CrossFit vs. HIIT: Which Workout Style Is Better For You?


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CrossFit and high-intensity interval training are both popular, highly effective fitness regimens.

That’s why it’s not surprising that the two share many commonalities. For example, both CrossFit and HIIT are great for losing weight, adding strength, and getting a great workout done in an hour or less.

But the two training protocols aren’t the same. And depending on your fitness goals, they each offer unique advantages that could make one more preferable.

So, in the CrossFit vs. HIIT debate, which is the superior fitness training protocol? Here’s everything you need to know.

CrossFit vs HIIT – Comparison Of Two Training Protocols

Here’s a breakdown of CrossFit vs HIIT to help you better understand both training methodologies.

HIIT: What Is It and What Does It Involve?

HIIT stands for “high-intensity interval training.” It’s a type of exercise defined by short, intense bursts of effort and brief recovery periods.

This type of interval training is enjoying immense popularity at the moment. Science shows it’s highly effective for weight loss and better health outcomes, such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Typical HIIT Workout

Probably the most popular HIIT workout is a Tabata style workout. 

To do a Tabata, complete 20 seconds of work (completing the given exercise at maximal intensity) then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat that cycle 8 times.

You can plug any exercise into a Tabata or HIIT workout. For example, you might choose push-ups and do 8 straight sets. Or you could alternate push-ups and jump roping and do 16 total rounds.

Changing the work/rest ratio or doing a circuit workout would also fall under the category of HIIT.

Who Can Do HIIT?

Anyone! HIIT is perfectly adaptable to the exercises or type of fitness training you’re doing.

For example, if you’re trying to build strength and muscle, you can use moderately-weighted barbell or dumbbell exercises to make gains. Or you can use running or rowing HIIT workouts to improve cardio fitness or anaerobic capacity.

If you’re nursing injuries or exercising with limitations, select safe, low-impact exercises that preserve your joints. Planks, rowing, sit-ups, and air squats are all great exercises for first timers. 

How Many Times a Week?

HIIT workouts are intense, and doing too many of them can have a taxing effect on the nervous system. That’s why, at least at first, athletes should probably only do 3 HIIT workouts per week. 

A day of rest in between will help your body recover and avoid overtraining syndrome (OTS). Plus, HIIT workouts aren’t as effective if you’re sore and can’t create lots of force or power. You want to be able to bring all you got to the workout.

Over time, you can bump that number up to 4 or 5 days per week. 

CrossFit: What Is It and What Does It Involve?

CrossFit defines itself as a fitness system that uses constantly varied functional movements at a high-intensity across broad time and modal domains.

This means, essentially, that CrossFit uses a wide variety of functional exercises in different ways to help you develop a wide fitness base. 

The goal of CrossFit is to be good at everything—cardio, weight lifting, gymnastics movements, etc.—instead of specializing in one area.

Typical CrossFit Workout

The essence of CrossFit is that there is no “one” typical workout. It’s a general-physical-preparedness (GPP) program that’s meant to develop a well-rounded fitness base. This means any one workout will be different from another.

That said, a pretty common CrossFit workout is a MetCon, or metabolic conditioning workout called an AMRAP—which stands for as many rounds as possible.

Who Can Do CrossFit?

Once again, anyone! It’s a common misconception that people think CrossFit is too intense or difficult—or that they should train for it using another fitness program before they begin. The best way is just to start and practice the sport using modified exercises.

As CrossFit puts it, you shouldn’t scale the type of exercise you do. You should scale the movements inside of the right fitness regimen for you. 

How Many Times a Week?

Standard CrossFit programming is between 5 and 6 days per week. Most people follow either a 3 days on, 1 day off or 5-days-per-week schedule.

CrossFit Games’ athletes may train 6 or even 7 days a week. But unless your goal is to compete in CrossFit, this is probably too much for the average fitness enthusiast.

CrossFit vs HIIT: Similarities and Differences

CrossFit and HIIT share a lot in common. But the two are not the same, so understanding the difference can help you make a more informed choice for your fitness program. Here are the similarities and differences.

Similarities between hiit crossfit and bodyweight exercises

  • Emphasis on high-intensity and power
  • Develops anaerobic capacity
  • Flexible and designed for many different exercises to be used in a given workout
  • Time-efficient (you can get a great workout in 30 to 60 minutes)
  • Functional bodyweight exercises (push-ups, pull-ups, squats) are prioritized over single-joint isolation exercises
  • Both are good for any level of fitness
  • Both can help you lose weight and reverse disease

Differences between hiit crossfit and bodyweight exercises

  • CrossFit is a sport and community, whereas HIIT bodyweight workouts are simply a type of fitness training
  • CrossFit aims to be more varied; on some strength-focused days, for example, you may not perform any movements at high-intensity
  • HIIT workouts are a tool used in many different fitness programs, including competitors of CrossFit (Orange Theory, F45, military training, etc.)
  • CrossFit often uses a “For Time” model for workouts (as well as AMRAPs and EMOMs); the training is often about completing a set amount of work
  • HIIT can be performed anywhere; most CrossFit workouts require access to gym equipment

Which Is Better for Weight Loss?

Both CrossFit and HIIT workouts are great for weight loss. Science tells us that both can help you shed extra fat and improve health outcomes.

  • HIIT training is especially effective for belly fat loss
  • One study found those who did CrossFit lost body fat, reduced their body mass index, and improved body composition (lean mass to fat ratio)
  • High intensity training has been shown to boost EPOC (exercise post-oxygen consumption) and burn calories for up to 14 hours after exercise

The benefits of both HIIT and CrossFit are pretty interchangeable. Since both rely on high-intensity workouts, you’ll stand a good chance of losing weight with either protocol.

Whichever you can stick with long-term is probably your best bet.

Which Exercise Is Right For You?

Here are questions to ask yourself to help you decide whether CrossFit or HIIT workouts are right for you:

  • Would you benefit from joining a community to reach your health goals? 
  • Do you prefer to workout at home or at a gym?
  • Do you have a budget set aside for gym membership?
  • Do you like variety in your workouts, or do you only care about results?
  • Do you want someone else to write your workouts, or do you prefer to create them on your own?

If you find that you’re community focused and have some money to spend, joining a CrossFit gym might be the way to go. Or if you’d prefer to work out at home or at the gym by yourself, designing your own HIIT workouts could be the better option.

CrossFit vs. HIIT: FAQ

To wrap things up, here are answers to few other questions that come up in the CrossFit vs. HIIT conversation.

Which Is Better: Crossfit vs HIIT vs Tabata?

Overall, CrossFit has the most to offer someone with long-term goals—whether that’s weight loss, better fitness, or some combination of the two.

Both HIIT and Tabata workouts (remember, Tabata is a type of HIIT) are definitely enjoyable and great for getting fit. But they can feel repetitive after a while. 

CrossFit incorporates both HIIT and Tabata into it’s programming from time to time, so you kind of get the best of both worlds by choosing it. 

Which Is Better: CrossFit vs. Calisthenics? 

Like HIIT and Tabata, CrossFit incorporates calisthenics right into the program. CrossFit will help you develop other areas of your fitness (cardio, weightlifting) while developing your bodyweight strength as well.

But if your goal is to only get better at bodyweight exercises following a calisthenics-based program is probably the best way to go. Aligning your workouts to your exact goals is the best way to achieve those outcomes.

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About Julien

Hey! Thanks for being here. I’ve been active pretty much my whole life and I discovered Crossfit about 5 years ago. I want to help you improve your Crossfit performances by giving tips on specific movements, workouts and equipment. You have a question? Get in touch!

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