Many of our goals revolve around building muscle and losing fat. We all want those long and lean muscles and, in some cases, to gain size (after all, that’s what creates that muscle definition). Regardless of the type of cardio you do, the benefits of cardiovascular endurance are endless: It decreases your resting heart rate and blood pressure, increases your lung and heart volume, lowers cholesterol and body fat and strengthens connective tissues. Your heart is a muscle; if you want to condition it, then you have to train it.
There are two types of cardio: steady-state and high-intensity interval training. Both types are tools to lose fat, but which is better? That’s been a highly debated question, so let’s break down both.
As the name implies steady-state cardio is low to moderate intensity cardio for a half an hour or more. Training for a marathon? Walking on an incline at a steady pace? Are you on the elliptical for a shameful 45 minutes? You’re most likely doing steady-state cardio.
What are the benefits?
Steady-state cardio brings more benefits than just weight loss. It’s great for developing your aerobic fitness level and increasing your cardiovascular endurance. The benefits of steady-state cardio are functional and translate to real life activities. If you participate in weekend adventure activities like hiking, cycling or rowing, cardiovascular endurance is essential. Also, you’re getting a killer calorie burn. Thirty minutes of jogging can burn approximately 300 calories — do that five days every week and you could lose almost two extra pounds per month. Not bad!
When should you do it?
Steady-state is great for beginners who are just starting a workout program and are looking to build endurance. It’s lower impact and therefore can be performed with more frequency than HIIT training. If you’re someone who typically goes from sitting at a desk to sitting on your couch, adding a form of steady-state cardio is a healthy decision, because you might not be ready for HIIT. If you’re wondering if you’ll see results, the answer is yes. If you’re training for a running race such as a 10K, 15K or a marathon, you’ll also be doing your share of it. Your body will need this type of conditioning and endurance training to cross that finish line.
Injury from overuse. If you’re running miles and miles every day, you’re placing a bit of stress on your joints for an extended period of time. Injury may happen if you’re not recovering properly or taking on too much time or distance too quickly. Another drawback is that steady state cardio has the potential to catabolize muscle — look at a marathon runner compared to a sprinter and you’ll see what I mean. Finally, steady-state cardio is like dieting: The benefits stop working when you do. You won’t get the same post-workout calorie burn from steady state cardio as you would a good HIIT session.
As we’ve already discussed, HIIT is a short period of all-out effort push, followed by a period of rest. High-intensity intervals can be done on a treadmill, cycle, with your own bodyweight or outdoors in an open space. HIIT doesn’t have to be limited to traditional cardio either, you can use equipment like battle ropes, kettlebells, sleds, jump ropes or dumbbells.
What are the benefits?
Less time is required for a HIIT workout, and it creates a lot of bang for your buck. Quite possibly the best part is that it improves your body’s ability to use muscle growth as a way to burn fat for fuel. Also, it burns more calories post-exercise than steady-state does.
When should you do it?
When you’ve got limited time for your workout or you have limited equipment. If you’re a seasoned athlete or used to working out multiple times a week, HIIT is a good choice for you. HIIT is generally not recommended for beginners, because it’s so physically demanding.
Because of the physical demand, HIIT should be done only a maximum of three or four times a week. These intervals may be short and sweet, but oh, do they hurt. When you’re done with a HIIT set, there should be nothing left in the tank. If you’re not comfortable with being uncomfortable, you’ll struggle with this. Another drawback? Injury from overuse or incorrect technique: If you’re too focused on quantity as opposed to quantity, your technical breakdown can result in muscle tear, strain or even worse. So move quickly, but with a purpose. As this bears repeating, I will say this again: HIIT is generally not recommended for beginners starting a cardiovascular program.
The conclusion: steady-state or HIIT.
You may be waiting for a final answer as to what is better for weight loss; unfortunately, it’s not that clear-cut. Every training program includes a variety of exercises, so mix and match to find out what is best for you. My personal plan looks something like the below. I know from enough experimenting that my body looks the leanest and most defined when I’ve do two days of steady-state cardio as well as two days of lifting during the week.
Monday: HIIT training combination of strength and cardio at Shred415
Tuesday: Steady-state cardio
Wednesday: HIIT training in the pool
Thursday: Total body heavy lifting
Friday: HIIT training combination of strength and cardio at Shred415
Saturday: Steady-state cardio for 30-45 minutes on the stair master or treadmill
What works best for you? That’s up to you to find out.
Image via Becuo.