“The aim of circuit training is the progressive development of the muscular and circulo-respiratory system. As a method circuit training is one of the best ways to develop solid all round military fitness.”- Royal Marine Physical Training Branch

Circuit training has long been associated with achieving high conditioning standards when it comes to military fitness training. As a method it’s been used by famous military units such as the Navy Seals, Royal Marines and the Special Boat Service. The Royal Marines in particular have a strong history of strength and conditioning via Circuit training.

Why Should You Use Circuit Training?

In 1982 the UK launched an invasion of the Falklands Islands. One of the most famous exploits of this conflict was a 50 mile “Yomp” by Royal Marine Commandos to a place called Port Stanley. The only problem was prior to this deployment the Royal Marine Commandos were stationed on board troop ships prior to this and so found themselves with no other solution to the fitness problem other than to develop strict programs that took advantage of what could be readily made available at the time. As one Royal Marine Commando comments when looking back:

“Once on board our troop ships we embarked on a strict program of Yomping at times carrying well over 100 pounds in kit per marine combined with Circuit training. Without this we would never have had the strength and stamina to make the 50 mile Yomp to Port Stanley. With our Circuit training programs we maintained the Strength, Endurance and Psychological ability to react fast and sharply under pressure. Royal Marine Commandos are all given a daily program of Circuit training” Royal Marine Falklands Veteran

The story above provides one combat tested example of what a well designed and thought out Circuit training can contribute to your Military fitness program. Those same Circuit training programs were also the standard fall back following operational deployment. Even when recovering from active combat service Royal Marine Commandos remained dedicated to the standards of fitness they had built up using their Circuit training method.

These methods continue to be a standard almost daily practice for Royal Marine Commandos both new and older recruits alike. Circuit training can still be a very valuable asset when in meeting the objectives of building functional Military fitness. Over the following post there will be outlined example of how the Royal Marine Commandos use Circuit training and also how other Special Forces units use this method.

What Can Circuit Training Do For Your Fitness?

There are many advantages to using Circuit training both as your individual training method and as part of your unit’s physical training on a group level. There is the advantage of having “Economy of training” as you can achieve a greater impact of your all round level in a shorter period of time. This also has the advantage of increasing motivation as to achieve the best results in an economical way there has to be variety in how you apply conditioning. When training economically you want to aim to focus on the following factors of fitness which will ensure that everything you do in the gym is done for a purpose:

Cardiovascular Endurance

It’s essential to have a solid base of Endurance if you’re to function in a combat effective way. Done correctly a circuit can provide an adequate cardiovascular workout without the need for isolated Endurance sessions. You can include runs and sprints in your Circuits. You should try and make the form of endurance as specific as possible. For example use your bench marks for your standard military run tests as times for your stations for running. In order to meet the demands of the mission you need endurance as a solid base to ensure your combat rate is high for prolonged periods. Your skills are only as good as your maximum heart rate and the ability to prolong that for the entire battle.

Muscular Strength

Functional strength is essential and the development of it should never be neglected. Circuit training can provide all over functional strength. If you don’t have a high standard of muscular strength you will quickly lose the ability to function fully in the variety of load bearing and load movement based functions performed in your combat unit. You also increase your risk of injury by not working heavily on this factor and risk your own performance as a result. Many Armed Forces combine the functional and specific strength movements for each unit into their own form of strength Circuit. You should do the same if you have a specific mission, operational environment or rotation to train for. Gaining strength is important but it must be done without gaining excess bulk, body builder type workouts are no good for the serving combat solider because they provide excess bulk and can impact movement. You will also be able to improve core strength through Circuit training.


Power should be at the front of your conditioning. Power allows for speed, impact and increased mobility. There are three types of power needed to operate at the peak of your combat effectiveness; these are Explosive Power, Reactive Power and Fast Power. Training for this must go hand in hand with developing muscular strength. Many combat activities such as jumping and sprinting will be dependent on your level of power.


Developing and sharpening motor skills fitness is essential to the combat fitness of the modern soldier. You need to have high levels of agility, speed, flexibility and coordination to operate effectively. Developing these motor skills within your Circuit training programs will significantly enhance your ability to perform economically and in an injury free manner.

What Types of Circuit Training Are There?

Royal Marine Commandos have several types of Circuit training method that they use to get combat fit and maintain combat conditionings:

General Circuit Training

These contain multiples of 3 stations and must contain a minimum of 3. As the name says these are aimed at building a general level of fitness. Each Circuit follows a pattern of Arm, Trunk and Legs in alternating order with each Circuit will be repeated 3 times. These can also feature timed stations of 45 seconds on each exercise on the first Circuit, 30 seconds on the second Circuit and 20 seconds on the final Circuit.

One example of a General Circuit workout would be the following:

Use the heaviest weight you can lift for 10 repetitions of each exercise. Perform the Circuit 3 times with 30 seconds to 1 minute rest in between:
  • Bench Press 10
  • Crunches 10
  • Lunges 10
  • Military Press 10
  • Dead lift 10
  • Squat 10
Individual Circuit Test

This Circuit workout is used by a Marine to monitor his own individual fitness level. The SBS and the Royal Marines have their own examples of Circuits for monitoring fitness level. One example is the SBS General Physical Conditioning Test outlined below:

  • 3 mile run in under 20 minutes 100 point with +3 extra points for each 15 seconds under the 20 minutes and -3 for each 15 seconds over the 20 minutes
  • Maximum full Pull Ups 5 points each rep completed with good form
  • Full Sit ups 1 point per rep in 2 minutes time limit
  • Box jump with 3 different size boxes 60 cm, 45 cm and 30 cm. To complete one rep jump over each from a 2 footed start in smallest to largest order then sprint back to the start. Each box should place 1.5 meters apart in a vertical line. Maximum number of complete reps 10 points each rep. Maximum in 1 minute time.
  • 1 minute maximum Press ups 1 point per rep
  • 1 minute maximum back extensions 1 point per rep
  • Burpees 1 minute maximum 2 points per rep
  • Incline sit up 1 minute maximum test 1 point per rep
  • 20 ft rope climb 1 minute maximum 10 points per climb with no rest between climbs (If you don’t have access to this use a military press at 1 point per rep)
  • 1 minute maximum lateral jump test 1 point per rep
An average”starting score” from which to build on as a supposedly fit individual is between 350 and 500 points. A pass on the test is 650 points. The Royal Marines themselves expect recruits to maintain a score between 675-750 points. However the SBS themselves don’t settle for “pass rates” once in the regiment you are expected to maintain a score up to and in many cases above 750-800 points. You’re going to have to really push it if you want to hit the over 800 points and over mark and be as well conditioned as some of the best “Tier 1″ soldiers in the world.

Colour Circuits

Colour Circuits have assigned colour for each station which denotes difficulty. Each colour has a specific number of repetitions of each exercise. These types of Circuits are perfect for mixed levels of ability and can be worked and progressed as each individual reaches a higher level for each station. The same can be done for timings with each colour representing a specific time at each station.

Specific Circuit Training

These Circuits have one specific objective such as Core strength, Upper Body or Lower Body strength. Even mission specific Circuits can be programmed into a Military fitness conditioning program.

Each of these can contribute significantly towards over all combat fitness. They can also be used to break up a normal program and provide inspiration and motivation through a “shake up” of the program. Many Armed forces around the world use Circuit training and have their own Circuits in each of the different areas listen above.

Circuit Training 1: Royal Marine Commandos Body Weight Circuit

This is a very good Circuit workout that can be used with minimal equipment and space making it an essential addition to the fitness armory if you need to keep fit on the move at short notice.

To make this into a more advanced Circuit you can work back up to 10 from 1 and perform a “Down and Up” Circuit:

  • Body Weight 10 to 1
  • Start at 10 and work down to 1
  • Press ups 10
  • Body Weight Squats 10
  • Pull Ups 10
  • Burpees 10

Circuit Training 2: Navy Seal Circuit Training Workout

Navy Seal Pyramid Circuits

The advantage of Pyramid Circuits allows for exercises to be sequenced in a variety of repetition either Descending Pyramids or Ascending Pyramids. Perform all 10 repetitions of each exercise before waiting for 1 minute and moving onto the next Circuit. Once 4 is reached remove weight and continue upwards once more. Add weight as the number of repetitions decreases:

Lower Body
  • Squat 10-6-4-6-10
  • Hamstring Curls 10-6-4-6-10
  • Weighted Squats 10-6-4-6-10
  • Weighted Calf Raises 10-6-4-6-10
  • Dead lifts 10-6-4-6-10
Upper Body
  • Bench Press 10-6-4-6-10
  • Military Press 10-6-4-6-10
  • Underhand Grip Pull Down 10-6-4-6-10
  • Triceps Extension 10-6-4-6-10
  • Bicep Curls 10-6-4-6-10

Circuit Training 3: Army Rangers Endurance Circuit

Endurance is needed more by Army Rangers than it is by almost any other elite force in the USA Army. Due to the high amounts of pack marching they need a specific strength to supplement the endurance needed for deep penetration into enemy territory. This circuit workout is designed to provide specific strength to support long pack marching. This will strengthen your lower body and your core:

Circuit 1:
  • 1 mile Run 6-8 minute Pace
  • Dead lift 5 Repetitions
  • Weighted Glute Ham Raise 5 Repetitions
  • Weighted Lunges 10 reps
  • Perform this Circuit 5 times with 1-2 minutes between.
Circuit 2: 
  • Regular Pull Ups 25-20-15-10
  • Dips 25-20-15-10
  • Push Up 25-20-15-10
  • Diamond Push Up 25-20-15-10
  • Burpees 25-20-15-10
  • 1 Minute rest between circuits
Circuit 3:
  • Crunch 50 Repetitions
  • Oblique Crunch 50 Repetitions
  • Twist Crunch (elbow to opposite Knee) 50 Repetitions
  • Flutter Kicks 50 Repetitions
  • Leg Raises 50 Repetitions
  • Knee Bend 50 Repetitions
  • Abs Twister 50 repetitions
  • Hanging Knee Ups 50 Repetitions
Work to perform all sets of the above exercises one after the other once you can do this perform 2 sets of 25 then progress to 2 sets of 50. Continue to add sets in way strengthening your core as much as possible.

Please ensure that if you follow any work outs here or decide to try making your own circuits that have correct kit. For safety reasons always ensure you warm up and cool down at the end of each session.

This is part one of a two part series. For additional reading, visit part two, Advanced Military Circuit Training and Cross Training Workouts


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If you would like a personal circuit training program tailor made for you and your needs then please contact Peter North.

If you would like to train with Peter then take a look at the Services available.

1 comment :

  1. best sharing. It is really good information for me. Thx