HIIT vs Running For Weight Loss (Which is More Effective?)

Some people have been runners their whole lives. Some competed in track, cross country, marathons, or running to stay in shape. They most likely have also done interval training. HIIT is a form of interval training. 

When a person is looking to shed those extra pounds, save time, and lose fat, they may wonder if running is worth it or if some other exercise would be more effective.

Overall, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is more effective for weight loss than running. People who trained in HIIT with a combination of moderate-intensity and interval exercises were more effective at achieving their goals of burning more calories and reducing body fat.

Running can be time-consuming and frustrating, spending hours on the treadmill and seeing very few pounds shed despite all that extra effort and time. HIIT workouts can save you that frustration and time and provide the results wanted.

HIIT vs Running: Calorie Burning

As shown in the table above, HIIT burns more calories than running. Of course, part of doing HIIT workouts may include running. Running, spoken of here, is moderate or even pace running. 

Below is a table comparing specific results that aid in burning calories when working out. It shows which results are seen from running and from HIIT workouts.

ResultsRunning HIIT
Uses Energy from Fat
Uses Energy from Carbs
Muscle Preservation
Increased Metabolic Rate
Improved Heart Health

Fat Loss Comparison

HIIT uses more energy from fat when the workout is performed. Since it uses more energy from fat than energy from carbs, it allows for more calorie burn than running. HIIT also increases fat burn over time than running.

Running uses energy from carbs. This energy burn is still effective and will result in calorie burn. 

Over time it will not burn as much fat as HIIT will. So overall, HIIT workouts are better for fat loss.

Muscle Preservation Comparison

HIIT workouts are much more effective for muscle preservation. When observing a distance runner versus a sprinter’s build, it is noticeable that not always, but the majority of the time, distance runners are more tall and lanky, while sprinters often are more muscular. 

These physical differences can be tied to the muscle preservation that HIIT workouts provide. Often sprinters’ workouts consist of shorter bursts of speed followed by short rests, also known as interval or HIIT training. 

These specific routines have been studied and proven to show greater muscle retention and gain of lean muscle than typical running routines.

Building and maintaining lean muscle assists in fat loss and promotes calorie burn. HIIT workouts promote the Afterburn Effect, which essentially results in calories being burned not only during but also after workouts.

On the other hand, moderate or distance running can cause muscle loss. It is harder to gain and maintain muscle. When running to keep that muscle, you must make sure to focus on your diet as well.

I noticed that in my workout routines. As I was training for a 10k, I prepared by running three to ten miles every day for the months leading up to my race. In addition to this training, I would weight lift different muscle groups daily. 

Although I noticed I was getting stronger and my endurance increased, I did not see much muscle growth. I was lifting heavy but did not see the results that I expected. 

After I finished my 10k, I cut back on my running training. I still lifted the amount I was before, but instead of running three to ten miles every day, I alternated running three miles and HIIT interval training every other day.

While doing this type of training, I was able to see results. Not only was I able to lift heavier weights, but I also began to see more muscle definition. 

In addition, my long runs felt easier, not just because they were slightly shorter than the ones I had been doing before, but also due to my interval training.

Metabolic Rate Comparison

HIIT workouts change metabolism over time. They also cause the Afterburn Effect to occur. The Afterburn Effect increases metabolism, calorie loss, and fat burn. This effect makes HIIT more helpful again for burning more calories.

Running also increases metabolic rate, but in a different way. While HIIT has the benefits of the Afterburn Effect and increased calorie loss and fat burn, running does not. 

It has more of a temporary metabolism increase. Running changes the metabolism by making fat loss more difficult and aiding in fat accumulation.

Heart Health Comparison

HIIT and running are both highly effective for improving heart health. Some ways they do so are similar, while others differ slightly.

HIIT improves heart health by providing an improvement in lowered blood pressure that running does not. It also increases overall heart health. HIIT reduces the risk of heart attacks by as much as 30%.

Running improves heart health in multiple ways. It helps lower your blood pressure. It also strengthens heart muscles. 

Strengthened heart muscles can help lead to heart disease prevention. Running lowers your resting heart rate, easing the workload of the heart. These all result in improved heart health.

How Long Will it Take to See Results 

Another item to consider when desiring weight loss is how long it takes to see results. Running and HIIT see results in a similar amount of time. Although the results are seen in a similar amount of time, the specific results gained from doing these exercises differ slightly.

When desiring results from running, it will take about four to six weeks to begin seeing results. If the gym-goer is already a consistent runner, it will take a few months to see any gains.

As for HIIT results, it takes only seven days to start feeling results and a little over a month to begin seeing the results. So, if the gym-goer wants to see quicker results, HIIT is the workout to choose.

Below are a couple of tables showing the results expected from HIIT and running workouts. They also contain the time they are seen in. 

HIIT Workout Results

Time Result 1Result 2Result 3Result 4
7 DaysMood improvementsLess fatigueHigher motivationRoutine adjustment
1 MonthMetabolism boostIncreased athletic performanceAt least two pounds of weight lossGreater energy
3 MonthsResting heart rate improvedHigher movement efficiencyAt least eight pounds of fat loss
6 MonthsReduced stress, anxiety, and depressionBetter physique More fat lossMuscle toning
1 yearElevated mood and energyFurther athletic improvementsSignificant fat lossMore muscle tone and leanness 

Running Workout Results

TimeResult 1Result 2Result 3Result 4
7 DaysImproved moodDecreased levels of anxiety and stressHigher moticationRoutine adjustment
1 MonthMay see some weight gainIncreased enduranceMore leg muscle strength (felt, not seen)More energy
3 MonthsBetter focusImproved sleepAt least two pounds of weight lossReduced resting heart rate
6 MonthsReduced body massMore weight lossLower body fat ratioImproved mental health
1 YearAdaptation to the stresses of runningDecreased risk of depressionImproved memory and focusMore weight loss

As seen from the two tables, running and HIIT have results for those who choose to do them. They both have a very similar period for seen results as well.

HIIT vs Running for Beginners

Both HIIT and running are effective workouts for beginners. If there is little to no foundation and experience in the gym-goer, it is best to start with running. Running will give them a solid base, to begin with, and prepare them for harder workouts.

Running is done for any specified time, at any speed, or any distance. This allows runners to choose the pace at which they begin, how far is far enough, and how fast is too fast. It gives a base to train up to further distances and speeds.

HIIT workouts are great for beginning and out-of-shape gym-goers. It allows them to choose which time frame (30 to 50-minutes) works best for them. In addition, they can begin with a smaller work-to-recovery ratio and work up to a bigger one (ex: 1:1 moving up to 3:1). 

HIIT workouts are done only two to three times a week. In addition, they are much shorter than the typical workout. When the gym-goer is beginning their gym journey and not ready to go every day, they should do HIIT workouts.

When I first began going to the gym, it was after college. I had always done sports and wanted to continue staying active and healthy. Running tons of miles was more intimidating and less motivational for me when getting started.

I found that HIIT workouts were more effective in getting me motivated in wanting to come back to the gym and in getting my gym journey going.

HIIT vs Running for Advanced Athletes

HIIT and running are as effective and fit for the fit and expert gym-goers as they are for beginners. Choosing which one to do at this level is more based upon desired results from the gym experience.

HIIT workouts are short and effective. If the gym-goer wants to burn tons of calories, lose fat, maintain lean muscle, and get done quickly, HIIT is the better choice. This choice is especially true if weight lifting is part of their gym split. 

HIIT will result in muscle gain and should only be done two or three times a week. Thus, if the gym-goer prefers to have a cardio-focused day one day and a weights day the next, HIIT provides the ideal combo.

Running is also fitting for the experienced gym-goer. Running again can result in muscle loss and does not have as many benefits as HIIT does. 

It is also much more time-consuming. If the goal of the gym-goer is distance running or training for longer races, running is the better option. 

Since I have become a seasoned gym-goer, I have found that I enjoy doing a combination of both. As I mentioned earlier in the article, I saw better muscle gain and weight loss results when I started implementing HIIT workouts in addition to a couple of days of moderate running and consistent weight lifting.

Verdict: Which is Best for Weight Loss

More Calorie BurnWinner
Better for Fat LossWinner
Shorter Time to See ResultsTieTie
Better for Overall Weight LossWinner

Overall, HIIT workouts are better for weight loss. They are shorter in duration and burn calories during and after the workout. They help with muscle toning and fat loss. 

Remember, HIIT workouts are for the beginner, intermediate, and expert gym-goer. They can be adapted to fit specific needs and goals. 

HIIT workouts are shorter and done two to three times a week. If the goal is to lose more weight over time and burn calories, HIIT is for you.

Running is more for those who are training specifically for distance races. Running still has great benefits: weight loss, increased metabolic rate, and improved heart health. However, if the main goal is to lose weight–HIIT workouts are more effective.