HIIT vs. Crossfit

By June 10, 2012 Blog 7 Comments

Big, small, smart, dumb, better or worse.

We have a tendency to compare everything. Prices, brands, companies, etc. And we all want the best.  This holds true even in the fitness world.  Naturally, the best fitness program will yield the best results, right?

For those of you looking to put on pack on muscle and get rid of fat, you’ve probably done your research and found that packing on muscle and getting rid of fat is HARD. And after doing your due diligence, you’ve also discovered that the best way to accomplish both goals at once is to involve programs that are high in intensity, namely, CrossFit and HIIT. Now the only issue is – which one is better?

We’ll get back to that in a minute.

In order to get you the answer you’re looking for; let’s take a look at what these programs actually entail first. Then, we can take some history 101 on both of these methodologies and finally get to the answer that I know you’re waiting for.

Here is a description of the two types of training methodologies:

CrossFit – a strength and condition system built on constantly varied, if not randomized, functional movements executed at high intensity (Crossfit Journal, http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/what_is_crossfit.pdf)

HIIT – also known as “High Intensity Interval Training” or “High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise”. This type of training involves short bursts of high intensity exercises followed by low to medium intensity recovery periods. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-intensity_interval_training#Tabata_method)

Now that we know what we’re talking about, let’s take a quick fitness history 101 to get an idea of where these methodologies had their bearings.

Believe it or not – both of these types of training have roots going back to the 1930’s. So yea, this stuff isn’t anything new.

Here’s a brief timeline:

1937: Fartlek, also known as “speed play” in Swedish, was founded by Gosta Holmer. Long story short, the Fin’s were kicking Swedish ass in cross country competition since the 1920’s – so instead practicing  running with the Swedish team, Holmer tried something completely different. The training methodology that Holmer implemented was based on having his runners run steady for brief amounts of time followed by a slowed pace, and then continuing to a more intense pace. That process would continue for at least 45 minutes.

Sound familiar?

Oh, and the Swedes ended up coming out victorious after training on Fartlek. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fartlek)

1980’s: Greg Glassman decides to put together a workout regimen focusing on fitness competencies such as cardiovascular endurance, power, flexibility, speed, agility, and balance. It gained a lot of popularity amongst military and police personnel. This type of training was not yet dubbed as CrossFit, but sure was the beginning.

1995: The first CrossFit gym opens in Santa Cruz, California.

1996: Dr. Izumi Tabata performs a study which involves subjects performing in 20 seconds of intense activity followed by 10 seconds of rest periods. The high intensity period was performed at 170% of VO2 max and the results were dramatic. Aerobic performance increased by 14% and anaerobic performance by 28%. Dr. Tabata is credited with the studies that lead to HIIT. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8897392).

2000 – Crossfit, Inc is founded by Greg Glassman. At the end of 2005, over 1700 CrossFit affiliate gyms are now located throughout the nation.

Now that we know what is what, let’s get into the good stuff.

Which is better, CrossFit or HIIT?

Well when looking at both methodologies, I can’t see the difference, can you?

Both HIIT training and CrossFit can train with Olympic weights and sprints. You want to throw a tire? Climb a rope? Well you can do both with HIIT and CrossFit. If you need some motivation, both encourage partners or groups of people pushing each other to complete workouts and give it your all. HIIT is specifically incorporated into CrossFit WOD’s for crying out loud. Ever heard of tabata’s?

Now, I’d be going out on a limb saying that both Tabata and Glassman had actually used Fartlek as a premise for their training methodologies. Honestly, I couldn’t find anything to support that. But considering that both of these guys know their shit, it would be naïve to say that they hadn’t heard of it at all.

So what is the difference? And which is better?

There is no difference. And neither is better.

The only difference between the two methodologies is that as an affiliate of CrossFit, you need to pony up more cash. If you own a gym you need to pay to become an affiliate of CrossFit. And if you’re a member of that gym, well you’re probably paying more too.

CrossFit looks like it’s more of a good marketing campaign (thanks Reebok) with a sound fitness philosophy more than anything. It’s simply branded nicer than most workout routines. You can work out just as hard, with as just as many people, and with just as many exercises in HIIT as you can with CrossFit.

Just because you don’t have “CrossFit” in front of the name of your workout doesn’t mean you can’t bust your ass, partake in friendly competition, or enjoy the company of other people suffering just as much as you are . . .

That’s what it’s all about anyways. Isn’t it?

About Andrew Kobylarz


  • Aletéia says:

    hey friend, thanks for helping me and the others.

  • Demond says:

    Thanks for the article. I appreciated the brief history of the two training regimens. However, I think there are differences between HIIT and Crossfit.

    1. You can find many HIIT programs that include no weights and I would bet that most HIIT programs are cardio only eg running sprints, spinning, burpees etc. Whereas almost all Crossfit programs (that I know of) incorporate weightlifting.

    2.Crossfit also uses way more movements and exercises than most HIIT programs and therefore provides more variety.

    3. Since Crossfit usually involves weightlifting it can be more challenging to incorporate into a weightlifting regimen.

    4. Crossfit does not always have programmed resting periods like HIIT. A sample HIIT workout would be 30second run, 1 minute rest. A sample Crossfit program would be do as many burpees, thrusters and squats in 8 minutes.

    • kantadam says:

      Hi Demond,

      Thanks for your input. High-Intensity workouts can vary very much as can crossfit workouts. One clear benefit about high-intensity vs. crossfit is that there is not a list of exercises that we are limited to, which allows high-intensity to be more variable and in my experience more beneficial.

    • Frank says:

      I can honestly say that the likelihood of injury is higher if you’re trying to implement heavy weights with HIIT or Tabata workouts. Technique will be sacrificed over time in a longer workout (more than 5-10 minutes). Power cleans shouldn’t be timed, especially with weight. When you’re younger (late teens, early 20’s) injuries are few and far between, but when you’re older it is much easier to get hurt (even with proper form). It’s harder to sustain injuries doing bodyweight exercises (sprints, burpess, etc). Don’t get me wrong both are good, but injury is more likely with weights vs. non weights. You have to agree with me there.

      • Andrew Kobylarz says:

        Hi Frank,

        Thanks for input!

        Agree with you that injury is more likely with weights vs. non weights. However, the argument can be made that any type of weight training can cause injuries as your body is exerting max effort in order to make strength gains. In Lamen’s terms, the trainee is using very heavy weight for their body. Max weight load on a trainee using proper form can still cause injury. In a HIIT or Tabata workout, max weight loads aren’t optimal. So as I do see your point, it’s simply not part of the equation in a HIIT or Tabata workout.

        That being said, the most important things to consider to ensure that injuries won’t occur are teaching proper form and scaling weight accordingly. With any weight you can prevent injury as long as proper form is being used. Scaling weight will prevent injury because only a certain percentage of max weight will be incorporated into a HIIT or Tabata workout. From a trainer’s perspective, this ensures optimal performance during the workout and allows the trainee to engage in numerous repetitions without sacrificing form.

        In addition, it’s the responsibility of trainers to observe who is training and what weight the trainee will be able to perform maximally while still preserving correct form, which in effect will prevent injury. At Intrepid, we strive to do this on a consistent basis.

        Look forward to your thoughts and seeing you at Intrepid!

    • Kisha says:

      Actually, I use weights with my HITT training throughout

  • Kristin says:

    I just started a HIIT program and we use weights~

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