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Circuit Training vs Cross Training for Peak Fitness Levels

Circuit training offers diverse formats and intensities for all fitness levels, while CrossFit presents a challenging, team-driven strength and conditioning regimen.

4 min readJanuary 11th, 2023

Whether you’re serious about working out, improving athletic skills, or maintaining a fitness routine, you might wonder which training method is best: Circuit training or cross training. While both revolve around being active, circuit training involves performing a series of cardio and resistance-based exercises targeting multiple muscle groups, while cross training refers to using different modalities of movement and activity to vary a fitness or athletic program.

Here, we compare circuit training vs cross training to determine who it is best for and the benefits of each training method, so you can decide the right workout to fit your needs.

Circuit Training vs Cross Training

Circuit training and cross training are fitness protocols used by athletes, personal trainers, coaches, gym-goers, and fitness enthusiasts. And while they’re both considered training methods, the differences between them are significant.

What Is Circuit Training?

Circuit training is a type of workout that involves performing a combination of exercises one after the other for time or repetition. Most circuits include six to 12 resistance and cardio-based exercises targeting all major muscle groups.

Depending on your goals, you may have minimal rest between each exercise, with a 60 to 90 second rest period at the end of the round before repeating the circuit, or a short rest period of 15 to 30 seconds between each exercise. Some circuits are repeated two to three times, while others are performed once.

A circuit training routine can include bodyweight moves, exercises with added resistance (dumbbells, bands, kettlebells), or a combination of both. Examples of strength and cardio exercises include squats, push-ups, mountain climbers, lunges, planks, chest presses, dips, bicep curls, and crunches.

Circuit training is an excellent way to target different muscle groups simultaneously while also keeping your heart rate elevated. This training method is appropriate for all fitness levels, especially since you can customize the routine with different types of circuit training. While the overall goals and benefits of each circuit type are the same, how you perform the workout may look slightly different.

  • Timed circuit: Each exercise in a routine is performed for a specified duration before moving to the next move. After completing each exercise, you take a short rest and repeat the circuit.
  • Competition circuit: This is an advanced version of a timed circuit. You’ll complete as many repetitions as possible in the specified time with the goal of  increasing the number of repetitions each workout.
  • Repetition circuit: You can skip the timer with a repetition circuit. Instead of exercising by the clock, you’ll complete a specified number of repetitions before moving to the next exercise.

Benefits of Circuit Training

  • Appropriate for all fitness levels
  • Easy to customize based on goals and experience
  • Time efficient – most circuits take between 20 and 45 minutes
  • Convenient, affordable, and requires minimal to no equipment
  • Combines muscular strength and cardiovascular conditioning
  • Targets multiple muscle groups in one workout
  • Burns calories, reduces fat mass, and increases muscle mass
  • Routine and exercise combinations are endless

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What is Cross Training?

Cross training is an activity, workout, or movement that is not sports-specific, but it contributes to overall cardiovascular conditioning and muscular strength. In other words, cross training involves incorporating different types of exercise to mix up a routine. For example, if you play soccer and want to work on endurance, you can opt for swimming or cycling to give your body a break from the wear and tear that comes with running on the soccer field.

Cross training has a lot of perks. Most notably, it allows you to incorporate different exercise modalities into your routine, diversifies your training program, and beats boredom. Plus, cross training gives your body a break from repetitive motion by deloading your most commonly overloaded joints, which can help prevent overuse injuries.

Because cross training allows you to develop skills using your body in different ways, it’s ideal for athletes (especially in the off-season), fitness enthusiasts who train for single events, or anyone looking to diversify their workouts.

Benefits of Cross Training

  • Reduced risk of overuse injuries
  • Enhanced athletic performance
  • Improved overall fitness
  • Allows for rest and recovery from repetitive motion
  • May target under-developed muscle groups not typically used in main sport or activity
  • Adds an element of fun to exercise
  • Gives competitive athletes an opportunity to try something new
  • Helps avoid plateaus and reduces boredom

You can get started with cross training by simply varying your exercise program and incorporating different workouts with a routine. For example, a week-long plan may include two days of running, one day of cycling, one day of swimming, and two days of resistance-based exercises.

Athletes training for a single sport may add yoga, stretching, plyometrics, strength training, or other activities that complement but do not compete with their sport. For example, a swimmer may use a rowing machine to enhance aerobic conditioning and upper body strength, or a runner may swap out  two running workouts for two cycling sessions to prevent overuse injuries.


Circuit training and cross training are designed for different goals, but they both have a place in a balanced fitness routine. If you’re unsure how to get started or have questions about incorporating these methods into your training plan, consider working with a certified personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, athletic trainer, or physical therapist.

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