Session Will Be

stopwatch how to plan a circuit class graphic

Once you’ve decided which exercises you’d like to include, the next step is deciding how long your session will be. 

The average duration of a circuit class is between 30-60 minutes. For this reason, you may want to consider the following times for different fitness levels:

30-minutes: beginners

45-minutes: intermediate 

60-minutes: advanced

If the session is too long, members may feel like they’re not good enough for the class and feel hesitant to return for future sessions. 

Equally, longer sessions should be reserved for intermediate to advanced class members as half an hour may not be enough for them to feel challenged.

Participants want to feel a sense of accomplishment when the class is done which is why picking a suitable duration is so important. 

Obviously you can only separate the classes like this if you’ve got several slots in a gym or start your own fitness class business.

Step #4 – How to Plan a Circuit Class by Considering the Duration of Each ‘Station’

circuit station how to plan a circuit class graphic

The next step in our guide for creating a circuit class plan is to establish how long each ‘station’ is going to be. 

The ‘station’ refers to the area in which participants perform each exercise before moving on to the next.

Typically, participants stay at each station for between 30-90 seconds.

When deciding the duration, you must first consider how many stations you’re going to have in your class and the total duration of the workout. 

For reference, most circuit training classes have between 6-12 stations and anywhere between 3 and 10 rounds. 

Typically, you’ll want to give class members a 30-60 second break between each round.

Let’s look at a few examples to help you decide. 

EXAMPLE 1: If you have a total class time of 30-minutes and you have 9 stations, participants could stay at each station for 30 seconds for a total of 6 rounds, with a 30 second break between each round. 

Alternatively, participants could do 3 rounds of 1 minute exercises with a 1 minute break between rounds.

EXAMPLE 2: You could also have a 45-minute class with 9 stations with participants doing 4 x 1 minute rounds, or 9 x 30 second rounds, with 1 minute breaks between every round. 

EXAMPLE 3: A 1 hour long class could have 9 stations where participants do a total of 12 rounds, 30 seconds at each, with 30 second breaks. Or, those same 9 stations for 6 rounds of 60 seconds with a 60 second break after every round.

You may find that beginner participants are best staying at each station for just 30 seconds until they build their stamina enough to do the exercises for longer. 

Conversely, intermediate to advanced members may want to remain at each station for around a minute to feel challenged. 

This is why if you want to know how to plan a circuit class you should do a few calculations like these to establish how long members will be at each station.

We will cover some circuit class templates later in this article to aid your planning process. 

Step #5 – How to Plan a Circuit Class: Include a Warm Up and Cool Down 

warm up how to plan a circuit class image

What makes a good fitness instructor is not only choosing the right exercises but making sure everyone is prepared and there’s as little risk of injury as possible.

This is why another important step to consider for how to plan a circuit class is to include sufficient time to warm up and cool down. 

Let’s look into both to help inspire your next session.

Warm up exercises: 

Light cardiovascular activity is a good place to start.

Anything that elevates the heart rate is ideal but you want it to be gentle enough that you’re not putting undue strain on the muscles too early.

Doing jumping jacks or side steps is a great way to get the blood pumping whilst gently warming up the muscles!

You can then build up to doing laps around the studio but make sure you encourage class members to do a light jog rather than a sprint.

Follow this with some dynamic stretches to promote elasticity and a better range of motion in the muscles, which helps to reduce the risk of injury.

Examples include:

  • Lunges
  • Upper body twist
  • Heel walks 

You can find more warm up ideas in our article on ‘How to Plan an Effective Personal Training Session Warm Up’.

Cool down exercises: 

cool down circuit class template image

One of the easiest cooldowns is light jogging or walking to steadily bring down the heart rate without stopping too abruptly. 

It’s also important to stretch after physical activity to increase blood flow to muscles and reduce tension. 

The stretches you choose should be general and make sure they focus on all areas of the body, but you can give special focus to a particular area.

For example, you might have had a legs focus for your class, or focused heavily on the lower body, so you want to make sure you focus more heavily on these areas in your warm up and cool down.

Some of the best stretches you can do for a cool down include:

  • Ear to shoulder stretch
  • Standing side reach
  • Standing lunge
  • Standing single leg hamstring stretch
  • Tricep stretch

All of these will stretch some of the key muscles you’ll use if you’ve followed a well-rounded plan for your circuit class.

In summary, considering these circuit class ideas for instructors helps participants get the most out of your session and increases the likelihood of them returning in the future. 

Step #6 – How to Plan a Circuit Class with Sufficient Breaks

breaks circuit class template graphic

Traditionally, a circuit training class involves performing a series of different exercises with very short rest periods. 

However, this may not be feasible for some participants, particularly those new to fitness. 

Remember you want to make your classes challenging and engaging but you also need to make your fitness class fun.

This is why you need to find the balance between pushing people out of their comfort zone to challenge them and simply pushing them beyond their capabilities.

This is when people will be put off and not return, potentially even injuring themselves. 

This is why you should include the option to have an extended break or additional breaks for people if they feel dizzy or light-headed.

The last thing you want is for participants to feel overwhelmed by the difficulty and not return in the future. 

So, here are a couple of ways that you could introduce breaks into your class to accommodate all fitness levels. 

Have a mid-way breather: 

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You could have a mid-way breather during your class to allow members to recharge before carrying on. We recommend that this be no longer than 5-minutes to maintain motivation. 

Alternatively, you could do 3 lots of 90-second breaks during a class. For example, a 45-minute class could have a 90-second rest point every 15-minutes. 

You should make sure that you base this on who’s doing the class and what the level of ability is.

If you have mostly the same people coming each week you can scale this break and gradually reduce it or remove it to show class members how they’re improving.

Have longer breaks in between each exercise:

clock how to plan a circuit class graphic 

Another way that you could introduce breaks into your circuit is by having longer breaks in between each station. 

An extra 10-20 seconds can help to preserve participants’ stamina as well as keep their motivation levels high as they’re more likely to finish the class.

Again, this is something that you want to make sure matches the levels of the participants and is something you gradually reduce or change as people become familiar with the format.

This should be something you keep as a rarity just for those who are new to the class.

It won’t be long before this is too easy for people taking part and they won’t feel the full benefits of the workout with these extra or extended breaks. 

So, if you approached this article keen to discover some circuit class ideas for instructors, we hope that this step-by-step guide has provided some clarity about the planning process.

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If you’ve found our circuit class ideas for instructors helpful, check out some of our other fitness articles to help you be a better instructor!

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Tips for How to Plan a Circuit Class

Now that we’ve covered how to plan a circuit class, let’s run through a selection of our top tips for designing the best possible session to keep your participants coming back for more. 

#1 – Strike the Right Balance Between Difficult and Achievable in Your Circuit Class Plan 

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Our number 1 tip on how to design a circuit class is to include exercises that are going to challenge participants while still being achievable. 

As mentioned earlier, class members must feel a sense of accomplishment once they’ve completed the class and so striking the right balance between difficult but achievable exercises is key. 

To stop class members feeling intimidated or your class too challenging, carefully consider the most appropriate exercises that are suitable for class members whilst still pushing them.

As with the example exercises in the previous section, beginner members are best starting with bodyweight exercises to perfect their form and technique before working with weights.

Intermediate and advanced members are very likely to be familiar with weights and equipment and so introducing exercises with these makes it more challenging. 

You should consider testing your circuit training on family and friends of varying fitness abilities to see whether the selected exercises are suitable. 

This provides the opportunity to revise your structure to create the best possible class.

#2 – Design a Circuit Class Template & Take it With You

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Another one of our top tips is to create a circuit class template so that you can create the best possible workout for your participants. 

Plus, templates help you to visualise what your session could look like whilst providing additional information, such as:

  • Difficulty
  • Exercises
  • Duration of class
  • Duration at stations
  • Equipment

Here’s an example of a template for a circuit class that you could use to prepare for your next session:

how to plan a circuit class graphic

As you can see from this template, the top section allows you to insert the relevant information about the class, helping you maintain focus and direction with your plan.

Each box is also big enough for you to include the name of exercises plus any variations you might want to offer to class members.

An equipment checklist allows you to tick off each piece once you’ve collected it to ensure you have everything prepared. 

We’d also recommend taking your circuit class template with you to your session so that you can refer back to the structure and even annotate as you go to inform your future classes.

So, if you want to get some circuit class format ideas to take into your own sessions, we hope that this template has provided some guidance. 

#3 – How to Plan a Circuit Class in Stages to Maintain Your Focus

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Next up on our list of tips on how to plan a circuit class is to create your plan in stages to maintain optimal focus.

Though you can create a circuit plan in one go, one of our top group fitness instructor tips is to revisit your plan with new ideas and tweak as you go along.

This will take your classes to the next level and help you improve as you go on, meaning your classes only get more rewarding for class members!

Taking note of new ideas when they come to mind is another good idea so that you can incorporate them into your plan when you get a chance.

This is also important for keeping your classes varied for repeat participants as engaging in the same workout each time could become monotonous.

Editing and redrafting your plans are important for creating the best final product possible. 

Working on the same task for prolonged periods will deplete your creativity so you should take breaks too so that your ideas remain fresh and you can look at your plan with fresh eyes!

#4 – Record Yourself Performing Your Circuit Class Plan

influencer planning a circuit class graphic

Next on our list of tips for how to plan a circuit class is to record yourself performing the classes so you can assess if any changes need to be made.

While rewatching a recording of yourself may feel a little unnatural, it’s a great way to see how you deliver the class to ultimately ensure your participants get the best session possible.  

Whether you come up with some new circuit class format ideas, change the exercises or change your delivery, feedback should always be welcomed – even if it’s from yourself. 

Additionally, changing your plan ensures that you enjoy leading the class just as much as your members will enjoy taking part which is a win-win. 

It’s also good practice for you to build up your confidence if you’ve only just become a personal trainer or fitness instructor. 

We certainly hope that these circuit class ideas for instructors have been useful during your planning process. The more that you utilise each tip, the better your plan will be.

Next, we’re going to combine everything discussed so far with some circuit class templates to enhance your understanding. 

Circuit Class Plan Templates

Beginner:

beginner circuit class template graphic

This beginner template for a circuit class is ideal for those that are new to fitness as it includes mostly bodyweight exercises.

It’s also an appropriate duration for a class to not overwhelm members while also giving them a mid-way break to recharge. 

Each exercise is performed for 30-seconds which is enough time to challenge participants without being too difficult. 

So, if you’re wondering how to plan a circuit class for beginners you can use this template as guidance when crafting your own sessions. 

Intermediate

intermediate circuit class template graphic

This intermediate template for a circuit class begins to incorporate more challenging exercises and equipment.

As you can see, many exercises use free weights to make stations more difficult. 

The duration at each station is also longer compared to the beginner plan to put participants’ muscular endurance and strength to the test.

The mid-way break has also been cut which tests members’ cardiovascular fitness. 

Advanced:

advanced circuit class template graphic

Compared with the previous templates, this advanced plan involves lots of equipment with more complex exercises, designed for people with experience and high fitness levels. 

The class lasts for 1-hour including warm up and cool down, with no mid-way break. 

Each exercise must also be performed for 60-seconds before immediately moving on for a total of 5 rounds. 

Furthermore, each component of this plan aims to put participants’ fitness and strength to the ultimate test and so is best reserved for very competent individuals. 

Before You Go! 

With all of this in mind, you now know how to plan a circuit class for participants of varying abilities!

Don’t forget, one of the best ways to improve your teaching and boost your expertise is with more advanced personal trainer courses, such as our Personal Trainer DiplomaYou can find details of everything we offer if you download and browse our full course prospectus here!

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About the Author: Emily Evans

Emily OriGym Author
Emily studied English Language and Literature at the University of Sheffield, graduating in 2021 with a 2:1 BA honours degree. Alongside her degree, she also gained experience in student publication as Forge Press’ Lifestyle Editor and Deputy Editor for Post-Production. This is where her love for content writing stemmed from, which also led her to OriGym. Outside of her work, Emily will either be found on a long hike, at the gym or making a mess trying new healthy recipes in her kitchen!

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