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HIIT vs CrossFit: Which Workout Delivers the Best Results

HIIT shines in efficiency and cardiovascular improvement, while CrossFit integrates strength, flexibility, and community for a challenging regimen.

7 min readApril 19th, 2023
SLWritten By Sara Lindberg

While both HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and CrossFit use high-intensity cardio and strength intervals, CrossFit focuses more on functional movement training, advanced lifting techniques, and structured routines, while HIIT features time-efficient workouts for fat loss and improved cardiovascular health. Here, we look at HIIT vs CrossFit to help you decide which one best fits your workout routine.

What Is HIIT?

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is a popular training method involving repeated bouts of high-intensity effort or exercise followed by lower-intensity recovery intervals, typically during a cardiovascular activity or strength training routine.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a 1:1 interval workout involving three, four, or five-minute high-intensity work periods followed by an equal time in recovery. For example, a 1:1 ratio may involve a two-minute high intensity work period followed by a two-minute lower-intensity recovery period.

In addition to deciding on the interval ratio, you’ll need to determine your maximum training heart rate for the high-intensity effort. The ACSM recommends aiming for ≥80 percent of your estimated maximal heart rate, with more advanced fitness levels going as high as 95 percent maximum heart rate.

The recovery intervals are generally 40 to 50 percent of the maximum heart rate. If you’re unsure of your maximum heart rate, consult with a certified personal trainer or use the American Heart Association's (AHA) chart, which shows the estimated maximum heart rate based on age.

You can perform HIIT on cardio machines like a treadmill, elliptical, stair climber, or bike, or take it outdoors and incorporate HIIT into a running or walking routine.

You can also do cardio-type activities like jumping rope, high knees, and mountain climbers. HIIT workouts also involve strength training routines with specified exercises like squats, planks, burpees, and push-ups.

When incorporating HIIT into an overall program, make sure to go slow and steady. You can start with one or two sessions each week on non-consecutive days.

For example, perform a HIIT workout on Monday and Thursday, and use the other days for moderate-intensity cardio, strength training, cross-training, rest, or other modalities like yoga.

As your body adjusts and your fitness level increases, consider adding another session. In general, you should only perform two to three HIIT workouts each week.

A simple way to structure a HIIT workout is to use the following formula:

  • Choose a cardio machine such as a treadmill, elliptical, bike, rower, or stair climber
  • Work at a high-intensity effort of 80 to 90 percent maximum heart rate for 30 seconds
  • Followed by a 30-second recovery period performed at 40 to 50 percent of your maximum heart rate
  • Continue this work-to-recovery period for 20 to 30 minutes

While HIIT is considered a vigorous activity, the workouts should reflect your current fitness level. If you’re new to exercise or have any health or medical conditions, a check-in with your doctor is a good idea.

They can determine if HIIT is appropriate or if you need to ease into working out before adding high-intensity activity to your routine.

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What Is CrossFit?

CrossFit is a rigorous training program that aims to improve overall physical fitness, performance, and athleticism by increasing strength, endurance, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.

Workouts incorporate various functional movements from different disciplines, such as weightlifting, gymnastics, and cardio exercises. They also draw from high-intensity interval training or HIIT.

CrossFit is known for being challenging, competitive, and effective. Because CrossFit is designed to test both your physical and mental skills, it’s very popular with athletes and fitness enthusiasts looking for a challenging workout.

Many people participate in CrossFit workouts at a CrossFit gym. These facilities feature a “Workout of the Day” (WOD) class led by a certified CrossFit coach, with some of the more popular routines including Fran, Cindy, Angie, Helen, Jackie, and Kelly.

While you can do a WOD at home, at another fitness facility, or a gym, we think there are benefits to working out at a CrossFit gym, such as having access to the correct equipment, hands-on instruction, and motivation and support from other people.

CrossFit workouts typically involve functional movements such as strength training, running, jumping, rowing, and bodyweight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and squats.

Some common pieces of equipment used in Crossfit workouts include barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine ball, pull-up bar, jump rope, plyometric box, assault bike, rowing machine, and resistance bands.

The WOD is constantly varied, so you rarely do the same routine twice in a row, which helps to keep the workouts exciting and challenging. Workouts are often timed or scored, which adds an element of competition and motivation to the training.

According to the CrossFit website, CrossFit workouts have three distinct workout modalities that comprise a Crossfit WOD, including:

  • Metabolic conditioning, which aims to improve cardiorespiratory capacity and stamina. Metabolic conditioning activities rely on running, rowing, biking, and jumping rope.
  • Gymnastics to help improve body control through coordination, balance, agility, and accuracy.  Sample gymnastics moves include dips, handstand push-up, rope climb, air squat, pull-up, push-up, muscle-up, and press to handstand.
  • Weightlifting to increase strength, power, and hip/leg capacity. Weightlifting exercises include cleans, snatch, deadlifts, presses, kettlebell swing, medicine ball drills, and clean and jerk.

Examples of CrossFit Workouts

Angie WOD

Complete the following exercises for time. Record how long it takes to finish. The goal is to improve the amount of time it takes to do the workout.

  • 100 pull-ups
  • 100 push-ups
  • 100 sit-ups
  • 100 squats

Chelsea WOD

Directions: Every minute on the minute for 30 minutes, perform

  • 5 pull-ups
  • 10 push-ups
  • 15 squats

Sample metabolic conditioning workout for time:

  • 1,500 meter row
  • 150 double-unders
  • 1.5 mile run

12-minute AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible):

  • 8 dumbbell snatches, arm 1
  • 8 overhead walking-lunge steps, arm 1
  • 8 dumbbell snatches, arm 2
  • 8 overhead walking-lunge steps, arm 2
  • 40 crossovers

While CrossFit gyms are open to anyone, the training style is definitely more appropriate for intermediate to advanced fitness levels. That said, many locations offer beginner programs and provide modifications to the WOD.

If you’re new to exercise or have any health or medical conditions or injuries, it’s a good idea to get clearance from your doctor before visiting a CrossFit gym.

HIIT vs CrossFit

Now that you understand the features of each workout type, it’s time to take a look at the similarities and differences between HIIT vs CrossFit.

Overall, both are considered excellent forms of exercise for improving cardiovascular fitness and burning calories, but they differ in their focus, structure, and complexity, with CrossFit featuring more strength-type movements and advanced lifting techniques than HIIT. Here, we look at what the workouts have in common and how they differ.

What Do HIIT and CrossFit Have in Common?

  • Both HIIT and CrossFit are challenging high-intensity workouts. While HIIT is generally appropriate for most fitness levels, beginners should start slow and consider adding one session each week. CrossFit is considered more advanced, however, most facilities offer beginner programs or modifications to make routines accessible for new exercisers.
  • Both HIIT and CrossFit can boost cardiovascular fitness, increase muscle strength, improve overall health, and burn calories.
  • Both HIIT and CrossFit offer participants a wide variety of exercises, equipment choices, and routines.
  • Both HIIT and CrossFit workouts are considered time-efficient routines designed to be completed in 20-45 minutes.

What Are Some of the Key Differences Between HIIT and CrossFit?

  • CrossFit has more high-impact exercises and moves built into the routines, whereas HIIT workouts can be exclusively low-impact. While both workout styles have a risk for injury, CrossFit involves more jumping, landing, and lifting heavier weights that could lead to an injury.
  • HIIT features short, intense bursts of exercise followed by brief rest periods of equal time. In contrast, CrossFit workouts typically involve longer, more complex workouts that incorporate a variety of cardio and strength exercises and movements.
  • CrossFit features functional fitness movements from different disciplines, such as weightlifting, gymnastics, and cardio exercises. HIIT, on the other hand, is more focused on overall fitness and improving endurance and stamina.
  • CrossFit workouts are typically done in a group setting, with a coach leading the class and providing guidance and motivation. HIIT workouts are often performed individually.
  • CrossFit workouts often include advanced lifting moves and Olympic weightlifting exercises that require proper form and technique. HIIT workouts rely on cardio equipment, outdoor aerobic activities, bodyweight exercises, or equipment like kettlebells or dumbbells, but typically do not include advanced lifting techniques.
  • Time-efficient routines
  • Improves cardiovascular fitness and stamina
  • Can be done anywhere
  • Effective for fat loss
  • Flexible routines
  • Perform with or without equipment
  • Easy to modify intensity level
  • Appropriate for intermediate to advanced fitness levels
  • Working near maximal heart rate not ideal for everyone
  • Doing too much can lead to overtraining
  • High-intensity training may increase injury risk
CrossFit Pros
  • High-intensity efficient workouts
  • Boosts overall fitness
  • Builds strength and stamina
  • Community-focused and supportive environment
  • Coach-led routines
  • Structured and supervised workouts
  • Focus on functional movements
  • Constant variation
CrossFit Cons
  • Intense movements may increase injury risk
  • Requires advanced lifting techniques
  • Costly monthly membership
  • The group environment may be too competitive
Workout TypeDefinitionBest For
HIITWorkout style that uses repeated bouts of high intensity effort or exercise followed by lower intensity recovery intervals. The work and recovery intervals can range from a few seconds to a few minutes, while the work interval intensity varies based on your current fitness levels. -Cardio fitness-Anaerobic conditioning-Efficiency  -Intermediate to advanced fitness levels-High calorie burn-Flexibility and convenience -Equipment constraints -Individual exercise -Bodyweight workouts  
CrossFitCombines high-intensity training with strength building in the trademark “workout of the day” (WOD) structure. The WOD incorporates functional movements that build strength, speed, and stamina. These routines also focus on mobility work and flexibility training. Most popular WODs include Fran, Cindy, Angie, Helen, Jackie, and Kelly. -Building overall strength and stamina -Community-Efficient workouts-Burns calories-Total body conditioning -Following a structured routine-Group exercise-Coach-led instruction -Advanced lifting techniques 

Bottom Line

HIIT and CrossFit are both excellent training styles to consider adding to an overall workout routine. While each method involves doing different cardiovascular and strength movements and activities in one session, there are key differences that set these two workout systems apart.

HIIT is an efficient and effective way to improve cardiovascular fitness, burn calories, and add variety to your workouts.

CrossFit is best for people wanting a challenging program featuring strength, cardiovascular, and flexibility components. It’s also a great choice if you’re looking for a supportive community, competitive environment, and coach-led routines.

Both HIIT and CrossFit require high-intensity bouts of exercise, with CrossFit also incorporating advanced weight lifting and strength moves.

Because of the challenging nature of both training methods, it’s advisable to consult with your physician or healthcare provider if you have any medical or health conditions before starting a HIIT or CrossFit program.

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