CrossFit vs. HIIT (Which Is Better?)

May 12, 2023

CrossFit and HIIT are two of the most popular high-intensity workout programs today. Both offer a variety of benefits, including improved cardiovascular health and better body composition. But which is better?

CrossFit is a form of HIIT with many movements like Olympic Weightlifting and gymnastics performed in high-intensity circuits. It has a strong sense of community that HIIT alone won’t give you.

But there are more differences between CrossFit and HIIT that can help you decide which is better.

What Is CrossFit?

CrossFit is a high-intensity conditioning program combining a range of exercises from various sports such as running, rowing, Olympic Weightlifting, Powerlifting, Strongman, and gymnastics.

These exercises are performed in rapid, successive repetitions with limited recovery time.

It was initially created to train individuals like police officers and military personnel who required high levels of physical fitness and strength to perform their job [1].

Since then, CrossFit has become a professional sport headlined by the CrossFit Games.

It is a test between athletes who can display the highest outputs repeatedly with varying skilled tasks. Along with the professional side, there is an amateur component where the everyday Joe and Jane attend CrossFit gyms for their weekly exercise.

Benefits Of CrossFit

HIIT vs CrossFit

Wide Movement Variety

CrossFit incorporates multiple sports in an HIIT circuit, exposing you to many movements. These include the Olympic lifts (snatch and clean & jerk), Powerlifts (squat, bench press, deadlift), Strongman exercises (sandbag carry, farmers walk), and gymnastics.

If you have training ADHD, every day will be a new workout with new movements keeping you engaged and interested.

Improve Cardiovascular Health

Because CrossFit is performed in a high-intensity circuit through their WODs, you spend parts of class at high heart rates. Over time, you build endurance capacity and improve cardiovascular health.

Research shows you reach 95-97% of maximum heart rate during popular WODs, similar to high-intensity treadmill running [7].

Build Strength & Size

CrossFit isn’t solely performing hard WODs. Typically, you’ll spend a portion of class developing strength and size using compound exercises. These can be anything from pull-ups to deadlifts to snatches. Only after this will you start your WOD.

Strong Sense Of Community

CrossFit is known for a strong sense of community. In fact, surveys suggest CrossFit leads to a higher sense of community, satisfaction, and motivation than other exercise activities [7].

What is HIIT?

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is an endurance training modality involving short repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise interspersed with recovery periods [2]. But HIIT can be broken down further into different categories targeting different adaptations [3][4].

Long HIIT: > 60-sec work intervals (typically up to 8 minutes) with 1-3 mins rest at 90-100% vVO2max. These intervals aim to preferentially target central adaptations to the heart, which is the delivery mechanism for oxygen.

Short HIIT: 10 – 60 sec work intervals with 10 – 60 sec rest at 100-120% vVO2max. These intervals also target central adaptations with a slightly greater emphasis on peripheral adaptations to the muscle improving oxygen utilization.

Repeated Sprint Training: 3 – 10 sec work intervals with < 20 sec rest at maximum intensity. These intervals preferentially target peripheral adaptations to the working muscles improving their efficiency in using oxygen to create more energy and prolong fatigue.

Sprint Interval Training: 10 – 30 sec work intervals with 1 – 4 mins rest at maximum intensity. These intervals also target peripheral adaptations improving oxygen utilization.

Benefits Of HIIT

Is CrossFit Better Than HIIT

Improve Aerobic & Anaerobic Conditioning

HIIT improves aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, which can be emphasized by the type of HIIT being performed. Long HIIT targets aerobic performance, and sprint interval training targets anaerobic performance.

Further, you can adjust work-to-rest ratios to continue progressing. While improving conditioning is a perk, you’ll also improve cardiovascular health.

Make Gains With Short Training Sessions

The benefit of a HIIT approach compared to steady-state cardio is the workout time. A typical steady-state cardio session will last 30 – 90 mins to reap benefits. HIIT can take as short as 10 minutes to achieve similar outcomes.

No Equipment Needed

HIIT can be done using expensive cardio equipment or with nothing but your running shoes. It’s versatile, where you can get a great workout without any equipment.

CrossFit vs. HIIT: Which Is Better?

CrossFit is a form of HIIT. So, when we compare the two exercise modalities, HIIT refers to typical interval training you may perform when running, cycling, or using off-feet cardio equipment.

Building Muscle

CrossFit is better for building muscle than HIIT as it involves lifting heavy loads as part of the sport and workouts. A typical CrossFit class may involve heavy strength training before the Workout of the Day (WOD).

This is where strength and size are developed. In contrast, HIIT is purely cardiovascular unless you use resistance exercises like during a WOD. But this will only get you so far when building muscle.

Getting Fit

Both CrossFit and HIIT will improve your cardiovascular endurance and get you fit since CrossFit is a form of HIIT. You’re reaching near maximal heart rates during WODs similar to more traditional HIIT workouts making both methods excellent for general fitness.

Fat Loss

For fat loss, I lean towards CrossFit over pure HIIT. Not because of any magical fat-burning properties of the exercise. But because CrossFit includes strength training which is essential for maintaining muscle mass during a fat-loss phase.

Without it, you’re losing muscle mass and creating a skinny fat physique instead of a lean, muscular one.

Athletic Development

CrossFit vs HIIT Which Is Better

CrossFit trumps HIIT for athletic development. The wide range of skills you learn during CrossFit expands your movement library and teaches you new skills you may not usually perform. For example, handstands and pistol squats.

HIIT can be performed with various resistance training exercises like push-ups and pull-ups but is more effective with cardiovascular exercises like running and cycling.


CrossFit has injury rates of 0.74 to 3.3 per 1000 hours of participation which is similar to elite Weightlifting [5]. Sports like running and team sports have higher injury rates than CrossFit. Males tend to have higher injury rates than females, with most occurring at the shoulder [6].

CrossFit likely has higher injury rates than off-feet cardio equipment HIIT. The injury rate for swimming is only 1 per 1000 hours of activity and 2 per 1000 hours for cycling.


CrossFit is notorious for high gym fees. Many gyms will charge >$300 monthly to attend their exercise classes. If you want 1-on-1 instruction, you’re looking at $80-100 per session.

HIIT can be done for free at your local park or street or with a commercial gym membership ranging anywhere from $10-50 per month.

Space & Equipment

CrossFit requires an entire gym’s worth of equipment. While you can do stripped-back WODs with minimal equipment, you at least need a rack, pull-up bar, barbell, bumper plates, dumbbells, and kettlebells to get the most out of it.

Further, you’ll need space to run, especially if you don’t have an air bike or rower. HIIT can require equipment if you’re using off-feet cardio equipment. But you can get away with a pair of running shoes at the park.


CrossFit is a community you won’t get to perform HIIT on your own. CrossFit is group class of suffering, and suffering together builds bonds quickly.

Is CrossFit Better Than HIIT?

CrossFit is not better than HIIT, and HIIT is not better than CrossFit. Especially considering CrossFit is HIIT. But depending on your training goals, one will be better for you. If you want to supplement your physique or strength sports training, HIIT is better for you.

CrossFit is right for you if you’re looking for an all-in-one exercise modality with a sense of community.


CrossFit is a form of HIIT with different applications. CrossFit is a sport with high-intensity WODs performed in a group class. HIIT is typically done using endurance exercises to target various conditioning adaptations.

CrossFit is best suited for someone looking for an all-in-one exercise modality, and HIIT is better for people after endurance benefits.


1. Meyer, J., Morrison, J., & Zuniga, J. (2017). The benefits and risks of CrossFit: a systematic review. Workplace health & safety65(12), 612-618.

2. Billat, L. V. (2001). Interval training for performance: a scientific and empirical practice: special recommendations for middle-and long-distance running. Part I: aerobic interval training. Sports medicine31, 13-31.

3. Buchheit, M., & Laursen, P. B. (2013). High-intensity interval training, solutions to the programming puzzle: Part I: cardiopulmonary emphasis. Sports medicine43(5), 313-338.

4. Buchheit, M., & Laursen, P. B. (2013). High-intensity interval training, solutions to the programming puzzle: Part II: Anaerobic energy, neuromuscular load, and practical applications. Sports medicine43(10), 927-954.

5. Wagener, S., Hoppe, M. W., Hotfiel, T., Engelhardt, M., Javanmardi, S., Baumgart, C., & Freiwald, J. (2020). CrossFit®–development, benefits, and risks. Sports Orthopaedics and Traumatology36(3), 241-249.

6. Weisenthal, B. M., Beck, C. A., Maloney, M. D., DeHaven, K. E., & Giordano, B. D. (2014). Injury rate and patterns among CrossFit athletes. Orthopaedic journal of sports medicine2(4), 2325967114531177.

7. Claudino, J. G., Gabbett, T. J., Bourgeois, F., Souza, H. D. S., Miranda, R. C., Mezêncio, B., … & Serrão, J. C. (2018). CrossFit overview: systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports medicine-open, 4(1), 1-14.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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