Total Row Demystifies Fitness: HIIT vs Circuit Training vs Metabolic Conditioning

HIIT Training

Total Row Demystifies Fitness: HIIT vs Circuit Training vs Metabolic Conditioning

by | May 9, 2018

In its Demystifying Fitness series, Total Row tackles the most confusing and misunderstood areas of fitness – all in under 500 words! Today, it takes on a few terms that are generically (and usually incorrectly) used today: HIIT, Circuit Training, and Metabolic Conditioning (Metcon).

Key Takeaways

    1. Metcon consists of working at a high level over a relatively longer period (think like +10 minutes). Circuit training, HIIT, or a single exercise (like running), could all be considered Metcons.
    2. Circuit Training is another broad style of exercise, comprised of a group of movements done one after another. A Circuit makes a great Metcon workout, but not all Metcons are circuits.
    3. HIIT sessions are based on intervals, with a set period of time “on” followed by time “off.” A HIIT workout can be a Metcon or Circuit.

Circuit Training, HIIT, Metcon… Confused Yet?

If there is one thing the fitness world loves, it is confusing jargon! The fact that many terms mean nearly the same thing, or are used incorrectly, does not help the problem.

Today, we are going to tackle 3 of the most widely (and incorrectly) used terms…

Metcon, a broad style of workout

Metabolic Conditioning (Metcon) was made famous by Crossfitters, but its origins actually go back much further to the 1970s. Metcon is a broad style of workout, where 1 or more exercises are completed at a high intensity over a relatively longer period of time.

Because of its wide definition, a Metcon can actually take many different forms. For example, a mile foot race, circuit class, spin class, or Tabata workout could all be Metcons. Essentially, any relatively high intensity workout with minimal break that lasts 10+ minutes could be considered a Metcon.

Circuit Training, a Great Form of Metcon

If you are in a group fitness class, you are almost certainly doing some type of circuit training. Generally speaking, circuit training is a group of exercises completed in a “circuit” (or, one after another). This can be done at high-intensity, low-intensity, or anything in-between.

Circuit training has become almost mandatory in today’s fitness environment, and for good reason.

First, it’s fast. Taking out the breaks in a workout means efficiency. If you are pressed for time, a circuit is a great solution!
Second, it torches calories. Because circuit training moves quickly from one station to the next, your heart rate stays elevated. By combining strength training with low rest, expect to burn more calories per minute.
Third, it’s more interesting. By constantly changing stations, exercises, or disciplines, circuit training helps the time fly by!

HIIT… the most widely mis-used term in fitness

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. With origins in Tabata training (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, 4 total minutes), HIIT is defined by very high intensity bursts of work, followed by a predetermined rest.

Unlike circuit training and Metcon which do NOT require rest, taking recovery intervals is a basic attribute of a HIIT style session. Because a HIIT workout is complete at MAXIMUM effort levels, periodic breaks are necessary.

Importantly, a HIIT session could be both a Circuit and Metcon.

Summary: How they all connect

To really distinguish between the 3, it’s important to understand the “rules” of each workout

Metcon: Sustained high level of activity. Could be a circuit, HIIT, or any number of activities.
Circuit Training: Broad term that simply means completing exercises in a circuit (one after another). A circuit could be setup as a HIIT or Mecon.
HIIT: The most “narrowly” defined of the 3, HIIT workouts are done at the highest energly level possible, with predetermined rest intervals throughout. A HIIT workout can be both a circuit and Metcon.