Benefits of HIT Cardio vs. Steady-State Cardio

Benefits of HIT Cardio vs. Steady-State Cardio

If you’re a weight lifter, it’s the day you dread. If you’re a runner, it’s business as usual. Cardio day is a necessity in every workout program. Sure, lifting weights provides a number of benefits but rarely does the intensity level reach that target heart rate zone that begins to tap into the benefits of endurance and overall cardiovascular health.

With the emergence of studies on high intensity interval training, a new question is being asked in the fitness industry: is high intensity cardio (HIT) better than the traditional steady-state cardio? Let’s take a look at what defines steady-state and high intensity, the benefits of both, and which one is better for your fitness goals.

What is Steady State Cardio?

When you walk into the gym, and you see dozens of people slowly walking along on treadmills and ellipticals, this a pretty straight forward image of steady-state cardio. The intensity is going to be low to moderate, and most people will be able to hold a normal conversation with you. The duration is frustratingly long though. You’ll see people spend 30 minutes on the treadmill then jump over to the bicycle or elliptical for another 30 minutes.

Benefits of Steady-State Cardio

Burns Fat: Naturally, moving for a long enough period of time, you’re going to start burning through calories and stored fat. Steady-state cardio at a moderate intensity has been shown to promote energy expenditure and fat burning.

Endurance-Focused: If you have your mind set on increasing your endurance for a sport or time-tested event like a marathon, then steady-state can help. It’s been shown to promote a high level of endurance.

Cardiovascular Fitness: As demonstrated in the studies mentioned above, steady-state cardio is a great way to safely improve overall cardiovascular fitness with low impact on the joints.

What is High Intensity Training (HIT)?

As you can guess, high intensity training (HIT) is a faster paced workout that reaches levels of intensity where you’re not able to hold a basic conversation with someone. CrossFit is a good example of the pace and rhythm of HIT workouts. While high in intensity, they are short in duration, usually lasting between 15 and 30 minutes maximum.

Benefits of High Intensity Training (HIT)?

Fat Burning: The higher intensity workout at a shorter duration has been shown in studies to promote a high level of fat burning.

EPOC Levels: The number of calories you burn after you stop working out is known as your excess post oxygen consumption level. This is when your body continues working to pay back the oxygen deficit from exercise. HIT has been shown to spike EPOC levels, helping to burn more calories hours after you complete your workout.

Time Friendly: One of the most common reasons people don’t workout is because of a supposed lack of time. Studies confirm that HIT is a promising way to exercise as it burns fat, promotes lean muscle tissue, and saves time. The average HIT workout takes half the amount of time as a steady-state workout.

Steady State Cardio vs. HIT

Both have their benefits, but is one necessarily better than the other? The answer is: it depends.

Fat Burning: While some studies don’t agree, there are experts who claim that HIT provides a higher level of fat burning thanks to the increase in EPOC levels.

Endurance: When it comes to long duration endurance levels, assuming you are moving at a moderate intensity, steady-state cardio might take the victory here, but again, only if your intensity level is moderate. If you’re moving at a casual stroll pace, you won’t see the same benefits that HIT can provide.

Athletic Performance: This one goes to HIT. When you are completing a normal HIT workout, you’ll often find the workload to be higher impact with greater demands on speed and sprint-based power. Steady-state cardio can’t get you ready for football drills or rapid-fire speed ladder workouts, but HIT can.

No Risk of Burning Muscle: Despite its high intensity, HIT workouts can promote fat burning while supporting lean muscle tissue. Best of all, there’s no risk for protein breakdown so long as you are following a protein-rich diet or using protein supplements.

Greater Results in Less Time: Again, this one is up for debate in some studies, but overall, HIT seems to be able to provide better results in the areas of fat burning and performance at a fraction of the time of your average steady-state workout.

When Steady State is Useful

HIT might be better for most of the athletic population, but that’s not to say that steady-state is useless. There are certainly times when steady-state cardio is going to be the better option.

Recovery / Rehabilitation: If you were recently in an accident or you’re recovering from an injury, steady-state cardio is going to be the safer option here. It’s low impact so you can burn fat and promote cardiovascular fitness without worrying about putting too much strain on the injured area.

Elderly / Chronic Illness Population: While higher impact exercise can actually promote bone health, it might not be the best option for the elderly or chronic illness population. If you’re older, steady-state cardio is going to be the safest way to achieve healthy weight management.

Teens / New to Exercise: When you’re young, you want to jump right into the big leagues. You want to lift more, jump higher, and compete at an elite level. Unfortunately, the reality is that your body needs to progressively adjust to intense exercise. If you’re young or new to exercise, start with steady-state and upgrade to HIT when you’re ready.

Which Do You Prefer: Steady State Cardio or High Intensity Training?

Are you a fan of hour-long runs on a treadmill? Prefer to crank up the intensity and get done faster? Let us know in the comment below!