Crossfit vs HIIT: Which is Best?

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 28, 2022

With the sheer amount of different exercise methodologies out there, it's pretty easy to get overwhelmed when deciding on which workout plan you want to stick to.

One particularly common conundrum is deciding on whether to get into the ever-popular crossfit, or the highly effective HIIT training program. Hopefully, this article will help clear up any confusion one may have on such a matter.

Both Crossfit and HIIT are highly effective for their own respective purposes - of which is the main difference between the two, with Crossfit featuring primarily resistance exercises, whereas HIIT is more focused on sustained aerobic exercise instead.

What is Crossfit?

crossfit studio

Crossfit is an athletic training inspired fitness plan that makes use of a variety of different exercises in order to improve the functional strength and body composition of the exerciser.

Crossfit primarily features functional and dynamic movements that improve not only the muscular strength and size of the exerciser, but also their aerobic endurance and a number of other fitness-related characteristics.

Workout Frequency and Intensity

Though crossfit is highly variable in the manner with which it is programmed, most crossfit programs will feature the exerciser being in the gym 4-5 days per week, with the intensity of these training sessions being of a moderate level.

Advantages of Crossfit

The main advantage of crossfit is in its accessibility, not only producing a well-rounded athlete, but also being capable of catering to individuals of all training levels and physical characteristics. 

Crossfit is capable of being performed with highly technical and intense movements like the clean and jerk, but can also feature far less strenuous exercise like push ups or burpees.

In addition to this, crossfit also offers the benefit of integrating exercises that one is already familiar with into its workouts, giving lifters and athletes a freer training structure to specialize with.

Furthermore, entire gyms are dedicated to the usage of crossfit, forming communities and creating specialized spaces where an individual may participate in crossfit workouts in a manner that HIIT does not provide.

Most Common Crossfit Exercises

Traditional crossfit workouts will usually feature dynamic and explosive movements with a wide range of motion or particularly rapid tempos. 

These can be burpees, push-ups, kipping pull-ups or any other number of exercises that fit the same characteristics.

What is HIIT?

hiit acronym

HIIT or high intensity interval training is a type of exercise tempo or workout structuring that features bursts of high exertion movement, followed by a recovery period. This is often done in a cyclical nature so as to reap the rather unique benefits of such a training method.

HIIT will usually make use of one or two interchangeable aerobic exercises, though it is possible to perform resistance exercises while maintaining the core concept of interval training.

Unlike crossfit, HIIT often takes a more specialized approach, and as such is only used in the pursuit of certain training goals - with the majority of individuals participating in HIIT being of the sort that wishes to accelerate their fat loss via cardiovascular exercise.

Workout Frequency and Intensity

Due to the rather high intensity of HIIT workouts, most athletic training experts will advise that individuals perform no more than 3 workout sessions within a given training week. This is to allow the central nervous system, connective tissue and cardiovascular system to recover appropriately.

As is clued in by their name, HIIT workouts are meant to be done in a fashion that requires high levels of exertion from the exerciser, usually in short spans of time. 

Such high intensities are a far cry from the usually intermediate level of intensity involved in crossfit or other functional training programs.

Advantages of HIIT

HIIT allows exercisers to expend quite a number of calories within a relatively short length of time, beating out nearly any other training methodology in terms of fat loss. 

Furthermore, when performing aerobic exercises beneath the methodology of HIIT, the rather rapid tempo involved throughout the workout can result in excellent carry-over to similar athletic activities, such as sprinting or tackling in football.

Most Common HIIT Exercises

The most common kind of exercise seen during HIIT workouts is simply that of running, though other highly intense exercises may also be performed, such as calisthenics or jump roping. So long as the exercise features a controllable tempo and high intensity, it can be incorporated into an HIIT workout.

Which Workout Program is Better for Athletes?

Though HIIT is also quite useful for power or speed-based athletes, it is crossfit’s greater versatility that makes it particularly useful for individuals that compete in sports or similar activities.

The presence of resistance exercise, dynamic movements and a higher frequency of training sessions means that the athlete’s body will be forced to adapt to a higher level of physical activity - equating to better results outside of the gym.

Furthermore, the customizability of crossfit workouts also allows athletes to switch out exercises that may interrupt the flow of their training, and instead add new ones that complement their lifestyle or sport.

In comparison, HIIT is both less customizable and less dynamic in its function, only being truly applicable to a specific subset of athletes that require its benefits.

Which Workout Program is Better for Muscle Mass?

Once again, crossfit is comparatively superior, with its various benefits being of great help when seeking to develop muscular size and strength. 

The frequent incorporation of resistance exercise alongside a customizable tempo that allows for muscular recovery equates to crossfit being far more effective at inducing muscular hypertrophy.

HIIT, in comparison, requires a tempo that excludes most weighted resistance exercise due to the risk of injury. 

Furthermore, the relatively short length of rest time between bouts of intense exercise means that the muscles of the body will have little time to recover appropriately, resulting in poorer hypertrophy.

Which Workout Program is Better for Weight Loss?

Though crossfit is the better method of achieving muscular development, it is HIIT that is far superior in terms of inducing weight loss - both in terms of efficiency and in effectiveness.

The alternating nature of HIIT’s intensity allows an exerciser to sustain a higher heart rate and length of exercise than they would otherwise be capable of, enabling more calories to be burned in a shorter length of time. 

Furthermore, the majority of aerobic exercises known to induce excellent fat loss can mesh quite well with HIIT workouts, only further cementing HIIT as the ideal weight loss training method in comparison to crossfit.

In Conclusion

As you can see, both crossfit and HIIT are useful within their own respective fields, with crossfit being better for overall fitness and muscular development, while HIIT is the ideal for body recomposition and explosive aerobic development.

If still unsure of which workout program to pick, it is our advice that you assess your training goals and see whether HIIT or crossfit is more in-line with what you want out of a workout.

References

1. Ito S. High-intensity interval training for health benefits and care of cardiac diseases - The key to an efficient exercise protocol. World J Cardiol. 2019 Jul 26;11(7):171-188. doi: 10.4330/wjc.v11.i7.171. PMID: 31565193; PMCID: PMC6763680.

2. Alansare A, Alford K, Lee S, Church T, Jung HC. The Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training vs. Moderate-Intensity Continuous Training on Heart Rate Variability in Physically Inactive Adults. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 Jul 17;15(7):1508. doi: 10.3390/ijerph15071508. PMID: 30018242; PMCID: PMC6069078.

3. Wagener S, Hoppe MW, Hotfiel T, Engelhardt M, Javanmardi S, Baumgart C, Freiwald J. CrossFit® – Development, Benefits and Risks. Sportorthopa¨die-Sporttraumatologie. 2020 Sep;36(3):241–9. doi: 10.1016/j.orthtr.2020.07.001. Epub 2020 Sep 4. PMCID: PMC7473349.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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