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Circuit Training vs. Hiit – What’s the Difference?

It can often be difficult to find time to exercise. Circuit Training and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) are two options that include aerobic and strength training components and can be completed in a short amount of time. When performed correctly, both can have benefits for cardiovascular and metabolic health. However, performing intense exercise with poor form or technique could lead to injury. Whichever training mode you choose, the most important factors are safety and injury prevention, so always consult a qualified healthcare professional - such as an exercise physiologist - before beginning any new form of exercise.

Max Castrogaleas MA, CSCS, TSAC-F, EP-C, FMS, exercise physiologist at HSS Westchester

Max Castrogaleas MA, CSCS, TSAC-F, EP-C, FMS, exercise physiologist at HSS Westchester

Photo Credit: Hospital for Special Surgery

How do you know which is right for you? Let’s dive into both options:

Circuit Training

• A traditional circuit training protocol is comprised of 8-12 stations to target all the major muscle groups. Each station is completed for repetitions (a certain number of repetitions) or time (typically 30 seconds to 3 minutes) and the entire circuit can be completed in less than 30 minutes.

• Each station targets a different muscle group in order to prevent overuse and risk of injury if all 8 stations focused on the same muscle group. For example, on one station you perform a chest press and on the following station you perform a leg press. So, while you are working your upper body, your lower body is resting and vice versa.

• In circuit training, you are able to control the intensity of the session, so as the intensity ramps up, maintaining proper exercise technique is very important. Sloppy form can lead to injury.


• HIIT was initially designed to be performed for aerobic modalities but can also be done utilizing body weight or resistance exercises.

• The most important difference between circuit training and HIIT is that HIIT is done at a maximum effort. If you are rating effort on a 0 (no exertion) to 10 (maximal exertion), then you are working at 8 or higher.

• The work to rest ratios can vary depending on intensity and exercise selection. The higher the intensity the shorter the exercise time.

• A HIIT circuit can be completed in less than 7 minutes and typically includes exercises such as squat jumps, wall ball toss, air dyne bike or battle ropes.

• Similar to circuit training exercise technique is very important as you are working at a much higher intensity.

When beginning any new fitness program it is always best to start with a fitness assessment to establish a baseline that you can safely progress from. At HSS Westchester, we have Certified Exercise Physiologists that can help you create an individualized exercise program that meets your goals.