Classic Cardio vs. Circuit Training (H.I.I.T): What’s Better for Weight Loss?

It is a long time debate in the fitness world: Which type of cardio is best to perform? There are two primary categories of cardiovascular exercise: “classic” cardio and circuit training. Research is finally proving the superiority of circuit training to the machine-centered approach of classic cardio. Let’s take a look at both and discover why circuit training is more beneficial.


This is the popular go-to option for many people as it is simple and convenient. Walking or jogging on a treadmill, riding the exercise bike, and stepping in place: these are all examples of classic cardio. I believe many people find this to be a safe choice as the machine takes care of all the acute variables of the workout. You only have to enter your age, gender, weight, and fitness goal then the machine does the rest. From there, all you have to do is move.

The low-intensity, long duration approach to cardiovascular exercise quickly peaks and plateaus due to a lack of changing stimuli for the body. You are moving in one plane of motion without added resistance. Although the option is always there to change up the variables, few people actually make use of this.

Classic cardio is great for beginners who are uncomfortable in a gym atmosphere and are just beginning their fitness journey. If you want to start with machines, that is fine. Just be sure to push yourself by increasing the resistance and/or elevation. Give yourself no more than 4 to 6 weeks on the machines before moving to circuit training.


Circuit training is a form of cardiovascular-resistance exercise that incorporates a number of high intensity aerobic and anaerobic variables. This type of training is excellent for developing strength, burning body fat, and gaining lean muscle mass. Best of all, it is very time efficient. A typical circuit will be made up of several exercises that may range from using your bodyweight, barbells, dumbbells, kettle-belts etc. Each exercise has a set number of repetitions that are completed then immediately followed up by the next exercise. Once the entire circuit is fully completed, you take a break of 1 to 3 minutes then begin again. The number of times that you complete the circuit depends on your fitness and comfort level.


I believe that circuit training is one of the most valuable methods of combining cardiovascular and resistance training in the fitness world. Your body is constantly moving in different planes of motion at different intervals and intensity levels. This high intensity, short duration method helps to acquire maximum results in the shortest amount of time. A typical circuit-training workout only lasts 20 to 30 minutes. Studies, such as this one published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, show the superiority of circuit training (high intensity, short duration) for fat loss and muscle building when compared to classic cardio (low intensity, long duration).

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One of the major differences between circuit training and classic cardio is the activation of energy systems. While classic cardio only engages one energy system (the majority of times), circuit training activates the anaerobic and aerobic systems, resulting in increases in ATP and creatine phosphate production. The aerobic energy system focuses on increasing stamina and endurance while the anaerobic system is for power-based movements (quick, high intensity) Photo 11-04-2015 15 48 22such as sprinting.

The consistent change in movement, intensity, and volume requires several muscle groups to be used at once as opposed to the classic cardio method, which may use fewer groups. The more muscles that are firing at once, the more calories are being expended, and the greater your excess post-oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC via circuit-training has been shown to burn more calories and lead to a greater degree of fat burning. Best of all, it may last up to 72 hours! Known as “The after burn effect”


Despite being used as the main approach to fitness for years, classic cardio has now become a warm-up technique when compared to circuit training.

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Nikos Saklabanakis

Nikos Saklabanakis

Being passionate about health and fitness enables me to achieve my all time goal of guiding and supporting people through achieving their personal fitness dreams and being a significant part of dramatically changing their lives for the better.

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