Articles - 22nd July 2019

HIIT Cardio vs. Steady-State Cardio

Words by Juju Sheikh

Back in the day, if someone wanted to get fit or lose weight, they would just put their trainers on and hop on a treadmill for 45 minutes. For some, steady-state cardio is really enjoyable, and as well as improving their fitness they actually like it. For others, this is not the case. Some tend to find steady-state cardio very boring. So, thank god for HIIT training!

HIIT (which stands for high-intensity interval) training recently emerged into the fitness world to the joy of all those traditional cardio haters out there. But what is the deal with HIIT? Is it actually better than steady-state cardio? Here’s a little breakdown of the two below:


HIIT cardio:

So, HIIT training is, as the name suggests, interval training. This means that you work hard (and I mean hard) for a certain amount of time, followed by an active recovery period. You want to aim to get your heart rate up to around 80-90% of your maximum heart rate, and then bring it back down for the rest periods. Active recovery is bringing your heart rate down, but still keeping moving e.g. A light jog or marching on the spot.

The duration of the workout depends totally on what you want, but usually ranges between 20-60 minutes. 


So, what are the benefits of HIIT training?

It is less time consuming

As a freelancer, you’re super busy during the day, and only have a little time to get a workout in, so you can smash out an intense HIIT session in 20-30 minutes and be done for the day. 


It is more fun

I know this totally depends on what you consider ‘fun’, but trying to stay focused during an hour-long run is a lot more difficult for most than constantly changing it up and doing different exercises, resting and then giving it your all. A lot of people find it keeps their attention for longer and they’re able to stay motivated.  


You keep burning calories, even after you’ve left the gym

This is the big one for most people. You keep burning fat after you’re done working out. Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption, aka the afterburn, is essentially the calories your body burns after exercise, before your body gets back to its resting state. If you work at a higher intensity, your metabolism goes up more than if you were doing steady state cardio, and you therefore burn more calories after you’re done working out. 


Improves both your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems

We all have an aerobic and anaerobic energy system. The aerobic energy system is used when we do low intensity exercise or steady state cardio, and the anaerobic is used in workouts including higher intensity cardio and bursts of energy. HIIT training will improve both of these energy systems, meaning your overall fitness will improve (as opposed to steady state cardio, which only targets your aerobic energy system)


Steady state cardio:

Steady state cardio involves working at a consistent intensity and speed for the entire duration of your workout. There are no breaks or bursts of energy, just a consistent intensity level for a certain period of time. 


So, what are the benefits of steady state cardio?

Increased endurance

If you’re looking to improve your stamina, steady state cardio is a great way to do this. Long distance running will undoubtedly improve your aerobic energy system and therefore increase your ability to keep going for longer. 


Faster recovery 

Because there is less stress on the body than in HIIT training, your recovery time is much faster. 


Good for beginners

If you’re just entering the fitness world, it’s a really good way to begin, because you can totally go at your own pace and not overwhelm yourself with intense exercise. If you’re looking to ease yourself into improving your fitness, going on a light jog, walk or bike ride is a great way to get yourself moving and allow your body to adjust to moving more. HIIT training is, by nature, very intense and can sometimes be off putting for beginners. 


So, which one of these two types of cardio is better?

I would honestly say its completely subjective. I personally prefer HIIT training for all the benefits it brings, but I also incorporate steady state cardio into my workout regime 1-2 times a week. 

If I had to choose, I would probably say HIIT training takes the gold here. If you’re busy, it’s the best way to break a sweat in a short amount of time. On top of this, you also work on muscle tone indirectly when doing HIIT, and the afterburn is a great advantage. 

However, any exercise is good exercise, so there is no ‘wrong’ cardio to do – the fact that you’re exercising at all is great! I would advise incorporating both into your workout regime to keep things interesting and prevent plateauing by always challenging yourself and increasing the difficulty of your workouts as time goes on.

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