Differences between circuit training and interval training

What is the Difference Between Circuit Training and Interval Training?

They each have their unique benefits, but they are not the same

For many people looking for ways to challenge their exercise routines and break the plateau, circuit training, and interval training become a workout of interest.

But the problem is most people confuse the two types (spoiler alert: they are very different – more on that in a moment).

In this article, we will look at the main differences between circuit training and interval workout. This will help you determine which one is a better fit for your fitness goals.


First, let’s start with some working definitions here.

What is interval training

An interval training is a workout routine where you alternate between exercises that require high bursts of energy followed by ones that require moderate or low bouts of energy. And while taking short periods of rest. 

In interval training, there are short and sometimes very active recovery periods. This exercise uses up a lot of energy (and a lot of oxygen) and needs even more oxygen for recovery. 

Several studies have shown the benefits of interval training to include:

  • Improved endurance
  • Faster calories burn
  • Increased metabolism
  • Reduced high blood pressure
  • Improved insulin levels

What is circuit training

Circuit training, on the other hand, is a workout routine that requires you to complete different sets of exercises, all back to back within a specified period, with no rest or very little rests in between exercises.

Circuit training is the go-go type of routine and requires a lot of cardiovascular fitness to complete at a reasonable pace.


Benefits of circuit training include:

  • Improved cardiovascular and aerobic fitness
  • Increased lean muscles
  • Improved heart rate

What is the main difference between circuit training and interval training?

As you might have noticed, two core foundations separate these two training routines.

Interval training allows for more rest or recovery during the sets and reps of exercises itself. Circuit training, by nature, needs to be completed with no or little rest as much as possible.

Here’s how a rest cadence for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) might look like

  • 60 seconds of exercise 1
  • 30 seconds of rest
  • 60 seconds of exercise 2
  • 30 seconds of rest
  • 60 seconds of exercise 3
  • 30 seconds of rest

The key is you’re taking some time to recover during the high burst of rests. These rest periods can be active rests.

This means instead of a workout that requires a high burst of energy, you stick to the low-energy exercises.


On the other hand, here’s what a circuit training workout can look like:

  • 15 reps of exercise 1
  • 15 reps of exercise 2
  • 90 seconds of exercise 3
  • 90 seconds of exercise 4
  • 10 reps of exercise 5

In this workout, you have the go mentality. You challenge your body in a way that you move on exercise to another with no rests.

Keep in mind it’s okay if you need to catch a breath at some point and drink water

Is it possible to do both interval and circuit training at the same time?

Absolutely! And you have likely done it at some point without even knowing it.

A really good example is when you join a workout class and the instructors guide the class through a series of workouts. Often these workouts are back to back in the same session and sometimes spaced out.


CrossFit type or even boot camp style workouts most often combine interval training and circuit training.

Should you do interval or circuit training?

These workouts might not be for everybody. People who are just starting on their fitness journeys must choose exercise routines that meet their fitness levels.

Here are a few tips to consider:

  1. Start with baby steps
  2. Modify the workouts
  3. Warm-up before workouts and after 
  4. Stay hydrated
  5. Pay attention to proper nutrition before and after training