Upper Body Circuit Workouts

Increase the intensity of your upper-body workouts with circuits.
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Circuit training is the ultimate way of combining strength and fat-loss training in one workout. Circuit training is a high calorie-burning activity, saves you time and has thousands of variations, meaning you won't get bored, says the American Council on Exercise. An upper-body circuit workout can build strength and muscle mass while contributing to calorie expenditure and speeding up fat loss. Try two upper-body circuit workouts each week, spaced three to four days apart.

Exercise Selection

    There are two main types of exercise -- compounds, which work multiple muscle groups, and isolations, which focus on just one muscle group. Trainer Chad Waterbury, author of "Body of Fire," recommends performing mainly compound exercises, because they hit more muscle fibers, burn more calories and produce a higher metabolic boost than isolation exercises. Isolations can be useful for bringing up lagging body parts, however. Perform one compound exercise each for your chest, back and shoulders, then add one or two isolations for these muscle groups or for your arm muscles.

Rep Ranges

    The idea that light weights lifted for higher repetitions burns more fat and heavy weights build bulky muscles is false -- burning fat and building muscle are more related to your diet than training. Training with heavy loads above 75 percent of your one-rep max (the heaviest weight you can lift for one repetition) will build strength, while lifting in the 60 to 75 percent range builds muscle and below 60 percent increases muscular endurance. To optimize your results, perform a mixture of rep ranges and use both moderate and heavy weights.

Workout Guidelines

    A sample workout may include pushups to work your chest, followed by bent-over barbell rows for your back, dumbbell shoulder presses, lat pulldowns, biceps curls and cable triceps pushdowns. Stick to lower reps in the five to 10 range with heavier weights on the first four compound exercises and go slightly lighter for sets of 12 to 15 on the final two isolation exercise. Perform one to two light warm-up circuits before using heavier weights. The weights should be challenging, but you should be able to complete all of the reps with good form. Rest for 90 to 120 seconds between circuits, and perform three to five rounds.


    Use a little extra weight, perform a few extra reps on each exercise or do one more whole circuit each time you train. If you plateau on an exercise two weeks in a row, change it for something else. For example, you could switch pushups to dumbbell chest presses or lat pulldowns to chinups. You can keep the same circuit for both weekly workouts, or have two different ones.

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