HIIT vs. Steady-State Cardio
“What should I do for cardio?” This is one of the most common questions I hear as a fitness professional. Regardless of where the individual is in their training experience, there still seems to be some confusion in regards to which type of cardio is best. When I say “best”, I am speaking in terms of fat loss. Throughout this article I will be discussing the benefits of certain types of cardio in order to optimize total fat loss. In order to make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s go over some definitions for both HIIT and Steady-State. HIIT is an acronym for High Intensity Interval Training. According to some awesome trainer out there, HIIT is a form of cardio that includes both high and low intensity bouts that are intertwined. I know it’s not the best definition so let’s simplify. HIIT cardio combines both high and low intensity periods in one session. Whereas steady-state cardio is simply cardiovascular exercise at a consistent, steady pace. An example of each would go as follows:
HIIT: 15 minutes total (3 minutes easy, 1 minute hard)
Steady-State: 45 minutes total (Treadmill level 6)
Now that we are all clear on the definition and what both entail, let’s dig deeper and discuss the pros and cons in regards to optimal fat loss.
Over years and years of studying the effects of fat loss after both moderate and interval cardio routines, HIIT seems to prevail time and time again. One of the more recent studies found that the group of women performing HIIT lost six times more body fat than the group that stuck to a 40-minute steady state routine. Study after study shows us that there aren’t any significant fat loss benefits to steady-state, moderate cardio sessions. So, what is so special about the former? What makes high intensity interval training great for fat loss? Two studies (1996 & 2007) show us that those who perform their cardio workouts in an interval-style fashion burn more calories in the 24-period following the workout itself. Why? Well it’s actually quite simple if you don’t analyze too deeply. These short, intense interval periods are very hard on the body because of the effort level we are giving. The harder our bodies are worked, the more they need to be repaired. The more repair that is required, the more energy our bodies need to do it. Calories are energy so bada bing bada boom!
Not only does HIIT mean more calories burned, but there are also plenty of results to show that it positively changes the metabolic effects of our muscles. To keep you away from boredom with overwhelming numbers, I’ll just say that more studies in 2007 showed that females performing HIIT had a 30% increase in fat oxidation levels. Not only does interval training set us up for the best results when it comes to calories burned and fat oxidation increased, but it also allows us to hold on to as much muscle mass possible (when compared to steady cardiovascular exercise). Steady-state cardio has a tendency to slowly eat at our muscle tissue, especially while attempting to lean down during a caloric deficit. Put simply, compare the body of a long distance runner vs. a sprinter. Which body do you want? Skinny, but awkward and flabby, or strong, lean, and tight?
With all of the above information, it is safe to say that HIIT is clearly the way to go. Questions is, what kind of HIIT should we do? With my clients, I have found that the following format works great. Please take note, intense cardio should always be done AFTER your weight training session. Never before. I also recommend drinking your post-workout shake after your training and before your cardio. That way it can shuttle around your body completely during cardio.
Performing 15 minute sessions with the following split is a great start: 3 minutes medium intensity, 1 minute hard intensity. As your body’s ability to perform this improves, you can certainly adjust the ratios to the following: 2min/1min, 1min/1min, 1min/30sec, etc.
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"Cardio For Fat Loss: High Intensity Interval Training Cardio Vs Low Intensity Steady State Cardio." SimplyShreddedcom. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 July 2016.
"The HIIT Revolution for Fat Burning Success." Strength Training, Bodybuilding & Online Supplement Store. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 July 2016.