2 Workout Circuits To Help You Build Functional Strength

If you’re looking to build muscle or even maintain where you’re at, this strength training program that utilizes high reps and has a stability aspect will help you do just that.

By Amy Schlinger

If we’re being honest, yes, many of us want to strength train, but not all of us have the goal of looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was Mr. Olympia. In other words, we want to maintain and still build muscle, but not necessarily end up looking like a bodybuilder. The good news: It’s harder to bulk like a bodybuilder than you might think.

“Building muscle is building muscle,” explains Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S. owner and head coach at TS Fitness in New York City. “Bulking and building muscle tone are technically the same thing, because by doing either, you’re increasing muscle mass.” It’s really nutrition that truly plays a big role in bulking.

“You can’t achieve the physique of a bodybuilder by pumping iron alone,” explains Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, owner of Active Eating Advice, and former sports dietician for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Muscles need to be fed to repair, replete, resynthesize and grow. Eating is part of the anabolic process. When we eat, we provide fuel to the muscles to help the body to be in positive protein balance.” Those looking to put on a lot of mass are usually eating 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound body weight, ideally divided over the course of the day, aiming for about 20 to 30 grams of protein, four times a day, explains Bonci. Plus, they’re also sticking to a 2:1 carbs to protein ratio, and then at least 20 percent of their calories are from fat. So if you’re not focused on eating for bulking, chances are you won’t pack on muscle as easily as you think.

If you want to maintain muscle and still build a strong body, certain strength training programs that incorporate stability work, which force you to focus on balance and symmetry, are a good option because they won’t always allow you to go as heavy with weight, explains Tamir. So we tapped Tamir for a strength workout that does just that—allows you to build muscle without going too heavy.

The program below consists of mostly compound movements with the exception of the last two exercises of each circuit. The reps are high, and the majority of the exercises are unilateral, so the weight lifted can’t be as much as it would be in a bilateral, lower rep range program. “Using high reps and focusing on stability means not only that your core will always be activated the whole time, but you’ll also get your heart rate up, so you’ll be burning calories while working your stabilizer muscles, as well as your fast and slow twitch muscle fibers,” says Tamir. “You’ll have to keep the weight moderate and engage your entire body for each exercise, which will help maintain muscle without allowing you to pack on too much.,” says Tamir.

The Workout

Perform circuit one, two to three times, then immediately move into circuit two.

Circuit 1

Perform this circuit two to three times.
15-20 reps of each exercise (on either side when applicable).

1. Single Leg Deadlift with Kettlebells

Stand with feet hip width apart, holding kettlebells by handles in both hands at sides. Keeping kettlebells close to body, back straight, hinge from the hips and lower kettlebells towards ground while simultaneously lifting right leg up and back behind you. Slowly stand back up, but keep right foot from touching the ground at top. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps, then switch sides.

2. Renegade Rows

Come into push-up position, hands on the floor holding onto dumbbells, legs extended out behind you, body in straight line from head to toe. Without twisting body or shifting weight, squeeze shoulder blade as you row right dumbbell up towards hip. Make sure elbow stays close to side. Slowly lower dumbbell back down. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps, then switch sides.

3. Half Kneeling Overhead Single Arm Kettlebell Press

Come to the ground and kneel on left leg, kettlebell in left hand, racked at shoulder height, palm facing inward. Engage core as you press kettlebell overhead, twisting wrist so palm ends facing outward at top. Lower kettlebell back to racked position. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps, then switch sides.

4. TRX Bicep Curls

Stand facing TRX anchor with handles in either hand. Walk feet in towards anchor until you’re at an angle that when you lean back, it feels challenging. Lean back so arms are fully extended in front of you, palms facing you. Keeping upper arms close to sides, bend elbows and curl palms up towards face. Slowly extend back out. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps.

Circuit 2

Perform this circuit two to three times through.

15-20 reps of each exercise (on either side when applicable).

1. Single Leg Box Squat with Kettlebells

Stand with feet shoulder width apart in front of box or chair, holding kettlebell by handle with both hands at chest level. Lift left leg slightly in front of you. Slowly, sit back and down onto box. Keeping back strong, core engaged, without collapsing form, push back up to standing, keeping left leg in air. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps, then switch sides.

Trainer tip: If you can, try to just touch the box then stand back up—don’t fully sit down.

2. Alternating Dumbbell Chest Press on Ball

Place exercise ball behind you and lie back onto it, shoulders and head on ball, knees bent 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor to help you stabilize, dumbbell in either hand. Engaging core, press dumbbells up over chest. Keeping elbow close to side, lower right dumbbell towards chest. Press it back up. Then lower left dumbbell towards chest. Press it back up. Continue alternating for 15 to 20 reps on each side.

3. Romanian Dumbbell Deadlift

Stand with feet hip width apart, arms fully extended down, holding dumbbells in either hand in front of hips, palms facing backwards. Keeping dumbbells close to body, back flat, hinge from the hips and lower dumbbells towards ground, bending slightly at the knees when you hit the bottom of movement. Slowly stand back up and lock out hips at the top. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps.

4. TRX Tricep Extensions

Kneel on the ground facing away from TRX anchor, handles in either hand, arms extended out in front of you, palms facing the ground. Keeping core engaged, back flat, upper arms sturdy, bend elbows to bring hands towards face. Slowly extend arms back out. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps.


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