CrossFit and HIIT are both intense workout styles. Each one provides unique training benefits but HIIT workouts are best for weight loss.
As a gym owner and personal trainer, I’ve been there from the inception of both of these training styles. I’ve been using both CrossFit and HIIT to help my clients achieve their goals. When it comes to weight loss, HIIT has always been my go-to method.
In this article, I’ll explain why HIIT beats out CrossFit for weight loss.
What is HIIT
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) involves intense, fast, short-duration cardiovascular training that requires switching between moderate and very intense exercise bouts. It is far more taxing than the traditional long, slow cardio sessions that are commonly seen in the cardio room of nearly every gym that you walk into. The constant change between fast and slow is not only a lot more challenging; it also burns a lot more calories – and in far less time.
HIIT can be done with just a single exercise, such as burpees or sprinting, or it may involve a series of different exercises performed in a circuit manner.
All this means that HIIT workouts can be great for weight loss.
The Origins of HIIT
HIIT evolved from the training practices of the Japanese national speed skating team in the early 2000s. The coach of the team, Azuni Tabata, put his athletes on a unique aerobic conditioning program.
The program involved 20-second bursts of max intensity sprint work on a cycle, followed by a 10-second recovery. This was repeated for eight rounds.
After eight weeks, the athletes were tested. Here are the key findings …
- The athletes burned more calories in four minutes than they had previously done with a 30-minute steady-state workout.
- During the sprint sessions, the athletes approached their VO2 max.
- The average increase in VO2 max was 20%.
- After the workout, an afterburn effect was activated that increased metabolism for up to 24 hours.
- Aerobic fitness increased by an average of 28%.
The publications of the study results caused a sensation in the fitness world. Ever since then, HIIT has been a workout staple. There are now all sorts of HIIT variations. However, the basis of them all is to intersperse short-duration high-intensity work with quick recovery periods for repeated rounds.
You can find a variety of kettlebell HIIT workouts here.
What is CrossFit
CrossFit is a branded style of training that could be considered a subset of HIIT. It involves moving rapidly between a series of functional exercises in a circuit. The exercises are grouped together to make up Workouts of the Day (WODs).
But a CrossFit membership is not cheap. So is CrossFit worth it?
Let’s first figure out how it started…
The Origins of CrossFit
The CrossFit brand was registered in 2000 by founder Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai. The pair opened a gym, or ‘box, in Santa Cruz, California. Workouts were posted online and became popular among the armed forces.
There are now more than 15,000 CrossFit boxes around the world. Around 400,000 people use CrossFit as their main form of training, like Ben Polsen did for 30 days (see his results here).
WODs combine calisthenics, cardio, and Olympic-style training. Crossfit LLC describes it as ‘constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains’.
A typical CrossFit box group workout will begin with a warm-up. This will be followed by a skill development session. Then the workout of the day is performed. The workout finishes with a group stretching session.
A popular series of WODS are the Hero workouts. These are performed to honor fallen military personnel, police officers, and firefighters. One of the most popular Hero WODs is Murph, which consists of the following:
- One mile run
- 100 Pull-Ups
- 200 Push-Ups
- 300 squats
- One mile run
One of the huge benefits for CrossFit is that you just need a pair of weightlifting shoes and a membership and you’re good to go! The personal trainers will help with designing the workout and your form.
The Differences Between CrossFit & HIIT
Both Crossfit and HIIT involve working at high intensity. However, there are some key differences between them.
1. CrossFit is More Social than HIIT
CrossFit is usually done in group settings. Group classes are very popular, as are 3-4 person WOD sessions. There is also a competitive nature of CrossFit.
In contrast, HIIT is usually performed in individual settings. It is more likely than Crossfit to be done at home rather than in a gym.
You can set up a home gym for CrossFit, but it will take more equipment. Check out this example.
2. HIIT is More Flexible than CrossFit
When you join a CrossFit gym, you are expected to follow the same Workout of the Day as everybody else. With HIIT, however. you have the flexibility to create your own workout based on the sprint/rest concept.
3. HIIT Always Use Work/Rest Intervals
Alternating sprint and rest periods is the basic concept behind HIIT training. With CrossFit, you sometimes do the same thing. But not always.
The closest thing to HIIT training that you’ll find in CrossFit is the Metcon workout. Metcon stands for metabolic conditioning. The two most popular forms of Metcon WOD are AMRAP and EMOM.
AMRAP stands for ‘as many reps as possible’. You set your timer to count down from a given time and try to do as many reps as you can of the 3-5 WOD exercises.
EMOM stands for ‘every minute on the minute’. This type of workout divides every minute of the workout into a work period and a rest period. For example, you could do 40 seconds of work and then 20 seconds of rest every minute.
EMOM workouts are the closest Crossfit training style to HIIT.
4. Crossfit is More Complex
HIIT should be done with relatively simple exercises that can be performed at super high intensity.
In comparison, CrossFit involves a range of quite technical Olympic exercises, as well as gymnastics moves, such as muscle-ups. It requires more training to learn the proper exercise technique.
CrossFit vs HIIT: Which is Better for Weight Loss?
HIIT is better for weight loss than CrossFit. That is because it sustains a higher metabolism throughout the workout to burn more calories while you are exercising.
CrossFit was created as holistic training to improve strength, conditioning, flexibility, aerobic capacity, and fat loss. HIIT, though, is made for fat loss.
HIIT Produces an Afterburn Effect
High Intensity Interval Training does a more effective job than CrossFit of bringing on the EPOC effect. EPOC stands for enhanced post-exercise oxygen consumption. It is also known as the afterburn effect.
When Tabata did his experiments he found that subjects worked close to VO2 max. This is the maximum oxygen the body uses in exercise. The more your muscles have to work, the more the body uses. High intensity work like this means that the body has what is called an afterburn where metabolism increases.
HIIT workouts burn a lot of fat during exercise. They also burn more calories for at least 24 hours after the workout!
HIIT Helps You Retain Muscle as You Lose Fat
HIIT workouts help you to retain muscle tissue as you lose weight.
One problem encountered by folks doing cardio for fat loss is that they may lose muscle tissue. Just take a look at the difference between sprinters and long-distance runners.
Sprinters look muscular and sinewy. Long-distance runners have lost a lot more muscle. So if you want to really change your shape and not just become smaller and yet keep your belly fat then HIIT is the way to do it right.
In addition, high-intensity cardio in the form of sprint work can actually add mass to the quadriceps.
HIIT is More Versatile than CrossFit
One of the biggest benefits of HIIT is that it can be done anywhere.
The principles of HIIT can be applied without any equipment and therefore can be done anywhere, including outside in the fresh air down at the local park. This makes it more accessible as a means of weight loss than CrossFit.
HIIT also involves exercises that are easier to perform than CrossFit. That reduces the chance of injury and requires less technique skill.
HIIT is More Time Efficient than CrossFit
A Tabata HIIT workout involves eight rounds of 20-second sprint/ 10-second rest intervals. That’s a total of just four minutes of training time. Add a two-minute warm-up and cooldown on either side and you’ve got a super-effective fat-burning workout that lasts for only 8 minutes.
It is, therefore, a very time-efficient method of fat-burning and more effective for fat loss in time taken than CrossFit.
HIIT Makes You Fitter AND Leaner
HIIT training brings benefits in the areas of blood pressure, sensitivity to insulin, the cardiovascular system, and aerobic and anaerobic systems.
Tabata’s results showed an increase in anaerobic fitness by up to 28%. His subjects had stronger hearts and could perform faster and for longer after training. If you want to not only look strong and healthy but be strong and healthy, you have simply got to HIIT it.
HIIT is a better way to train for weight loss than Crossfit. It will burn more calories during the workout, produce a greater after burn effect and help you to retain muscle tissue as you lose weight.
HIIT is also short duration. A Tabata HIIT workout will only take eight minutes, including the warm-up and cooldown. If you value your time and don’t have a lot of it to spare for training then HIIT is the way to go.
Check out these super effective HIIT workouts you can do right in your own home.
Great article Mike. Love doing a spot of HIIT work myself – big fan.