Weights vs HIIT – Which is better?

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Wesley Lo

Wesley Lo

Wesley is a health and fitness coach in Hong Kong, with a passion for finding ways to improve health, longevity and athletic performances.


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Training programmes can help you get fit – but depending on your goals, one may be more effective than the other.

Recently I’ve been asked this a lot – which is better, weights or HIIT?

First of all, I’d say that all training programmes to some extent will help you get fit.

But depending on your fitness goals, some programmes will be more suited to you than others. So, should you lift more weights, or do HIIT?

Let’s take a look at both types of training programmes.

High Intensity Interval Training

HIIT is a training pattern that alternates between high intense anaerobic exercise and recovery aerobic exercise, or rest in a correct work-and-rest time ratio. 

This can be done in many ways and it’s effective in achieving “afterburn”, or what fitness geeks like me term EPOC, or Exercise Induced Post Oxygen Consumption.

Because HIIT provides more EPOC – and therefore more calorie burn – than steady state cardio, many people who are looking to lose weight often turn to this form of training programme.

That said, it’s still a question whether most people are doing it “correctly”.

By that, I mean we have to first understand what “high intensity” means. The phrase can mean different things to different people, depending on their overall health and fitness level.

To achieve EPOC, there are specific targets to hit, in terms of your heart rate during the workout itself. Only by achieving the desired heart rate patterns are you actually performing a HIIT workout and reaping its benefits.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the high intensity periods may range from 5 seconds to 8 minutes long, and these have to be performed at 80% to 95% of a person’s estimated maximal heart rate.

The recovery periods are usually performed at 40% to 50% of a person’s estimated maximal heart rate.

Of course, unless you are wearing a heart rate monitor, there’s simply no way to tell if you’re hitting those targets.

Let me try to simplify this for you.

During a high intensity heart rate zone, you should not be able to talk or multi-task, because your nervous system is trying really hard to maintain the high energy output.

During the recovery period, you should have just enough time to catch your breath, look at the time, and take a quick swig of water.

That’s roughly what a HIIT workout should feel like.

Weight training

Lifting weights is the best way to lose fat and gain muscle.

Using either equipment or free weights, training with weights allows you to train specific muscle groups.

When training a client, I also pay attention to different movements, reps, range of motions, tempos, and rest times.

By manipulating these variables, we can start to fatigue and break down the muscle tissues so that when they recover, they get bigger and stronger.

Weight training doesn’t involve much cardiac output, which also means fewer calories burnt during training.

But no doubt, it is the most effective way to lose fat and build muscle – when paired with a healthy diet comprising the recommended protein intake.

The right fit

Whether HIIT or weight training is right for you depends on your own fitness goals.

If you want to build more muscle, then start following a weight training program.

But if you want to lose weight, or if you enjoy sweating it out, then you should go for HIIT.

Personally, I’d say you could try to do both – the aim is to find a balance while achieving your fitness goals. If you have questions, you can always ask a fitness professional for advice.

Good luck and train smart!