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Circuit resistance training increases upper and lower body strength in older and middle aged adults

Buch A, Kis O, Carmeli E et al. Circuit resistance training is an effective means to enhance muscle strength in older and middle aged adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis Ageing Res Rev. 2017;37:16-27.

Review question

Does circuit resistance training improve muscle strength, lean body mass and aerobic function in middle aged and older adults?


As people age, muscles may lose mass and function. This can make it harder for older adults to stay mobile and perform daily activities, and also increases risk of falls. Research has shown that resistance training (RT) exercises are an effective way to prevent loss of muscle mass and strength. Circuit resistance training (CRT) is an alternative to traditional RT that involves moving through a sequence of less intense exercises that strengthen different muscles in the body.

How the review was done

This is a systematic review of 10 studies conducted from 1986 to 2013, including a total of 362 participants. Some of these studies were combined in a meta-analysis.

  • All participants were between the ages of 55 and 74 and exercised < three times per week.  Some participants were healthy, others had at least one medical condition (eg. obesity or overweight, diabetes, heart disease).
  • Study participants attended CRT exercise sessions two to six time per week, totaling to an average of 40 sessions. CRT sessions ranged from 7.5 to 60 minutes long; the average was 42min. All sessions involved repeating sequences of different upper and lower body exercises.
  • Researchers measured participants’ upper and lower body muscle strength, lean body mass and aerobic capacity (a measure of cardiovascular endurance).
  • In seven studies, results were compared to people in control groups who participated in traditional RT or other exercise activities and/or did not participate in a CRT or RT exercise program.

What the researchers found

People who participated in the CRT exercise programs improved their upper and – especially – lower body strength. People who did more CRT exercise (more than 24 sessions) showed greater improvements in upper body strength and also improved endurance/aerobic capacity. The CRT programs did not significantly change lean body mass.


CRT appears to be an effective way to increase body strength in adults aged 55-74 with or without health conditions.


Control group
A group that receives either no treatment or a standard treatment.
Advanced statistical methods contrasting and combining results from different studies.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.
The body's network of blood vessels. It includes the arteries, veins, and capillaries that carry blood to and from the heart.

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DISCLAIMER These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

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