Circuit Training: A Great Way to Boost Your Fitness Level When You Have MS

With circuit training, you get aerobic benefits and strength training in one workout.

circuit training for MS
Circuit training can be done in a gym, outdoors, or even at home with dumbbells and resistance bands.iStock

I was recently told that a very high percentage of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) do not exercise. As a fitness professional with MS, I was blown away. But based on my experience educating the MS community on fitness, I tend to believe it’s true. I hear so many people say they don’t exercise because they don’t know how. This is where I have found my niche: filling in that knowledge gap.

Research study after research study has found that exercise can benefit people with MS in numerous ways: improved cardiovascular, bladder, and bowel function; better sleep; increased strength; less fatigue and depression; and a more positive attitude.

With benefits like these, it’s unfortunate so many people with MS don’t get into the gym, exercise at home, or do some form of fitness program. But when you don’t know where to start, don’t understand how to find an exercise program that fits you, or aren’t educated on the benefits of exercise for MS, you become immobilized and therefore do nothing.

How Circuit Training Works

There is a very good selection of workouts that can benefit if you have MS, and one of these programs is circuit training. This type of workout gets your heart rate up and strengthens your muscles at the same time. You will never get bored in a circuit training program.

With little rest between each exercise, you rapidly go from one exercise machine — or piece of equipment or calisthenic exercise — to another to work different muscle groups. Depending on the intensity of the workout, you may perform 8 to 12 different exercises in sequence.

I have my clients do 10 to 12 reps at each machine, using a time under tension pace, lasting between 120 and 144 seconds, before moving on to the next stop.

To keep things exciting and motivating, you can change it up a bit by switching the exercises you do for each body part. A circuit training workout can be done at the gym with equipment, at home with dumbbells and resistance bands, or on an outdoor fitness trail by alternating push-ups and squats with fast-paced walking, jogging, or biking.

You will need 20 to 30 minutes for the workout.

Tailoring and Individualizing Your Workouts

To ensure proper form, avoid injury, and get results, I recommend working with a certified MS Fitness Training Specialist. If working with a trainer is out of your budget, you can get my book, Everyday Health and Fitness With Multiple Sclerosis, which has a full-color section of almost every exercise you can do in a gym with equipment or in a wheelchair with bands. Just choose one exercise for each body part to set your circuit.

The great thing about circuit training is it’s easy to adjust the level of intensity by adjusting how much rest time you take between exercises, the pace at which you perform each movement, and the speed with which you go through the circuit.

A program like this works all areas of your body, so you get an effective full-body workout in a short amount of time, as long as you select an exercise for each muscle group: core, arms, chest, back, shoulders, and legs. The less rest you take between sets and exercises, the more your heart rate will be elevated, and the more heart-healthy cardio benefits you will accrue.

Cautions and Caveats for Circuit Training

Circuit training is an excellent option to help you lose weight along with a healthy diet. So if you need to lose weight because you have a condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol in addition to MS, this may be a good choice for you. But please check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. Your doctor can help you determine if circuit training is right for you or if a less-intense routine is what you need.

If you have arthritis, choose low-impact exercises. Don't do any moves that put pounding pressure on painful joints, like jumping jacks.

If you have a knee or back injury, circuit training is not for you. Speak to a fitness trainer or physical therapist about exercises that would be beneficial for you.

If you're pregnant and you did circuit training before getting pregnant, you can keep doing it once you get your doctor’s clearance.

Make sure you stay hydrated and cool to avoid overheating while you exercise, and don't do any exercises that take you off balance and put you at risk of falling.

I want to see the percentage of people exercising with MS overshadow the percentage who do not. And circuit training is an excellent workout choice for MS once you completely understand how to do it at a level that is safe yet challenging for you.

David Lyons is a cofounder of the MS Fitness Challenge and also moderates the MS Fitness Challenge GYM Facebook group.

Important: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not Everyday Health.