Best Lower Body Circuit for Fast Volume & Conditioning
Matt walks you through & demonstrates the best lower body circuit to add volume & conditioning to your workout FAST.
He also discusses how he typically builds an upper body circuit and you can see how you’d modify this circuit based on your preferences, goals, and available equipment.
You need to stress your body & muscles to elicit a recovery and cause an adaptation (get stronger or increase muscle size). Volume plays a crucial role in defining the stress dose.
You don’t necessarily need to get all your volume in from the main lifts, though. This is especially true as you age, change your goals, or advance as a lifter.
5 sets of 5 on squats or deadlift doesn’t make a lot of sense as you get older, and can be especially hard on the joints. It can also be too much stress to recovery from.
Regarding your goals, you may not care as much about driving your main lift PRs up. Maintaining or increasing muscle, staying healthy and capable, and having fun in the gym may become more important to you.
Lastly, as you advance, you need to turn to supplemental and accessory exercises to boost the overall stress. Relying only on the main lifts without variety is more likely to cause overuse injuries.
Circuits are a great way to provide more stress with a group of exercises) done consecutively (typically 2-5 exercises). Because you do not rest between movements, your heart rate increases as well, providing some conditioning benefits as well.
In addition to this, the lack of rest saves time. Now, if you’re trying to maximize hypertrophy or maximize conditioning, circuits don’t make sense. But for most people they’re a great option because they save time while still delivering good hypertrophy and conditioning stresses.
Best Lower Body Circuit
Matt performs his favorite circuit with some equipment he has purchased because he loves the exercises these pieces of equipment enable him to do.
His circuit involves:
- leg extensions
- reverse hyper
- glute ham raise
Leg extensions work the quadriceps muscles (the front of the thigh), specifically in their function to extend the knees. You extend your knees in both the squat and deadlift.
Reverse hypers not only involve hip extension but also moving the lumbar spine from flexion (rounding) to extension (straightening). Some people love these for their low back, but others don’t (especially those who struggle to maintain extension in the deadlift).
Lastly, Matt performs the glute ham raise. This exercise moves the hamstring through its complete range of motion, so it’s a fantastic hamstring exercise. Pay attention to technique here because many if not most perform these incorrectly.
Perform these for 2-5 sets of 8-20 reps (more is not necessarily better – start with less and build up).
Build Your Own Lower Body Circuit
Not everyone has these pieces of equipment to perform the best lower body circuit (and we’re being a bit hyperbolic here – it’s really just a go to for Matt).
To create your own lower body circuit, follow the general guidance below:
- 2-5 sets of 8-20 reps
- hip hinge or leg curl exercise
- leg extension or single leg exercise
- hip extension
- core/abs (optional)
Here are some examples of each. Hip hinge exercises include romanian deadlifts, good mornings, stiff leg deadlifts, kettlebell swings, back extensions.
For the leg extension or single leg slot, here are some good options: lunges, bulgarian split squat, single leg deadlifts, or leg extensions.
Hip extension is basically hip hinge, but pick something different than the first exercise.
Lastly, for core/abs, there are lots of options, but here are some good ones: banded ab crunches, GHD sit-ups, hanging leg raises or knees-to-chest, sit-ups, planks.
Build Your Own Upper Body Circuit
Okay, we described the best lower body circuit – let’s consider the upper body. The principles are similar – looking for movements that hit different muscle groups.
Here is general guidance for the upper body circuit:
- 2-5 sets of 8-20 reps
- pulling exercise
- triceps exercise
- biceps exercise
- (optional) another triceps exercise or another muscle group (deltoids, forearms, trapezius, pecs)
Similar to the lower body circuit, many options exist here. Also, you can alter this to focus more on the circuit or focus more on hypertrophy.
Some pulling exercises include lat pull downs, chin-ups, pull-ups, rows, inverted rows.
Triceps exercises include: rolling dumbbell extensions, lying triceps extensions, and triceps push downs. You may also include some more compound exercises such as push-ups or dips.
Here are some good options for biceps exercises: barbell curls, preacher curls, cable curls, dumbbell curls.
Lastly, if you’d like, add one or two other exercises. You might want to target your deltoids with lateral raises. You may want to stress your trapezius with shrugs. Another option is to stress your grip or forearms.
As you can see, there are basically endless options, and creativity with equipment can help here. You typically have more options at commercial gyms, but taking up multiple pieces of equipment at once can become an issue.
In your home gym, you probably aren’t worried about others taking your equipment, but you likely have fewer options. Get creative – you might use the same barbell and weight for two different exercises with one having higher reps than the other.