CrossFit vs. HIIT – Which is Best for Home Workouts?

crossfit vs hiit

At-home workouts have to work around the various limitations that come with being in a living space.

Space, equipment, worrying about surfaces, and other factors all play in.

What can you do at home to get a great workout?

For a lot of us, HIIT and CrossFit-type workouts are the most visible. We’ve all seen plenty of both over the past few years as they’ve been the hot thing.

But what are they, why are they so popular, and which should you be looking at for your home workouts? We’re going to dive into these two ways of training and see which is best for your home workout.

Home Workout Principles

crossfit vs hiit

What are you going to use to decide what is best for your home workout? You could pick one and go with it, but that might not be the smartest choice. They both have their benefits and drawbacks.

Effectiveness is probably where you want to start.

The critical question is will it workWhich works best? And we can’t tell you that – not without knowing your goals! 

The important thing to remember is that both HIIT and CrossFit-style “functional fitness” offer ways of structuring your training. They both offer results, and you get better, specifically at the one you’re training.

Remember the simple rule of thumb: practice the thing you want to get better at.

If you’re training for a better body, you can use either: they’re popular because they work. What matters is picking out what suits your goals, needs, and preferences.

You also need to organize your home workout routine around the equipment and space you have free.

These are the limiting factors for most home gyms and home workouts. Sadly, we don’t all have infinite space and money to build up a perfect home training setup.

We have to deal with the reality of what we have around us. This is especially tricky if you don’t have a garage or other space to train in.

Home workouts – both HIIT and CrossFit – benefit from more equipment, space, and options.

However, they’re popular because they can be kept lean and compact – if you have nothing, you can get a workout in.

If you have a little bit of equipment – a kettlebell, a pair of dumbbells, a resistance band, or even just a sandbag – you can expand your HIIT and CrossFit workouts.

This is what we need to zone in on: these training methods take the same resources (space, equipment, and time) and organize them differently.

They both focus on conditioning – the mid-range, half-endurance, half-pace workouts that burn fat and help you perform better.

Let’s look at the specifics of each – what makes them unique – and how they can be used to help you build up a great workout at home.


What is CrossFit?

hiit vs crossfit

It’s impossible to ignore what CrossFit has brought to the fitness space these past 10-15 years. It’s become an international fitness phenomenon and changed the way many people see the fitness industry.

CrossFit is, at its base, a proprietary approach to circuit training.

The idea is nothing new – it’s just applied in a way that was marketed well and had a ton of appeal. It was a community-based approach that blended weightlifting, gymnastics, and metabolic conditioning (MetCon).

The actual idea of CrossFit isn’t that different from what we always called Cross-sport training. It’s a form of circuits and ground-based exercises. Specifically, it uses some of the exercises and movements that you’d see at the CrossFit games and in their gyms (or boxes).

The main principles of this style of training are found in the way that they blend these different types of training methods.

However, when we consider at-home training, it can get a little bit confusing because some of the primary forms of CrossFit style ‘functional fitness’ depend on kit:

  • Weightlifting – requiring an Olympic barbell and bumper plates
  • Gymnastics – especially when using rings or pull-up bars which aren’t always possible
  • Various cardio pieces – like rowing and ski erg – are expensive and very niche
  • Forms of implement-based metcon like kettlebells, sandbags, wall balls, etc.

This can be a problem if you’re working with limited space, storage, or equipment. You can’t just do a row when you need a concept-2 style erg. They’re expensive, and we don’t all have a few thousand dollars lying around to get one.

When we talk about CrossFit workouts at home, we’re mostly going to be looking at the movements and training styles.

These aren’t strictly CrossFit-only, but they have come to define how CrossFit structure their training and what an “at-home” adaptation might look like:

EMOM: every minute on the minute workouts, you perform a set of exercises and reps every minute. Your rest is the time before the next minute, which pushes a high pace and rewards getting done early.

AMRAP: as many reps as possible. You do an exercise for the allotted time for as many reps as possible. Simple enough.

AMRAP – Rounds: like AMRAP, but it’s as many rounds as possible of a given set of exercises. 

5rFT: a normal rounds for-time structure is simply completing the allotted exercise for as many rounds as provided in as little time as possible. This is all about driving at a good pace and keeping yourself moving consistently throughout the whole workout.

21-15-9: a simple system where you work through the reps set out for each exercise before moving down to the next number. E.g., FRAN is 21 thrusters, 21 pull-ups, 15 thrusters, 15 pull-ups, etc.…

Check out our list of the 10 Toughest WODs.

These are some of the important formats that separate many CrossFit WODs from the standard approach to circuit training and intervals. It doesn’t always follow the same structure, like HIIT, but it consistently offers a pace-based experience.

The overlap is in the higher effort required between the two to ensure a good time.

CrossFit doesn’t have a specific effort as HIIT does. Some WODs are long, some are short – but these types of workouts have their own determined pace, and faster is almost always better.

What Equipment Do You Need for CrossFit at Home?

crossfit vs hiit

Theoretically, a CrossFit-style a-home workout doesn’t really require anything.

Aspects like gymnastics and conditioning can be performed without any equipment. You can practice many of the components and formats of a CrossFit workout without any equipment.

There are, of course, some limitations based on equipment. The idea is simply that you need weight and gymnastic rings to start approaching the kind of results you’d get from attending a class.

If you can get a few simple pieces of equipment at home – a good kettlebell, a speed rope, some gymnastic rings, a resistance band, and a wall ball – you can achieve a lot.

However, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t make it CrossFit specifically and that you can accomplish these same things with any other method.

There’s nothing ground-breaking about how CrossFit workouts are built up; it’s just a great way to train if you’re trying to push yourself.

Home workouts might need that extra push when you don’t have the separate mental space of going to a gym and hyping yourself up for a workout.

CrossFit pacing and workout structures can be a great choice for home workouts. Focus on the simple components and your work capacity, and you’ll improve strength, conditioning, and metabolic output rapidly!

Looking to learn more – check out our Beginner’s Guide to CrossFit at Home.


What is HIIT?

HIIT workout

HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training.

The idea should be quite obvious: you are alternating between intervals of high and lower-intensity exercise.

This kind of exercise isn’t even as limited as CrossFit’s approach to standard, popular movements. It’s a very broadly defined structure that you could apply to almost any movement or form of exercise.

However, it does have some caveats and ideas some people often overlook.

First – and most importantly – high-intensity means 90%+.

You don’t get the benefits of HIIT if you’re using 80% effort on your high-intensity intervals. You need to be at least 90% effort and ideally working at 95-100% effort every time you’re in a “high” phase. The idea is to use HIIT as a kind of repeated near-maximal sprint interval.

Whatever exercise you’re using, you should be pushing yourself to the absolute limit during high-intensity segments. The repeated, intense bouts will be the main driving force behind the quality of your training and justifying the lower-intensity “recovery” segments.

If you don’t put in enough effort, whatever the movement, you’re missing the point of HIIT.

Second, your HIIT should focus on increasing your work capacity over time – across a few types of performance. First, it should go without saying that you want to focus on moving faster over time and increasing the pace of your highs.

You should also focus on increasing the amount of “high” segments and shortening the lower-intensity phases. The idea is to increase the amount of time dedicated to high-intensity, hard work, and ultimately the results of HIIT.

What Equipment Do You Need For HIIT at Home?

HIIT pushups

Fortunately, HIIT doesn’t require anything at all. The format applies to anything – it’s a matter of trying hard, easing off the pace, and then repeating.

There’s nothing specific about how you apply this. Obviously, the more closely we focus on simple exercises, the better. Things like running and sprinting are closely related and quickly switched up, allowing you to alternate between high- and low-intensity without real setup.

You can change almost any form of exercise by focusing on the difficulty one way or another. The goal is simply to be working near maximum, no matter what you’re using, getting to that effort level.

The more equipment you have access to, the more options you have to explore. Increasing your options for turning up the intensity will only mean you can continue to progress with interesting and effective variety over time.


CrossFit Vs. HIIT: What’s better?

CrossFit vs. HIIT - Which is Best for Home Workouts? 1

It’s hard to make a definitive statement of what is best. It’s never quite as simple as one or the other; it’s always about finding what suits your goals, needs, and your home training setup.

The point is to align your training style with what you have and what you want. There are, however, a few apparent differences that need to be considered.

For example, the first and most important factor is what you have.

That applies to space, time, and equipment. A complete CrossFit WOD benefits from extensive equipment availability. At the same time, a typical HIIT workout is premised on being simple and brutal.

The training method has to be specific to what you want. Fortunately, these two forms of training are sufficiently close together that you can use them to get better at each other – in general terms.

You can use CrossFit as a form of HIIT if you’re focusing on sufficiently simple movements. Things like burpees, lunges, jumps, running, rowing, etc., can all be used as methods of HIIT within the EMOM setting, for example.

CrossFit-style training is more dependent on skills: weightlifting, gymnastics, and implement skills all add up.

On the other hand, most HIIT movements are simple because they’re going to get sloppy as time goes by, and you’re pushing the pace for the 10th, 12th, or 15th interval.

You can use HIIT to get better at the conditioning aspects of CrossFit, and CrossFit can improve HIIT, but skill development is highly specific. If you want to get good at CrossFit, you’ll have to practice the main movements!

CrossFit obviously also has a greater capacity for building strength, power, and muscle mass if you’ve got the right equipment.

This can be a big deal, depending on what you have at home – you can use CrossFit or a combination of strength training and HIIT to get similar results.

Time

HIIT is fast by its nature. CrossFit can also be fast, but HIIT is amazingly well known for being the most time-efficient way to train if we compare the two. 

Even CrossFit’s “for time” and “EMOM” workouts struggle to keep up. A standard HIIT format like Tabata is significant enough to have a great workout completed in 15-30 minutes, depending on the pace you push and the exercises you choose.

As mentioned above, however, there’s serious overlap. You can use HIIT protocols in CrossFit if you’re willing to use, for example, burpees and wall balls. These lower-skill, higher-pace movements can be used to set two different intensities and suit Tabata just as well as running does.

Space

CrossFit’s workouts – especially those involving any heavy lifting or the use of a rower – will require space. The wall ball shot has a minimum height to count, a lot of the equipment takes up space, and the overhead clearance is relatively high compared to HIIT.

For that reason, HIIT can be far more convenient in smaller spaces. You can perform a complete bodyweight HIIT circuit at home, but you would struggle to keep up with a standard WOD unless you have a great home gym setup.

Check out our Guide to the Best Home Gym Equipment for an Apartment or our definitive DIY Garage Gym Guide.

Equipment

CrossFit’s specific movements lean on a particular set of kit you’ll find in a Crossfit gym. They’re not as unusual as they used to be, but still require some specific equipment – most of which is optional, but helps:

The things you have will determine what you can do. HIIT doesn’t care, but CrossFit opens up to you as you invest in equipment.


Closing remarks

We can’t tell you which suits you better, HIIT or CrossFit and functional fitness.

What we can tell you is that they’re both going to help you lose fat and improve your endurance. CrossFit has more capacity for strength if you have the equipment.

The two overlap heavily – they make you better at the other – and you don’t always need to pick one or the other. They get along well if you’re smart about what exercises you do and how you manage your load and recovery.

What matters is focusing on what you have in space, equipment, and what suits your personal goals. Being true to your types of training and what you want to achieve will decide whether CrossFit or HIIT will be best for you!

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