HIIT vs. Steady-State Cardio – Is One Better Than the Other?

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by Liz Bowen

High intensity interval training (HIIT) became very popular when research showed the considerable benefits of short bursts of high intensity training punctuated by low intensity rests periods. There are many people under the impression that HIIT cardio is the superior form of cardio. However, it really depends on a handful of factors, such as a person’s fitness level, experience, age, fitness goals, likes/dislikes, and other health problems.

HIIT Cardio

Let’s look at the benefits of HIIT cardio.

  • HIIT cardio burns more calories than low-intensity cardio.
  • Because it also places greater recovery demands on your body, it causes you to burn more calories after you’re finished than you would if you had done a standard hour of steady-state cardio on the treadmill.
  • According to the American College of Sports Medicine, just two weeks of HIIT can improve your aerobic capacity as much as 6 to 8 weeks of jogging on a treadmill would.
  • It’s generally better for retaining lean muscles.
  • HIIT cardio isn’t as time consuming. All it takes is somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 minutes. So, if you don’t have 30 to 60 minutes on a treadmill, especially after you’ve spent time lifting, doing intervals could be a great alternative.
  • Lastly, if you can’t stand to be on a treadmill for a half hour to an hour because the minutes absolutely drag by, then intervals are a great way to get your cardio over with faster.

The catch with HIIT cardio is that it’s really easy to overdo it. Interval training taxes the nervous system to a higher degree, so doing intervals for too long or too many times a week can impede your body’s recovery time.

The consensus is that your cardio intervals should not exceed 30 minutes and should not be done much more than 3 times a week. However, this heavily depends on your fitness level. Most people won’t need to go longer than 15 minutes and might only need to do HIIT cardio twice in a week.

Steady-State Cardio

High intensity intervals aren’t for everyone. Beginners to fitness, overweight or obese trainees, the elderly, and people with joint issues in their legs are better off doing steady-state cardio. Even more serious fitness enthusiasts might choose to incorporate more steady-state cardio into their workout routines, depending on their fitness goals.

  • Swapping out some HIIT cardio with steady-state cardio can help improve recovery because steady-state doesn’t tax the body as much.
  • Steady-state cardio will help you retain muscle mass if you’re on a low calorie diet. It will also make sticking to your low calorie diet easier because HIIT cardio has a tendency to leave you feeling really hungry after a workout due to the greater toll it takes on your body.
  • Steady-state cardio will help build endurance, which will pay off on weekends and during vacations when you might be hiking, biking, or on your feet a lot touring a city.
  • If you absolutely hate sprints, forcing yourself to do them will make it more difficult for you to stick to your workout plan for the simple reason that if you dread doing something, you’re more likely to make excuses to get out of it.
  • This can be very detrimental to fat loss goals, in which case, steady-state cardio is the better choice for you.
  • The down sides to steady-state are that it can be monotonous and time consuming to do an hour of steady-state cardio 4 or 5 times a week, and you won’t burn calories as efficiently as HIIT cardio would.

 

So the answer to whether HIIT cardio is really the superior form of cardio for you, depends on if you’re physically prepared for sprints, your fat loss goals, your diet, and if you like doing them enough to stick to them.

 

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