Interval training vs. circuit training for outdoor athletes | SummitDaily.com

Interval training vs. circuit training for outdoor athletes

Trent Johnson
Special to the Daily
Personal trainer Trent Johnson.
Special to the Daily |

What’s the difference?

Interval Training

Workouts are based on cardio and body-weight movements, with a combination of both exercises.

Sample exercises: Running 400 meters on a track four times with 5-10 seconds rest, pushups, pull-ups

Circuit Training

Workouts are based on using weighted movements, with a balance between a high number of sets and a high number of repetitions simultaneously.

Sample exercises: Power cleans, back squats, clean and jerk, squat thrusters, bench press

Just about every new client has two major questions for a personal trainer: How is circuit training different than interval training, and why are both important?

Both are valid questions. Many people hear these terms, but they don’t really know the difference between circuit training and interval training. This makes it difficult to incorporate them into a workout. But, it helps to begin with a basic breakdown of the movements and exercises that are common to both (see sidebar). From there, we can get into the benefits and how they can improve any exercise program.

Benefits of interval and circuit training

Interval training helps increase cardiovascular endurance (aerobic), as well as builds slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscles, depending on the intensity and duration of a workout.

Interval training workouts are designed to burn off glucose and fat cells. They also slowly build muscle over time.

These workouts are designed to increase strength for outdoor activities like rock climbing and snowboarding — the sort Summit County locals live for. On the flip side, an interval workout can also be used for increasing aerobic muscular capacity for exercises like wind sprints and plyometrics.

In contrast, circuit training increases strength and stability in the joints while also boosting cardiovascular strength (anaerobic). Circuit training builds fast-twitch muscle, and each movement is designed to burn more fat than simply lifting weights normally.

Here’s the difference: Circuit training involves full-body movements that work major muscle groups, while weight lifting focuses primarily on specific muscles with long rest periods between sets. Circuit training also increases muscle mass and muscular definition as a result of training.

The cross-training effect

Circuit training and interval training workouts are customized to fit your specific needs and goals. By looking at your body composition and your current fitness level, a trainer can customize a workout to best fit your fitness level and end goals.

When cross-training, daily workouts vary between circuit and interval training. That’s important: If you focus only on circuit training or only on interval training, you will only burn between 100-250 calories an hour. But, if you incorporate both into your training routine, then you will burn upwards of 400-700 calories an hour, depending on the intensity of the workout. The key to burning more calories is to complete as many reps as possible, with little to no stopping during your routine.

When you increase the total time of a workout and decrease the transition time between reps to just 5-10 seconds, your body is working harder to cool down. When this happens, your body burns twice as many calories compared to a normal workout.

So long, plateaus

The key to incorporating both circuit and interval training into a workout is to understand that these workouts need to be done with a small amount of rest, similar to the popular Tabata-style workout.

The difference between Tabata and circuit/interval training is that the workouts are longer and the rests are shorter than normal. You burn more calories through a combination of neuromuscular stabilization and muscle confusion, spurred by incorporating heavy weights with quick (but controlled) movements.

Why does cross-training boost neuromuscular control? It’s because we need to keep ourselves balanced and standing during the workout. Muscle confusion is defined as a movement that your muscles in your body have no memory of doing, and, so, your body is trying its hardest to learn how to do it correctly. As a result, you burn twice as many calories helping the muscle learn the movement.

When you combine heavy movements with many repetitions in a workout, you tend to use three or more major muscle groups during each exercise. When you have simultaneous muscle movements, more energy is rushed to the activated muscle groups to successfully complete the movements.

Of course, just about every athlete worries about hitting a training plateau. Don’t fret too much — it’s common for anyone to hit a plateau, even in the same month. Yet, with a cross-training style of workout, your body won’t be able to fully adapt to the workout because the workouts are constantly changing in strength and endurance.


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