According to sports scientists from Kennesaw State University, performing a circuit training session which consists of bodyweight exercises performed back to back in quick succession can be more challenging than a traditional steady-state bout of cardio in which you run at a continuous pace.

Their study, which was published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, saw 10 fit male students do a 20 minute training session on two separate occasions. On the one occasion, the men had to run on a treadmill with an intensity of 85% of their maximal heart rate (which is a fast run), and on the other occasion they did the Crossfit Cindy workout which consisted of a series of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats. The men had to complete as many sets of this workout regimen as possible within the 20 minute timeframe. 

What they found was that the men’s heart rate rose higher during the Crossfit training session than when compared to the treadmill session. The level of perceived exertion of the Crossfit workout was considered higher throughout the entire workout.

The scientists took an electrocardiogram during the training session which showed that the heart muscle had to work harder in the bodyweight training circuit than with the treadmill cardio. 

From a hormonal standpoint, the men’s blood contained a considerable amount more adrenalin (epinephrine) and noradrenalin (norepinephrine) during the bodyweight training and for the hours following the workout than when compared to the running cardio session.

From the experiment the researchers concluded, “The application of a high-intensity training protocol as a general form of exercise has seen a tremendous market growth. Importantly, little information is available pertaining high-intensity training protocol and autonomic stress.”

“The results of this study demonstrated that a bout of a high-intensity training protocol created a greater disruption to cardiac autonomic control when compared to running, despite closely matching for intensity and time.”

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