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Circuit Training vs. HIIT: 3 Differences

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Group fitness classes are an enjoyable way to get active and get social, whether you’re into spin, yoga, barre, Pilates, or boot camp-style workouts. Typically you’ll find two types of strength workouts—circuit training and high intensity interval training (HIIT). 

So, what’s the difference between circuit training vs HIIT?

Both circuit training and HIIT feature intervals of activity and movement interspersed with periods of rest. However, they differ in duration, intensity, and types of exercises performed.

#1 Duration

One major difference between circuit training vs interval training is the length of each individual exercise and the workout as a whole. Let’s take a deeper dive into how each workout is structured:

HIIT – HIIT pairs brief bursts of high intensity exercise with longer periods of rest or active recovery to increase your heart rate and jumpstart your metabolism—think sprinting all out for a minute followed by a few minutes of walking or jogging.
Circuit training – Circuit training typically aims to target each major muscle group by incorporating individual stations where one exercise is performed.1 Each station features a different type of movement, with the goal being to either complete a specific number of repetitions before switching to the next station or to work for a set period of time (usually a few minutes), with a short rest period in between. 

Although HIIT does feature a circuit structure where you switch between different movements, this is compressed into a much shorter window of time, often between 10 to 30 minutes.2 This can make HIIT classes a great option if you want to squeeze in a quality workout in a short period of time. 

On the other hand, a circuit workout is performed at a less intense pace, making these full-body workouts much longer—anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. 

#2 Intensity

Another way to differentiate between HIIT vs circuit training is by noting the intensity of each workout. 

Just as the name implies, HIIT classes can be pretty intense! What do we mean when we say high intensity? “High intensity” is usually defined as reaching at least 80% of your heart rate’s maximum capacity during exercise.3 That said, HIIT aims to hit that benchmark during the active intervals, with active recovery or rest periods in between. 

The ferocity of a HIIT workout provides several benefits that include:

Burning calories and fat faster
Improving your muscle’s ability to use oxygen
Boosting your aerobic and anaerobic performance
Potentially lowering blood pressure and blood sugar

Circuit training workouts are typically performed at low or moderate intensity over a longer stretch of time, making it a great option for someone who wants to get a comprehensive full-body workout without putting their body under too much stress. Circuit training is also easy to scale up or down in intensity, allowing you to adjust to your own individual preferences.

That said, circuit training may help to:

Improve muscle endurance
Increase muscle strength
Jumpstart your metabolism
Promote weight loss4

#3 Types of Exercise

While you might find many of the same movements in a HIIT or a circuit training workout, the way that you perform each exercise differs since each type of exercise aims to achieve a different outcome—circuit training aims to improve cardiovascular and muscular fitness level, while a HIIT session aims to burn fat and carbohydrates. 

That being said, HIIT focuses on high-intensity movements that increase your heart rate, including cardio and bodyweight routines. This can type of workout can include:5:

Sprints
Mountain climbers
Plank jumping jacks
Star jumps
Burpees

Circuit training classes will usually aim to work out all of your major muscle groups, giving you a great head-to-toe sweat session. Because circuit training typically includes a number of different stations, you’ll also perform a variety of movements. A typical circuit training class will consist of high-volume, low-resistance exercises:

Bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, or push ups
A cardio workout like jump rope, jogging, or jumping jacks
Curls or squats using light weights, kettlebells, or medicine balls
Active recovery movements where you stretch or walk

It’s a fun way to get a full-body workout in while also keeping movement fresh and interesting! It also offers the benefits of both strength training and aerobic activity, which can both have major mood-boosting and heart-supporting benefits.4

Diving to circuit training or HIIT routine without preparing your body can have consequences. So it’s natural to have questions before trying either workout, such as, “Should I work out while sore?” or “What to eat before a workout?” These are fair questions to ask especially when you are considering other exercises, such as StairMaster workouts, barre workouts, or Yoga vs Pilates workouts.

Circuit Training and HIIT at Chuze Fitness

Whether you’re a circuit training superstar or a HIIT fanatic, you’ll find a workout that you love at Chuze Fitness. We’re all about keeping fitness fun and friendly with a variety of team training, yoga, and Zumba fitness classes. While working out, you can even listen to our Spotify workout playlist. Make sure to search for “gyms near me” to find your local Chuze Fitness location  to attend our classes.

Find one of our ultra-clean, ultra-affordable locations near you and join the fun today. 

Reviewed By:

Ani is the Vice President of Fitness at Chuze Fitness and oversees the group fitness and team training departments. She’s had a 25+ year career in club management, personal training, group exercise and instructor training. Ani lives with her husband and son in San Diego, CA and loves hot yoga, snowboarding and all things wellness.

Sources:

Hospital For Special Surgery. What’s the Difference Between Circuit and HIIT. https://www.hss.edu/playbook/whats-the-difference-between-circuit-training-and-hiit/
Healthline. Benefits of HIIT. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit#what-it-is
Vox. How to Get the Most Out of Your Exercise Time, According to Science. https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/1/10/18148463/high-intensity-interval-training-hiit-orangetheory
Healthline. Benefits of Circuit Training. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness/benefits-of-circuit-training#benefits 
 Shape. HIIT Workout Exercise. https://www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/hiit-workout-exercises 
Healthline. The Benefits of Circuit Training Include Busting Boredom and Getting Fit, Fast. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness/benefits-of-circuit-training 

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