Circuit Training or Interval Training... What's the Difference?

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Circuit training and interval training are not the same, but they are very similar. Here is what you need to know about circuit training and interval training.

In the world of fitness, the words Tabata, HIIT, circuit training, and EMOM are mentioned casually, but what does it all mean? It can be confusing with all these terms being thrown around like medicine balls! A very common confusion is the difference between circuit training and interval training. 

Once you can master the difference between these two popular forms of exercise, your exercise routine will thank you. Then you’ll also be able to throw these terms around like a fitness pro!

What Is Circuit Training?

Circuit training is a form of body conditioning that targets strength building and muscular endurance. One must alternate between several exercises (usually 5 to 10) that target different muscle groups. 

A ‘circuit’ is the completion of all the exercises within a program. An example of a circuit would be an upper-body exercise, followed by a lower-body exercise, then a core exercise before repeating the circuit. 

The point of circuit training is to work on different muscle groups at the same time with minimal rest in between. Since you are alternating between the use of different muscles, your muscles get a rest while you work on a different muscle group. This allows you to remove the rest period between exercises and maximizes the time you spend working out.

You can choose to complete circuits that involve only calisthenic exercises or you can incorporate a variety of gym equipment. Adding weights and working your muscles to fatigue through circuit training can double your benefits by improving your muscular strength and enhance muscle definition. 

Benefits of Circuit Training

The benefit to alternating between exercises with minimal rest in between is the increased cardiorespiratory response from your body. In simpler terms, these workouts are great for cardio! Building your cardiovascular fitness can help with chronic disease prevention and improves your quality of life.

Circuit training improves muscular strength by increasing lean muscle mass, which can reduce your overall body fat percentage while keeping your bones healthy. Muscular endurance is also improved meaning that over time you will be able to work out for longer periods of time.

What Is Interval Training?

Interval training is actually not as complicated as it may seem. It involves switching between short bursts of intense activity (usually about 30 seconds) with longer intervals (about 1 to 2 minutes) of less intense activity. 

An example of this would be jogging for 30 seconds and walking for 1 minute. Depending on your level of fitness you may want to alternate periods of leisure walking with periods of faster walking. What matters most if is that you are working harder during those periods of intense activity.

These periods of intense and less intense activity are usually followed by an active or passive rest. A major difference between circuit training and interval training is that interval training is more focused on the intensity of the exercise while circuit training is focused on the type of exercise. 

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is known to have insane health benefits because you can burn more calories in a shorter period of time than most exercises. It allows you to work at a higher intensity with periods of rest to reduce the amount of stress and fatigue on your body. 

Benefits of Interval Training

Let’s get this straight. You can burn a lot of calories through interval training. The harder you push yourself (even if it is for just a few seconds more), the more calories you will burn. Besides, the increased intensity in short intervals can add a little variety to your exercise routine.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that you get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a combination of the two within a week. The common reason why most people do not exercise is that they do not have the time. As previously mentioned interval training allows you to burn more calories in a shorter period of time than most exercises. That means that you might complete an effective workout in 15 to 20 minutes instead of 40 minutes. 

Interval training is great for improving your aerobic capacity. As your cardiovascular fitness improves, you will be able to exercise for longer periods of time with more intensity. An added benefit is the reduction in your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Risks of Interval Training

Interval training is not for everyone. If you have a chronic health condition or do not exercise regularly, you may want to consult with your doctor before starting any type of interval training. With that being said, it may be appropriate for people who are older, are less active, or are overweight. Research has shown that interval training can be safe and even beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

The risk of injury is also higher. Rushing into intense or strenuous activity before your body is ready can lead to injury of muscles, tendons, or bones. 

The Takeaway

Neither circuit training nor interval training needs to involve high-impact exercises such as jumping. Start slowly at first, and gradually increase as your body becomes accustomed to the level of activity and exercise movements.

I suggest you try doing one or two of the higher intensity exercises for each workout at first. As your stamina increases, challenge yourself to vary the pace and you may be pleasantly surprised with the results. 

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.

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