HIIT vs. Steady-State Cardio

Mar 21, 2018

Peter Kowalczyk

by Peter Kowalczyk
PT, DPT, ATC Litchfield Park

A lot of people wonder what the most efficient way to perform cardio for fat loss and cardiovascular improvements is. Is it performing prolonged bouts of cardio or intermittent bouts of intense exercise? Well, hopefully, this post will help give you insight into the best home exercise for weight loss with some scientific backing.
What Is HIIT and Steady-State Cardio?
First, let’s define high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and steady-state cardio. HIIT consists of repeated, high-intensity exercise bouts combined with passive/active recovery phases. Times for each phase can vary from a few seconds up to several minutes depending on your preference of intensity. Steady-state cardio can be described as any cardiovascular exercise lasting for an extended duration at a steady intensity during the entire duration of the exercise session. Steady-state cardio can consist of running, cycling, swimming, etc.
What Is the Better Option for Results?
A study performed by Helgerud et al in 2007 compared the effects of aerobic endurance training at different intensities and with different methods matched for total work and frequency.1 They measured responses in VO2 max. VO2 max is the maximal oxygen consumption of a person during a given period of time. It is a great indicator of the cardiorespiratory fitness of an individual and is used to determine endurance capacity during prolonged exercise. The results showed that HIIT resulted in significantly increased VO2 max compared with long, slow distance.
A study by Perry et al in 2008 assessed the ability of HIIT to increase the capabilities of fat and carbohydrate oxidation in skeletal muscle.2 Oxidation is how the body breaks down fats and carbohydrates to be utilized as energy. They studied untrained, recreationally-active individuals practicing HIIT over the course of six weeks.2 They found fat oxidation in participants increased 60% as compared to pre-training. 2 Which means that the subjects were able to utilize more fat as an energy source for their workouts as compared to baseline.
So if you want to improve your cardiovascular capacity, burn some fat, and be time efficient you are better off opting for HIIT.
How Do I Practice HIIT?
You can perform HIIT by running on a treadmill or outside, cycling, and even swimming. You can make HIIT easy and without any equipment by performing high knees, fast feet, and plyometric exercises such as jumping, lunges, and jumping jacks. Just make sure you get your heart rate up fast followed by a rest.
Another benefit is it can be done pretty much anywhere, even when traveling. Try doing some high knees in the hotel room. Want to get a good workout at work but tight on time? You can do some stair climbs or go outside for some sprints. HIIT is also a good addition to any weight-lifting regiment as a good finisher to squeeze out another few calories.
HIIT workouts are usually designed around ratios such as 1:1, 1:2, and 1:5. A sample workout of a 1:1 ratio could be a 30-second interval followed by 30 seconds of recovery. A ratio of 1:2 would be a 30-second interval followed by a 1-minute rest.
A good starting point could be a 1:5 ratio workout with 10 seconds of an all-out sprint or intense cycling followed by a 50-second rest for 10 repetitions. As your endurance improves, slowly decrease your rest duration until you are capable of doing a HIIT workout at 1:1.
A sample workout can be something like this: Do high knees for 30 seconds and rest for 1 minute for 10 repetitions. If you find that easy you can either bump up the intensity by shortening the rest time or increasing the number of repetitions.
HIIT is a fast and efficient workout of 15 minutes that will result in more fat burning and improved cardiovascular endurance when compared to performing 15 minutes of steady-state cardio.
Remember, it is best to check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. If you are experiencing any aches and pains, you can schedule a free injury assessment where one of our physical therapists will evaluate any issues you may be having and get you back on track in no time.

  1. Helgerud, J., Høydal, K., Wang, E., Karlsen, T., Berg, P., et al. (2007). Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2max more than moderate training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(4), 665-671.
  2. Perry, C.G.R, Heigenhauser, G.J.F, Bonen, A., and Spriet, L.L. (2008). High-intensity aerobic interval training increases fat and carbohydrate metabolic capacities in human skeletal muscle. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 33(6), 1112-1123.

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