Circuit Training Workouts for Strength Development

How do you get the best from your circuit training workouts?

Well, when you decide to use circuit training as your training methodology, you are saying one of three things, you either want to:

  • Improve your strength;
  • Improve your endurance;
  • Improve both strength and endurance.

Specifically, in this article we will be looking at how you would design circuit training workouts for athletes and sports people who want to emphasize an improvement in strength.

Who will benefit from this type of program?

It would be unusual for a power athlete to utilize circuit training to develop their strength as the loads associated with this type of training is limited to 60% of your one repetition maximum (1RM). And, as you already know, if you want to improve your maximum strength, the load needs to be in the range of 85-100% of your 1RM. 

However, if you are an endurance athlete whose strength requirements are sub-maximal, these types of circuit training workouts might very well be the ideal training regime to improve your strength.

Endurance athletes face an interesting dilemma when they try to build strength into their training programs. On the one hand, they know that stronger muscles can generate more forceful muscular contractions. And although strength development may not be the major emphasis of their overall training program. Having the ability to produce more muscular force can be beneficial in going up gradients in road running or cycling

Improved strength can even be very useful if there is a need for a sprint finish at the end of a long race. However, because becoming stronger can sometimes mean an increase in muscle mass, an increase in muscle mass also means a greater demand on their limited energy stores.

So, what’s to be done about this paradox?

Well, as already explained in another article on this site, the level of strength attained as part of a circuit routine can only be moderate. And although the loads used may not be sufficient to improve the strength levels of power athletes, it is certainly enough to make a difference to endurance athletes.  So, how do you achieve this?

Your ability to target strength in these types of circuit training workouts will first depend on whether you are new to strength training or not. If you are new to strength training, then it will initially be easier for you to become stronger from doing this type of training.  However, once you have reached a certain level of fitness, you can put circuit training workouts together which targets strength in different ways. You can do this by manipulating your training load; your recovery period; your exercise duration and the overall intensity of the training session.


To target strength in your circuits training workouts, you will need to set your training load as high as you can have it. Just body weight as the stimulus can stimulate strength adaptations only if you have never done strength training before. And so, the higher the training load, the more the muscular system is stressed and, therefore, the need for your muscular system to adapt and cope with the additional stress. My suggestion for a starting point for your strength targeting circuit would be around 40% of your 1RM.


Rest between stations can range from zero up to 45 seconds. Zero recovery will give you an exercise program that is continuous from one set to the next. The lack of a recovery period will mean that you will be severely challenged to maintain your work rate and is more akin to an aerobic program. Also, the strength load will increase the production of lactate in the blood. Too much lactate will limit your muscle functioning ability, and you will have to stop or lower the resistance/load if your workout is to continue.

As a consequence, with circuit training workouts that target strength development, you will certainly need to implement rest periods between each station. The rest periods will allow the body to take up more oxygen, which in turn help to clear lactate from your system and supports you to maintain your exercise rate. Rest periods between stations needs to be at least 30 seconds in my opinion and can even be longer.


The duration of the exercise period is not such an important variable in strength targeting circuit training workouts. To be clear, you are doing training to at least, maintain your endurance level while improving your strength. So, the period of continued work must be long enough to elicit the endurance part of the training goal.

The equation then is quite simple. We know that if we want to derive an aerobic response, we should aim to achieve continuous work periods of around 20 minutes.  This duration will allow you to achieve your aerobic goals, but more importantly it is not so long that you are unable to maintain your work efforts with resistances of between 40% and 60%.


In strength training, the intensity of the exercise is synonymous with the maximum percentage of the load. Consequently, the closer you work to your one repetition maximum (1RM), the higher the exercise intensity. However, you must remember that circuit training loads can be body weight and up to 60% of your 1RM for that exercise. Therefore, your exercise intensity will need to be at the higher end of the load spectrum and should begin at around the 40% mark.

In summary, if we look at the type of circuit training workouts which targeted strength as a type of formula, it would be expressed in the following way:

Training Variables Training Effort
Load High
Rest High
Duration Low - Medium
Intensity High

By training in this way you will begin to hone in on the specific qualities that could make all the difference to your performance.

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