What Is High Resistance Circuit Training & Why Should You Do It?

high resistance training

High Resistance Circuit (HRC) Training is a form of training designed to generate the greatest possible benefit from each training session along with the greatest efficiency.

Traditional Circuit Training

Everyone knows about traditional circuit training – light weights, high reps – provides cardiovascular benefits and muscular endurance; and overall is a time efficient mode of training. This training usually involves anything from 12-15 repetitions per exercise or performing exercises for a certain period of time (generally 30-40 seconds). This modest form of training typically utilizes weights approximately 40-60% of one repetition maximum (1RM). The participant moves quickly from one exercise to the next with approximately 15-30seconds of rest between stations. And the circuit is repeated a number of times.

The problem with traditional circuit training is that low loads are used; and in terms of strength adaptations – low loads generally lead to low adaptations, especially in trained individuals.

Traditional Strength Training

We also know about the various benefits of strength training – increased strength along with possible increases in power and size (depending on experience etc.) and improved body composition. These adaptations stem from high loads (?85% 1RM). Strength training incorporates low repetitions (?6reps) with anything from 2-6 sets, interspersed with generous rest periods. Rest between sets can range between 2-5mins, with the intention of minimizing the effect fatigue might have on the remaining sets.

high resistance training


The problem in this day and age is that everyone wants the benefits of strength training but we rarely have the time in our busy lives to commit an hour and a half or so to the gym each day.

Another problem faced is trying to train for strength and for endurance at the same time, which is what a lot of beginners and newcomers to the gym want. But so does anyone really; if it’s possible we would all like to benefit more from our training sessions. The problem with training for strength and endurance together is that it is very time consuming. It will either need to be done with separate training sessions or else in one big, long training session – also known as concurrent training.

High resistance training is intended to counter this problem.

High Resistance Circuit Training

HRC Training is designed to generate the benefits of strength training but in a much shorter period of time. It is a time efficient model which uses reduced rest periods to increase the metabolic, hormonal and cardiovascular responses to resistance training.

As the name suggests, high resistance circuit training is heavy weights lifted in a circuit format. Each session targets all body parts and is split into “mini-circuits” containing 3 exercises. For example, the first circuit could be bench press, seated row and leg press. After adequate warm-up, exercisers perform their 6RM for each of the exercises with minimal rest between exercises (35 second interest rest). Perform this circuit 3-5 times, followed by a 5 minute break. Each session can include at least 2 “mini-circuits” up to 5.

Exercise Selection

Compound exercises targeting multiple muscle groups tend to work best; both in terms of keeping good form (it is 6RM remember) and also in regulating the onset of fatigue (isolation exercises will cause muscles to fatigue quicker). A good rule of thumb is also to target different body parts on each circuit to allow adequate or sufficient rest between body parts.

high resistance training

Benefits of High Resistance Circuit Training

The benefits of HRC training are vast.

  1. First of all, it’s incredibly efficient – doesn’t take long (much less than a normal strength session)
  2. Targets all body parts
  3. Improves strength
  4. Increases peak power
  5. Improves body composition – increases lean muscle mass as well as reducing body fat percentage
  6. Surprisingly, HRC Training has also been proven to elicit cardiovascular benefits, which are rarely associated with strength training
  7. HRC Training is also shown to increase shuttle-run performance

Thus, HRC training promotes similar (along with some additional) adaptations to traditional strength training, while using shorter training session durations.

Take-Home Message

high resistance training

So what are you waiting for? Go try some HRC Training. But be warned it’s not for the faint of heart, or for those of you who like 5 minute breaks between sets of bicep curls. This format is designed to elicit the greatest benefits in the shortest period of time and in order to do so it taxes our metabolic and neuromuscular system like no other training.

Alcaraz, P. E., Perez-Gomez, J., Chavarrias, M., & Blazevich, A. J. (2011). Similarity in adaptations to high-resistance circuit vs. traditional strength training in resistance-trained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 25(9), 2519-2527. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182023a51

Alcaraz, P. E., Sanchez-Lorente, J., & Blazevich, A. J. (2008). Physical performance and cardiovascular responses to an acute bout of heavy resistance circuit training versus traditional strength training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 22(3), 667-671. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31816a588f

Fleck, S.J., and W.J. Kraemer. Designing Resistance Training Programs, 3rd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 2003.

Kraemer, W. J., & Ratamess, N. A. (2004). Fundamentals of resistance training: Progression and exercise prescription. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36(4), 674-688



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