What Achieves Better Cardio Results - HIIT or Steady-State Training?
Cardio is Where You Burn the Most Calories
Cardio is an essential part of any workout program whether the goal is to lose weight or get fit. Cardio is where you burn the most calories during your workout, and it strengthens the heart, lungs and muscles worked. Until recent years the norm for cardiovascular training was steady-state which is going for a walk, jog, bike ride while keeping at a moderate intensity during the workout.
Recently there has been a dramatic shift to high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT training involves intense work periods ranging from 5 seconds to 8 minutes long, performed at 80% to 95% of the theoretical max heart rate. The recovery periods are equally as long as the work periods and executed at 40% to 50% of the theoretical max heart rate. The workout continues with the alternating work and relief periods totalling 20 to 60 minutes. These short but very intense workouts maximize results while drastically reducing the time you spend training.
The effects of HIIT training sounds great, right? However, is HIIT training or steady-state training better for losing weight? What about if you want to get fit or ready for an athletic event? What about the increased risk of injury or enjoyment factor? What is going to work best for YOU?
HIIT Training 101
The idea of HIIT is to push to 80 to 95 percent of the max heart rate or an RPE (rate of perceived exertion) between 7 to 9.5 on a scale of 0-10 (10 being maximal effort)! The intense push is followed by a recovery which is 40% to 50% of the theoretical max heart rate or an RPE of 2 to 4/10. There are a variety of benefits to this particular type of training method.
The Benefits Include:
Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC): EPOC is the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to its normal, resting level of metabolic function. The body expends approximately five calories of energy (a calorie is the amount of energy required to heat 1 liter of water 1-degree centigrade) to consume 1 litre of oxygen. Therefore, increasing the amount of oxygen consumed both during and after a workout can increase the number of net calories burned. Generally, it takes about 2-hours after exercise for the body to restore itself to pre-exercise levels, and therefore the body uses more energy.
Improved performance: HIIT can help improve your speed, strength, and endurance. HIIT helps your body learn to burn lactic acid more efficiently allowing you to exercise for a more extended period before fatigue sets in. HIIT also increases your VO2 max to help your body efficiently process oxygen. HIIT helps all the systems of the body to work as a cohesive unit to improve your endurance and ability to maintain your goal pace.
Improved Insulin Sensitivity: HIIT can improve insulin uptake, and sensitivity for Type 2 diabetics. The more sensitive your body is to insulin, the less your body needs that insulin to lower blood glucose levels. Regarding exercise, that means your HIIT can help your exercising muscles use glucose for fuel more efficiently.
Time Efficiency: Due to the increased workload the time worked decreases. High-intensity interval training is intense and pushes your body to the max, so it’s essential to allow for lots of recovery time between workouts. Using high-intensity interval training two to three times per week will give you the best results.
HIIT training obstacles include:
Let’s Face It: HIIT is Uncomfortable: Most types of workouts are modified to suit individual fitness levels. However, the whole point of HIIT training is to get out of your comfort zone. Due to its high-intensity workload, it is not appropriate for beginners or people with injuries.
Risk of Injury: High-intensity exercise such as sprints and plyometrics (i.e jumping and rebounding exercise) increase the chance of injury to soft tissue and joints, if you have no prior experience with these movement patterns.
Too Much of a Good Thing: In this case, too many HIIT workouts will lead to burnout and overtraining injuries.
Learn all about the different types of HIIT training methods here, including Tabata, Turbulence and the Little Method.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Steady State
The “Highs” of Steady State Training Include:
Minimal strain on the cardiopulmonary system: You create less stress by starting at a lower intensity and slowly increasing intensity as the body allows.
Reduced Health Risks: Steady State cardio helps your heart to work more efficiently, lowers blood pressure, improves insulin levels, cortisol and anxiety. When paired with an appropriate nutrition plan, steady state can aid in body fat reduction.
Speedy Recuperation Time: Due to the reduced load on the cardiovascular system and body, recovery time can be more immediate. Steady state training’s reduced workload often means you can train daily which is imperative when trying to develop healthy exercise habits for beginners.
Increases the Body’s Fat Burning Potential: Yes, at any intensity you will be burning some fat as a fuel source. However, when working out at a lower intensity, the body burns fat as a fuel source more efficiently.
Easier for Enjoyability Factor: People just starting an exercise program or people with health conditions quite often give up because they initially find their workout program too hard. Working out at a lower intensity makes the workout less intolerable because it makes exercise achievable.
Drawbacks of Steady State Include:
Decreased Intensity = Increased Time: Busy professionals and parents alike will find it challenging to meet the extended time it takes to burn enough calories to get full benefits of Steady State. Full benefits in this training zone will take 60 to 90 minutes.
Increased Possibility of Injuries: Repetition increases the risk of wear patterns on the joints and can stress the connective tissue. An abundance of cross training will be necessary to decrease overuse injuries.
Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again: Well, in this case, you will still get results; but in this age of constant overstimulation, it may be considered boring. Again this can be abated by doing plenty of cross training within the 60 to 90 minutes.
Lack of Change = Plateau: Constant work in the same workload percentage will lead to the body adapting. In order to get massive changes you need or want, the body needs to be challenged.
What to Do HIIT or Steady-State Training Then?
The answer to that would be like so many other fitness questions … It depends on current physical fitness and goals.
HIIT is more time efficient, but you can only do these programs 2 to 3 times a week. HIIT should only be done by experienced fitness enthusiasts when done at the highest intensity, 80 – 95% Heart Rate Reserve (HRR). HIIT is great for weight loss because it burns more calories overall than Steady State. HIIT is great for breaking through plateaus, build endurance and have the body develop a greater tolerance to lactic acid.
Steady State is fantastic for those new to exercise, with health conditions or coming back from a long lay-off from working out. Steady State is great for people who can’t do any high impact exercise. Steady State is good when training for marathons or similar types of endurance sports.
In a perfect training world, mixing it up will get the best results. Beginners can do some moderate intensity intervals to start building tolerance for higher intensity intervals. Athletes should take some time to do Steady State to reduce the risk of overuse injuries and to get in some “active rest” days!
Training should be fun and health is always a priority! Mix it up! Consistency will get the best results so make sure you take the time to build a solid foundation. Hire an Elite Personal Trainer if you are new to exercise so he/she can create a safe and effective program! Hiring a certified Personal Trainer through Infofit is one of the best investments you can make for your overall health and fitness. If you are serious about a achieving a healthy future, fuelled by healthy eating, increased activity and infinite possibilities, then start with your very own Infofit personal trainer.
Cathie Glennon – BCRPA SFL/ Rehabilitation Specialist/ Pharm.Tech (Level 3)
Learn to become your own personal trainer! The Personal Training Certification Full Time Diploma is a full time diploma program designed for individuals wanting to pursue a career in the fitness industry as an advanced personal trainer or fitness instructor. This fitness program is recognized by the British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
- CF, Farland CV, Guidotti F. The Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training vs Steady State Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 201ADAD;14(4):747-755.
- Boutcher SH. High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. Journal of Obesity. 2011;2011:1-10. doi:10.1155/2011/868305.
- Pearson SJ. High-Intensity Interval Training Vs Moderate Intensity Continuous Training in the Management of Metabolic Type Disease. MOJ Anatomy & Physiology. 2015;1(5). doi:10.15406/mojap.2015.01.00027.