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Circuits or No Circuits? A question for Trainer Taryn


My daughter’s cat was keeping me company one morning recently while lifting. She’s not much for exertion herself, but was willing to offer moral support.

Hi all! From time to time I get fitness-related questions that I think are best answered by my favorite expert, my personal trainer Taryn. Maybe you’ve been wondering about Audra’s question too!

Reader question:

This question is for you and maybe your trainer, Taryn. I can’t seem to find a straight answer.

I had a trainer some time ago and still have many of my old workouts from when I worked with him. All of these workouts are generally done in circuits: 2-3 different exercises and you go through the exercises and repeat the whole thing 3 times.

Lately, just to mix things up a bit, I have started using the JEFIT App, which I like very much. However, that app usually does 3 sets of the same exercise, and then moves on to the next exercise.

I found myself wondering…what is the difference? Is one better than the other? Or do they create different result? I’ve noticed that I seem to “feel it” more when I do the 3 sets all at once instead of the circuit style, but other than that was just totally curious.

Thanks for any thoughts or feedback!

Trainer Taryn Answers:

Hi Audra,

Great question! There is a difference between the two, which we will dive into some, but let me start by saying that one is not better than the other. Each offers benefits but has different goals and will therefore have slightly different results.

It sounds like your JEFIT app is having you do a form of “rest-pause training.” I say modified because full blown rest-pause training usually involves a format of 10 sets of 3 reps, or 8 sets of 4/5 reps of the same exercise, with just enough rest in between to set the weights down and gather yourself before starting right back up again.

The goal of true rest-pause is serious strength gain.

I imagine that if your program is having you do just 3 sets in a row, your reps are going to be higher than the standard 5. Many people will use this type of training to add intensity to a regular training session, so you are not alone when you say you “feel it” more by doing it this way. Some research shows that it does allow for greater strength gain than the normal circuit style of training, but both contribute to muscle gain.

One big advantage to rest-pause training – if you workout at a gym – is that you’re using the same piece of equipment without having to circle back through and potentially lose your spot on the machine. You can set your weight and adjust the equipment to where you need it, get all your reps done, and move on.
The down side of rest-pause training is that it can place more stress on your body and so should be done in moderation.

Your former trainer, on the other hand, was working you through a different kind of circuit training. Alternating 2-3 exercises, and repeating through 3 sets, works opposing muscle groups (think biceps alternating with triceps, or back alternating with chest). This can be very effective in that it gives each muscle a moment to rest which may mean you can work it longer and harder that you could if you were simply working one muscle to failure.
Alternating moves in circuit training not only builds muscle but also adds an aerobic fitness component to your strength training (because you don’t need the rest in between) and can keep you from getting bored in your workout by providing variety. Because of this it’s possible to keep your heart rate up and the calories burning! Awesome!

I use both rest-pause training and traditional circuits in Marilyn’s workouts. My main goal is to keep her fit and training at a high level for functioning in everyday life. In order to add variety to her workouts we do combinations of both of these styles.

Hope that answers your question!

Stay strong,

To learn more about Taryn and her personal training philosophy, check out her website

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