By Nick Nilsson
Author of Metabolic Surge - Rapid Fat Loss
Fat Loss Circuit Training is a very effective and incredibly time-efficient fat-loss workout strategy.
Basically, you do a weight training workout, but instead of taking rest in between sets, you do a short interval of moderate-intensity cardio training.
This training style is a key component of my Metabolic Surge - Rapid Fat Loss program.
It sounds easy...but in practice, it's EXTREMELY challenging. You literally get NO rest for an entire 25-30 minute workout. You're moving and working the whole time, constantly switching between the various energy systems of the body without recovery.
In terms of fat loss, I've found it to be one of THE single best ways to increase metabolic rate and burn calories long after the training is done. You get all the benefits of a resistance workout and all the benefits of an interval training workout, all wrapped up into a time-efficient, hyper-effective package.
Use this training style and you WILL burn fat. That's a promise.
How to Do Empty Bar Fat-Loss Circuit Training
First, a little background. I'm known as the Mad Scientist of Muscle for a reason...I'm insanely creative in the gym and it's all based on scientific principles.
Sometimes I purposefully limit myself to only one or two pieces of equipment to do a full workout with...and for this workout, I purposefully limited myself to just using an empty 45 lb Olympic bar, just to see what I could come up with.
Right now, I'll give you a rundown of all 5 exercises I used during the workout, covering explosive training, push, pull, squat and posterior chain.
In between every single set, I did 40 seconds of stepping on a small Step platform (with 4 risers)...an excellent "low-equipment" cardio method. You can also very easily do stepping on the bottom two steps of a staircase (just step up two steps, then back down two steps).
(Note: alternate which leg you step up with on every interval, so you keep the workload balanced between legs).
The weight training portions of the workout should NOT be done to failure...stay a few reps short of the point. We're not looking for high-intensity strength training here...we're looking for overall activity and movement to get the metabolism roaring.
You'll also notice in the demos that I'm training barefoot. This is not a requirement for the workout...it's just the way I like to train most of the time. And since I train in my basement and not in a commercial gym that requires shoes, it works for me.
Feel free to sub in a smaller barbell (if necessary) or use exercises instead of these...just keep the movement pattern order intact.
Exercise #1 - One-Arm Barbell Hang Clean and Press
The regular Hang Clean and Press is an excellent explosive exercise for the shoulders, upper back and posterior chain muscles (the strong hip extensors that fire on the hip snap of the Hang Clean).
You should already be comfortable with the two-arm version of the exercise before trying this one.
Grip the bar in the center and stand with it in front of you.
Bring your hips back and lean forward, keeping an arch in your lower back. Your knees should just be slightly bent...you're NOT using a "squat" movement to launch the bar. This is a big technique point that a lot of people miss.
The vast majority of the power should come from the hips thrusting forward (like a kettlebell swing movement).
Now SNAP the hips forward, pulling the bar up at the same time. The power from the hips will run through your arm and transfer the momentum to the bar.
As the bar is coming up, your non-working side arm should come up as well.
At the top, flip your wrist back and "catch" the bar on your shoulders. This is why the non-working arm is up...without it, you won't have a complete shelf to set the bar on.
Now press up overhead.
Get all your reps with one arm, then switch to the other. In terms of how many to shoot for, it'll depend on your strength levels. You may be strong and be able to get a lot, but don't go higher than about 8 reps, even if you can.
Exercise #2 - One-Arm Barbell Floor Press In Single-Leg Bridge Position
It's a long name for what is actually a pretty simple exercise, once you see it in action.
It's a GREAT exercise for developing pressing strength (and core strength) while in an awkward position on the floor, which is perfect for martial arts and MMA. And yes, you can add more weight to this one for a greater challenge, if you want to use it in other workouts (add weight slowly...it's tougher than it looks).
First, get yourself under the bar and lie down on the floor.
Get your left hand set in the center of the bar. You'll be able to test the balance pretty easily right away so make sure it's dead center.
Now get into the top of the "bridge" position (or the top of a hip thrust, in other words) on your left leg. Your right leg should be held out straight and in line with your left leg to keep the core and hips even.
It's CRITICAL that you have the same foot down as the side you're pressing with...this is the only way the balance will work. If you try the other leg, you'll just tip over.
Hold this position, then press up.
Pressing the bar while in this bridge will put excellent cross-tension through the core, helping develop power and strength in this position.
Perform 8 to 10 reps with your left arm going for a hard contraction. Because the bar is so long and tough to balance, it's going to force a lot of muscle activation in the pecs and in the forearms (to control the bar).
When you've completed the reps, switch hands on the bar then do the same on the other hand.
When you're done, just set the bar on your midsection, lift one end up then swing your legs around and out from under.
Exercise #3 - One-Arm Switching-Position Barbell Rows
For the "pull" exercise, you're going to do a one-arm barbell row. Grip in the center of the bar with an overhand grip.
Then perform a simple barbell row for 2 reps.
When you've done 2 reps, pivot 90 degrees on your feet so the bar is at your side.
Now you're in a neutral-grip position with the bar beside you. Do 2 reps, then pivot back to the front position.
Get as many reps as you can, then switch hands and repeat on the other side.
This constant switching of body position is a great way to target a lot of muscle in the upper back and arms.
Exercise #4 - Bar-In-Front Pistol Squats (or Curl Lunges)
I'll tell you right up front, this is a TOUGH exercise to do. The Pistol is a single-leg squat done with your free leg coming straight out in front as you squat down.
With this version, you'll be raising then holding the bar out in front of you at arms-length as you squat down. This counterbalances your body position and adds substantial resistance at the bottom of the movement, targeting the quads very strongly.
Do your reps on one leg then switch to the other, or you can alternate legs on each rep.
Get as many reps as you can. And even if you can't get full range of motion on this one, I find even a partial range can be very effective...just coming down as low as you can without falling down.
Now, if you can't do this exercise, there are other options. One of the best ones is a Curl Lunge. Just hold the barbell in the top of the curl position, then do a lunge.
And this can be a regular forward stepping lunge, or a reverse lunge, or you can even hold the bar with just one arm (for more core training).
Exercise #5 - Single-Leg Good Mornings
This exercise is going to target the posterior chain muscles...primarily the glutes and hamstrings, with some lower back involvement.
You should be comfortable with the regular Good Morning before trying this one. If you're not, then I would recommend using a Single Leg Stiff-Legged Deadlift instead...the balance will be easier and the bar will be easier to manage, while still be very effective for the workout.
Get the bar on your back...I like to set it a little lower than I set if for a squat. Stand on one foot.
Now, keeping your core tight and lower your back arched, lean your torso forward, coming all the way down until you're almost horizontal.
Your other leg should extend out behind you for balance.
Pause briefly at the bottom, then use your GLUTES and hamstrings to reverse the movement and come back up to the top.
This a great glute-targeting exercise because really, it's the only muscle that can perform the function to bring your body back to vertical (as long as you don't bend your knee...which is why it's important to maintain a slight bent but STIFF knee position all the way through).
You can either do all your reps on one leg (stick with lower reps - 4 to 6) then switch legs, or you can alternate legs on each rep.
That's the workout.
And as you'll see in the video, in between EVERY single set, I'm doing 40 seconds of bench stepping as my cardio. Make sure this is moderate intensity...we're not looking for high-intensity cardio here. Ideally, you want to keep a pace you could do about 2 to 3 minutes or more on if you went straight through.
You can finish the workout with 2 or 3 sets of core work...not circuit style, just done separately on it's own, with 20 to 30 seconds rest in between sets.
Bottom line, this is a GREAT overall training strategy for fat-loss. It's extremely time-efficient, allowing you to get your weight training AND your cardio training done in a very short period of time.
This entire workout took me just under 25 minutes to complete and all you need for it is just an empty bar.
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