Ask ten different trainers to name the best workout, and you’ll probably get ten different answers. Some will say it’s lifting weights, while others will tell you to go for a run. Others may recommend yoga or Pilates.
The reality is that all types of workouts are beneficial, but the right one for you depends on your exercise goals. That’s because of something called the law of training specificity.
This law dictates that you are fit for what you do. If you lift weights, your body will respond by getting stronger and more muscular. Conversely, if you do a lot of swimming or cycling, you’ll become a better swimmer or cyclist. Your body adapts to the stresses it is exposed to.
So, with so many workouts to try, it’s often hard to know which one you should do. Of course, you don’t need to choose just one and may even get better results by doing several different types of workouts.
This is often referred to as cross-training or holistic training and is a great way to ward off exercise boredom.
In this article, we’re going to compare circuit training vs. interval training so you can see if either or both of these workouts will help you reach your fitness goals.
Circuit Training vs Interval Training
Circuit training was invented in 1953 by R.E. Morgan and G.T. Anderson at the University of Leeds, England.
Circuit training workouts combine strength and cardio exercises to improve all-around fitness and strength in one time-efficient workout.
In most circuit workouts, exercises are done in a sequence with little or no rest in between.
There can be as few as 4-6 exercises in a circuit or as many as 20+. In circuit training, exercises are known as stations.
Each station is done for a predetermined number of reps or a set time. Some workouts use both these methods. Stations can involve equipment, but a lot of circuit training workouts use bodyweight exercises.
There are lots of different ways to do circuit training, and this workout can be adapted to meet most training goals, including fat burning, cardio fitness, and muscle building.
Do each of the following exercises for 30-seconds, pumping out as many reps as you can. Take 10 seconds to transition from one exercise to the next. Rest 1-2 minutes after the last exercise and then repeat. Do 2-4 laps in total.
- Squat jumps
- Plank jacks
- Triceps dips
- Goblet squats
- Lat pulldowns
- Twisting crunches
- Box jumps
- Bent-over rows
- Flutter kicks
Circuit training benefits
Is circuit training right for you? Check out these benefits and decide for yourself!
Full-body workout – providing you include exercises for every major muscle group, you can use circuit training to work your entire body. That said, if you wanted to do an upper body, lower body, or core-only circuit, you could do that too.
Time-efficient – with traditional strength training workouts, it’s normal to rest 60-90 seconds between sets and 3-5 minutes between exercises. With circuit training, much less time is spent resting, so you can get more work done in less time. Circuit training is ideal for anyone who is short on training time.
Develop cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness – by doing strength training exercises back to back, you can improve your cardiovascular fitness without doing traditional cardio training exercises. This makes circuit training a good choice for people who don’t enjoy things like running, swimming, cycling, etc.
Very versatile – you can use circuit training to develop all types of fitness and work toward any exercise goal. Choosing different exercises and equipment and manipulating things like the length of the work periods, the number of laps, and rests means that you can modify circuit training according to your needs.
While circuit training is largely beneficial, there are a few drawbacks to consider:
Space – doing lots of different exercises means you’ll need to set them all up in advance so you can move without interruption from one to the next.
This may require a lot of space. In fact, circuit training is so-called because, traditionally, the exercises were placed around the perimeter of a large sports hall, and participants did circuits of the room.
Equipment hogging – you’ll need to monopolize several pieces of equipment for your circuit workout. This could make you unpopular with your fellow gym users. You may even find that someone else is using it when you arrive at your next station, which would disrupt your workout.
Interval training is a form of cardio workout where you alternate periods of high-intensity work with lower-intensity recoveries.
For example, you could run hard for 60 seconds, jog or walk for two minutes, and repeat ten times to total 30 minutes.
Interval training can be used to develop aerobic or anaerobic fitness. Short, hard work intervals, e.g., 20-30 seconds, increase anaerobic fitness, while longer, less intense work periods, e.g., 2-3 minutes, improve aerobic fitness.
- Cycle fast 30 seconds
- Cycle slow 60 seconds
- Repeat ten times to total 15 minutes
- Row fast 20 seconds
- Rest 10 seconds
- Repeat eight times to total four minutes
- Run one mile
- Rest five minutes
- Repeat four times
The benefits of interval training include:
Increased fitness – circuit training allows you to raise the average intensity of your workouts. For example, you might be able to run four miles in forty minutes (ten minutes per mile) but, doing one mile at a time, run each mile in eight minutes.
This increase in speed will improve your fitness more than working out at a slower pace.
Burn more calories – exercising at a higher level of intensity burns more calories per minute than a lower intensity workout. In addition, interval training triggers something called EPOC, which is short for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
This results in an elevated post-workout metabolism. These two factors combine to increase overall calorie expenditure, which may be helpful for weight control and fat loss.
Shorter workouts – interval training workouts tend to be shorter than low-intensity steady-state (LISS) workouts. You can get a very effective interval training workout in 20 minutes or less.
Suitable for all fitness levels – contrary to what a lot of people believe, interval training is ideal for all exercisers, even beginners. For example, if you are unfit, you could alternate between walking and jogging to get yourself fit enough to run non-stop.
Alternatively, a very fit exerciser might alternate between sprinting and running for a more intense workout.
Interval training is an effective way to work out, but there are a couple of drawbacks to consider, too:
Cardio only – interval training usually involves cardio exercises. As such, it’s not very useful for developing things like strength or muscle mass. It will, however, help you get leaner and fitter.
Not as enjoyable as LISS – interval training is invariably more challenging than steady-state workouts, and that may make it less enjoyable.
LISS workouts can be relaxing and even meditative, whereas interval training tends to feel more hurried and usually involves more discomfort.
Which Is Better: Circuit Training or Interval Training?
It’s impossible to say whether circuit training is better than interval training or vice versa because they are two very different training methods.
It’s a lot like trying to compare apples and oranges!
Interval training is a cardiovascular workout that uses traditional cardio exercises, such as running, cycling, or swimming.
It’s an excellent way to develop aerobic and anaerobic fitness but won’t do much for your musculoskeletal system. However, it’s a good calorie and fat burner.
Is one better than the other? That depends on your workout goals. If you want an all-around workout to develop multiple aspects of your fitness, circuit training is probably the best option.
But, if you really only care about cardiovascular fitness or fat burning, interval training may be your best bet.
Of course, because both these workouts are so effective, you may want to do both of them!
Which is better – push-ups or bench press, squats or leg press, cycling or running, pull-ups or lat pulldowns? While a lot of people are desperate to know the answer to these questions, the reality is that the best one is whichever one matches your goals. Only you know the answer!
That’s because every exercise and training method affects your body differently, and you should choose the one that triggers the changes you want to see.
Yoga is an excellent workout for things like balance and flexibility but won’t do much for your brute strength or cardiovascular fitness. In contrast, lifting weights will make you stronger but could leave you with tight muscles.
So, decide what you want from your workout, and then determine the best training method to get you there. If you want to maximize your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, interval training is a superb choice.
But, if you want an all-around workout that will also improve your musculoskeletal fitness, circuit training may be better.
Of course, there is no need to choose between these two great workouts if you don’t want to. Just do a couple of circuit workouts and a couple of interval training sessions per week to enjoy all the benefits these two training methods have to offer.
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