Circuit Training Vs. HIIT, Which one is better, why & how

In this article, you will learn how similar or different are HIIT workouts & Circuit training and which one you should do and when?

High-intensity interval training, called in short as HIIT, is quite popular with trainers right now.

Circuit training is somewhat old-fashioned.

A relevant question might come to your mind which one is better? These two types of training have more in common than what you may think. Whereas HIIT may provide you with a more intense workout, circuit training also offers an effective & challenging workout session.

Which workout you go for for on a particular day will depend on many factors. But before that it’s important that you understand what types of these two workouts are, that is: what each type really involves, what situations/conditions they’re best for, and how they can be effective for different fitness goals.

What is Circuit Training?

The circuit-training model is fairly simple. Move from one exercise to the next, spending thirty seconds to a couple of minutes on each exercise. A set of 5 to 10 different exercises form a circuit. You may do just one circuit for a workout or multiple circuits, depending on your fitness level & how much time you want to work out.

So, you have a lot of flexibility. You can perform all strength training, all cardio exercises or alternate between strength and cardio. Moreover, a circuit may target upper body, or core, or lower body, or you can set it up in a way so that you move from one muscle group to the next within one circuit. Thus the possibilities with circuit training are nearly unending.

What is High-Intensity Interval Training?

While circuit training is an old phenomenon in the gym, HIIT is a newer concept that has become trendy. While HIIT involves varying the intensity of a workout, in circuit training the actual exercise type varies. However, HIIT is typically used with cardio exercises.

The HIIT concept is to do multiple rounds of a short burst of high-intensity effort followed by a somewhat longer recovery period at a lesser effort level. For example, a running HIIT workout might involve 1 minute of running at a higher exertion level, followed by 2 minutes at a lower exertion level. The lower exertion periods let you recover so that you can really push it hard during the high-intensity periods.

[Read here: HIIT For Beginners]

A subset of HIIT is called as Tabata, named after a Japanese researcher. Actually Tabata workout is just over 4 minutes long. This style alternates between twenty seconds of all-out effort and 10 seconds of recovery. Though it is so short overall, but is really a challenging method.

How HIIT and Circuit Training Are Similar and Different?

What are Difference Between Interval Training and Circuit Training?

In deciding which workout concept is better for you on a particular day, it makes more sense to first compare and differentiate between them.

Both are workouts that can help to get fit and manage weight – whether reducing or maintaining it. So, the real discussion is about which one to choose and when. Knowing some of the ways they are similar and different will help you to use one of them according to your unique goals & needs.

Both HIIT & Circuit Training Offer Variety

A major issue with working out regularly is that people soon run into boredom. Working out can be repetitive & monotonous. What these two types do is provide more variety and even some excitement.

You are not likely to get bored while doing a circuit as it involves changing the exercise every 30 seconds or so. Similarly HIIT workout keeps the things interesting, as you would be alternating between difficult, intense bouts and recovery periods in a HIIT.

Strength Training vs. Cardio Workouts

Generally, we need to do both cardio and strength training. HIIT is more suitable for cardio workouts. You surely can do strength training using weights during an HIIT workout. High intensity part can be done using bigger weights and moving fast.

Circuit training offers the benefit of greater flexibility. We can design a circuit focused on either strength or cardio, so much so you can even easily alternate between lifting and cardio within the same circuit.

[Read here: High Intensity Training For Seniors]

Exercise Intensity and Energy Expenditure of Circuit Training vs. HIIT

Many studies have shown that HIIT workouts offers greater energy expenditure than steady cardio workouts at a medium effort level. Alternating intense bouts of exercise with a short recovery period is an efficient and effective method to burn more calories, which is good for weight loss goals.

There are fewer studies that compare circuit training directly with HIIT workouts to find out which provides higher calorie burn. But, one did just that and observed speed-based HIIT workouts causes a much greater post-exercise oxygen consumption, and therefore greater calorie burn for the rest of the day than circuit workouts.

Improving Fitness

When your goal is improving overall fitness, the type of workout you do out of these two is less important than working out regularly with a combination of strength and cardio. What HIIT and circuit training have in common is that doing either one of them is better for fitness than doing nothing. Both can improve your health and make you fitter.

HIIT is very beneficial for expending calories, both during the workout and after because it upsurges your metabolic rate for hours. It is also an effective method to build cardiovascular fitness. Circuit training offers a lot of variety, therefore the exact fitness benefits you get from it will depend on the exercises, pace, and effort. Potentially, circuit training can build strength, cardio fitness and agility.

The original researchers who developed & studied the Tabata type of HIIT workout observed that it could improve both anaerobic and aerobic fitness. Compared to a standard HIIT workout, participants who did Tabata workouts showed bigger increases in each type of fitness, especially anaerobic.

High-Intensity Interval Training vs. Circuit Training and Safety

Any type of workout comes with potential risks, particularly when they are done incorrectly. However, between these two types, HIIT is somewhat riskier. There is the potential risk of overtraining, for instance. And when you are performing at high-intensity, you are more likely to overdo it or trigger an injury.

[Read here: HIIT Guidelines, Precautions & Rules]

High-Intensity Interval Training vs. Circuit Training – Is There a Definite Winner?

There is no definitive, final answer as to whether or not one of these methods of workout is better. And that’s because it depends on many factors. It depends on the individual fitness goals, abilities and personal preference, etc.

You have to choose the workout style keeping in view your goals, limitations, what motivates you more and which one you are most likely to stick with over time.

That said, it’s always a great idea to vary your workout routine, both for keeping things interesting and overall fitness. Using both – some HIIT and some circuit training is better option for adding variety.

About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed Renu Bakshi AKA Fitness BuffhqPersonal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, USA obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says: “For me age is just a number!”

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