If you’re a newbie to exercise you might not have come across either circuit training or HIIT. But if you’ve even just dabbled your toes in the murky waters of gyms or workouts, then I’m sure you’ve come across one, or both of them.
They are all over the fitness world. Favourites of many personal trainers, athletes and gym goers.
You may not know what they mean. What the difference is, or even why they’re good, but all of that ends today.
I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about circuit training and HIIT so you can make up your own mind about them.
You can decide which one, if either, you fancy trying.
So, grab a cup of tea and let’s do this, circuit training vs HIIT....
I’m a big fan of HIIT workouts. In
fact most of the workouts on this website are based on some form of
I’m a fan because I know how effective they are. In my own training and when I’m training my clients. I know they’re effective.
But beyond their effectiveness, I also know they’re fun.
Yes they’re tough. Yes they’re going to get you questioning whether you can go on. But believe me, they’re fun.
They will drag you out of your comfort zone for sure, but when you’ve finished, and you will finish, despite what your brain is telling you at the time, you will have the biggest sense of achievement.
Yeah, HIIT workouts are fun.
Just to have a little recap, in case you haven’t seen any of my other pages, HIIT stands for high intensity interval training. And they’re all about short periods of high-intensity exercise followed by a few seconds of rest.
They are about giving your maximum effort. It’s only for a short period of time, but you give your maximum effort and you’re rewarded with a little bit of rest. A few seconds. And it will be well deserved, much needed rest.
Short periods of intense work followed by short periods of rest. That is the fundamentals of high-intensity interval training.
But, there is a little more to it.
You have to get your heart rate between 80-90% of it’s maximum. This is important because it’s where all the juicy benefits of HIIT training lie.
If you're interested, I go into the detail of benefits of HIIT training. I don’t want to repeat myself, much, so I’ll just say here, that working at this intensity and mixing it with periods of lower intensity, or rest, means that you’re body is using both of it’s energy systems. So you’re becoming fitter in lots of ways.
But another thing it does is force your body to utilise your fat stores for energy. Mainly because it’s used up all of your other stores of energy. And it keeps your metabolic rate high, that’s the rate your body burns calories, for about 24 hours after your workout.
That is significant if you’re trying to lose weight or body fat.
And that is why it is so popular.
Circuit training is similar in many ways...there are periods of
work followed by a bit of rest, but the main difference, the major
difference, is that you’re not working at such high intensities as
It is basically what it says on the tin, a circuit of exercises.
You have different stations each with different exercises. You complete the required number of reps or the set amount of time and then you move on to the next exercise.
Whilst you do have some rest, it’s very little rest. Often it’s just how long it takes you to get to the next station. But because you’re working at a lower intensity you shouldn’t need the rest.
I know you’ll feel like you ‘need’ the rest, because any workout is tough. But, physiologically you won’t. Circuit training is more like traditional cardio workout where you move consistently for a set amount of time.
You might be thinking, why would I even bother circuit training if it isn’t as effective as HIIT?
It might not be when it comes to things like improving aerobic and anaerobic capacity, weight loss, and the after burn, or improving your body composition, but it is still a really great way to workout.
Circuit training basically involves a combination of exercises, a circuit, that hit different muscle groups and the circuit could be for anything.
Ok, that’s a stretch, it could be a strength building circuit, a cardio focused circuit, maybe one for your upper body, one for your lower body. You’re not going to get a circuit that will make you a million pound. But if it’s fitness related you could probably make a circuit for it.
Yes, circuit training might not be as effective as HIIT when it comes to certain benefits, but it is still a great way to move your body. So don’t write it off.
And always remember, when it comes to workouts what you enjoy trumps any science backed explanation of why you should do something.
You might enjoy doing a circuit. You might dread the thought of doing a HIIT workout, even a short one, but you might not be so apprehensive about circuit training. And if that’s the case, great. There is nothing wrong with that. Stick to what you enjoy.
If you want to try a circuit training workout head over to At Home Circuit Workout.
Ok, so let’s look at some of the reasons you might prefer
circuit training over HIIT.
I’m going to start with one of the obvious, HIIT is a really
tough workout. I’m not saying circuit training isn’t hard, it is,
you should still push yourself. But you won’t be pushing yourself,
giving your maximum effort quite as much as with HIIT.
For some people it’s why they love HIIT. It pushes them out of their comfort zones and proves to themselves just how much they can do.
For others, maybe you, it’s not fun. Being pushed like that doesn’t help you focus on what you can do, but more on what you can’t do. It’s not enjoyable. You hate every second.
And, it’s OK not to like it. Just because other people do, you don’t have to. You have to give it a go, otherwise how will you know you don’t like it, but you don’t have to like it.
There are plenty of other workouts you can do.
There is something to be said for simplicity.
HIIT may be effective but it can get rather complicated. Especially if you’re doing more then one round.
Is this EMOM, or AMRAP or for time. What exercise do I do again on the second minute? Sorry how does the minute run fit into the tabata workout?
It can get complicated.
Circuits on the other hand are simple.
Yes you might have to remember a few different exercises, but how you get them done will be simple.
Its either for a specific length of time, or for a set number of repetitions. Get it done and move on.
It can help to make the workout go really quickly.
Ok, it won’t actually be quick, the average circuit lasts between 30 minutes to an hour, but it will feel like it’s quick.
Get the first station done and move on to the next.
Get the second station done and move on.
Yes, circuits are definitely more simple than a HIIT session.
Again I say HIIT is brilliant, I’m a big fan, but it is limited
in that it’s mostly a cardio workout.
Yes, you can adapt it slightly, especially EMOM, to become a bit more strength based, but essentially it’s a cardio workout.
It’s not that great if you want to build muscle mass and muscle strength.
For that you need to work at a lower intensity, speed wise anyway.
Because the thing with HIIT, you have to move quickly. And when you move quickly a lot of your movement comes from the momentum of the movement. It’s harder to isolate specific muscles if you’re moving quickly and isolating muscles is what you need to do if you want them to grow, become stronger.
Let’s take an ab exercise...sit ups is a good one.
10 sit ups can be done quickly. You can knock them out in less than 90 seconds for sure. But you can also do them without actually using your ab muscles. Believe me, I’ve seen this, recently actually.
When you try and get it done quickly you’ll use your arms, your legs, your back, maybe even your neck (that’s me, I do that). But not your abs.
To get your abs doing their job, you have to slow the movement down. Be more considered when you’re doing it. You can do this with circuit training because it’s not about getting it done as quickly as possible. So it’s much more aligned with strength training.
You know, there’s nothing wrong with
doing both. You don’t have to choose a camp and stick to it. You
don’t have to stick to just one type of workout.
A good workout program is a varied workout program. One that keeps it interesting. One that doesn’t get to repetitive. One that you don’t get bored with or you body gets used to.
Variety is the spice of life and happiness should be at the route.
Why stick to one when you can do them all.
A bit if HIIT here. A circuit there. Hey, why not a bit of dancing all over the place.
Try them both.
If you really can’t get on with one, or even both of them, then try something else.
Make sure you’re enjoying what you do.
So that’s circuit training vs HIIT
in a nutshell.
Which one are you going to try?
Is there one you prefer the sound of?
Or do you like the idea of both?
Let me know. I’d love to know how you get on.
By the way, if they both sound like your idea of hell, don’t give up. These are not the only ways to workout and there’s lots more ideas over on Home Workout Ideas.