Which do you root for?
Which is the more effective workout when it comes to fat loss?
Steady State Cardio seems to be losing its hold among the new age fans of the HIIT. Although there are many who are happy sticking to the former for fat burning and weight loss.
Every fitness enthusiast seems to have a theory supporting the merits of one over the other. I am sure you have a winner in your head too.
But, hang on.
This article might change your views or atleast stoke second thoughts.
Here, we discuss the effectiveness of both the forms, their pros and cons and address the question – which of the two is better?
Contents of the article
First, let us rush through some basics to dig up the foundation for the discussion.
What is a Cardio Workout?
Cardio or Cardiovascular workout is an exercise that challenges the heart and lungs. This means that any activity that puts pressure on the heart, the circulatory system and the lungs qualifies as cardio.
The heart rate and blood pressure increase, and the breathing gets heavy as the cardiovascular system has to function much faster than the normal rate during a cardio session.
Say, when you are running, your leg muscles do most of the work. As the leg muscles are exerted they need more energy to function.
The heart beats faster to pump blood at a higher rate to carry more oxygen to the muscles and release more energy. You, in turn, breathe in more oxygen into the lungs.
This is the way a cardio workout trains the cardiovascular system.
Some of the benefits of cardio include better heart health, more calorie burns helping in weight loss, increase in metabolism, better blood circulation, increase in endurance and stamina and better regulation of hormones in the body.
Types of Cardio
There are a number of exercises that come under the category of cardio.
Some examples are – jogging, running, cycling, swimming, walking, skipping, rowing, training on an elliptical and many more functional exercises performed at an intensity that challenges the cardiovascular system.
The cardio exercises that engage the major muscle groups of the body like legs are more taxing on the heart and lungs as they demand more energy burst from the body.
Hence such exercises are preferred for a cardio session more often.
Still with me?
Lets now jump onto the two contenders.
Steady State Cardio
This form of cardiovascular exercise has been around for a long time. In fact, this is one of the first forms of cardio.
Steady State Cardio refers to a cardio session that is performed at a steady pace or intensity for a certain period of time.
It demands a low to moderate intensity effort that must be high enough to burn calories and activate maximum muscle groups.
A general rule is to limit the session to about 30 to 45 minutes.
This type of cardio can be incorporated along with other forms of workout like strength training.
For instance, it can be performed both before or after a strength training session.
This workout can include walking, jogging, cycling, swimming etc at a steady pace for a limited period of time.
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What happens during a Steady State Cardio Session
The Steady State Cardio is an Aerobic exercise in which oxygen is sufficiently available for the muscles during the course of the workout.
This means that the oxygen intake and utilization remain at par with the energy requirements of the body.
In this form of cardio, the body goes through Aerobic Metabolism for the most part to maintain the calorie burn.
The Aerobic Metabolism is the only way the body produces energy through carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It is the same process that helps us do our daily activities.
During a cardio session with steady-state intensity, the process amplifies to produce more energy for the workout. The glycogen levels (energy stores in the muscles) in the body fall as it is broken down to release energy.
The energy is also supplied by oxidizing the glucose released in the bloodstream from the liver and from the metabolism of fat in the body. The heart pumps in more blood which, in turn, supplies more oxygen to release energy.
The energy contributed from the metabolism of fat may range in 40%-60% of the total energy required by the body during a prolonged moderate level of aerobic exercise at about 65% VO2 max (which determines the maximum oxygen consumption during an exercise).
Although this kind of metabolism enables fats to be used as an energy source, this only happens when the body is depleted of most of its glycogen reserves and blood glucose. This means that fats do not easily come in the picture to be broken down for energy.
To enable fat metabolism one has to sustain steady state cardio for much longer periods which is sometimes practically not possible and can cause muscle loss and injuries.
HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training
High Intensity Interval training is the type of exercise in which a person gives in the maximum effort in a stipulated time frame, say 30-120 seconds, and then rests or minimises the effort for some time, say 120-180 seconds, so as to recover for the next round of maximum intensity.
The idea here is to produce short bursts of maximum intensity to race the heart and lungs and then reduce the intensity dramatically so as to shock the body with a variation.
Here the maximum effort period must be close to 80 to 90 percent of the VO2max of the person while the cooldown period must have an activity with around 40 to 50 percent of the VO2 max.
Although the maximum and minimum intensity levels of a HIIT regime may change with different workout styles.
The cooldown period may be equal, shorter or more than the maximum intensity period depending upon the workout or one’s level of training.
The total duration of a HIIT workout generally varies from 10 to 20 mins as per the goal or type of workout.
This workout can include exercises like running, swimming, cycling, skipping rope or a mix and match of different workouts performed in HIIT style for a short duration.
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What happens during a HIIT Session
HIIT is a type of an Anaerobic exercise where the supply of oxygen is less than that required to release the energy for the workout duration.
It involves greater performance in shorter duration. The energy here is largely produced by Anaerobic Metabolism.
During a workout session, the muscle glycogen undergoes decomposition to produce glucose which reacts with the oxygen to release energy.
The oxygen supplied during an anaerobic exercise is insufficient that leads to fermentation and formation of Lactic Acid in the muscles. This makes it hard to continue with the workout for long duration heeding to muscle fatigue.
This is the primary reason why a workout that demands anaerobic metabolism for energy cannot be sustained for a longer duration.
The energy is sourced only form glucose during the Anaerobic metabolism. Here fats are not broken down to glucose to release energy as in the case of aerobic metabolism.
Here is a good video that explains how the Steady State Cardio (Aerobic Metabolism) and HIIT (Anaerobic Metabolism) work.
Well, I hope we are not digressing from the topic.
But the basics need to be clear if we have to make a decision on Steady State Cardio vs HIIT.
Advantages of Steady State Cardio
1) A Steady State Cardio session is usually of the duration ranging from 30 to 45 minutes in length. Since it is done at a moderate level of intensity, it helps build up stamina and endurance.
The body is trained to endure more duration of stress and its ability increases with the level of intensity in subsequent workouts.
2) It helps to improve the cardiovascular capacity of the body. The cardiovascular system is made to operate at an increased level of intensity, during the course of the workout, thus improving its health.
3) Your body recovers faster following a Steady State Cardio session as it is not as hard as other high impact training regimes like HIIT.
4) The chances of getting injuries during the course of this workout are lesser as the joints and muscles are not impacted as much as during a high intensity interval training.
Advantages of HIIT
1) HIIT is time efficient. The usual duration of a HIIT workout ranges from 10 to 20 minutes.
2) HIIT helps to improve cardiovascular health. As this type of workout is heavily taxing on the cardiovascular system the body adapts to improve its capacity.
3) It adds a variety to your workout regime. Unlike steady state cardio, a HIIT session can be performed anywhere without the need for specific equipment.
A HIIT regime might comprise a number of functional movements together or a simple workout like running at fast-paced intervals.
4) When exercises like push-ups are incorporated in a HIIT session, it can stimulate muscle tone by directly impacting the muscle fibres in the chest as during resistance workout. Hence, a HIIT session can also lead to better muscle health as compared to a traditional steady state cardio session.
5) This kind of high intensity interval workout burns a large number of calories in a short duration and has a higher afterburn effect compared to a low intensity workout of similar duration (see EPOC below).
Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC)
EPOC is the increase in the oxygen consumption of the body after an intense workout session to return to its resting metabolic rate.
Generally, the EPOC effect can stretch upto 24 hours of an intense exercise driving the body to burn extra calories throughout the period.
However, this extra energy burn after an intense bout of exercise is minimal. There are studies that show that this effect only contributes to about 6-15 percent of the total calories burned during the exercise itself.
Moreover, the EPOC effect largely depends on the individual’s gender, age and experience level. Hence, no two people would have similar EPOC after similar exercise sessions.
Or perhaps if there is a difference observed between the calorie burn after the two, it is minimal and not significant.
There is much touted high EPOC benefit linked to HIIT workouts but this can only be possible if the HIIT workout is carried for a much longer duration than traditional 10 to 20 minutes period compared to the similar duration of Steady State Cardio.
Although this scenario can prove really hard on the body due to the long period of high intensity workout.
Do these facts make you think over your choice of cardio?
Let us quickly go through some key differences between the two forms here.
HIIT vs Steady State Cardio: Key Differences
1) HIIT workout has a greater EPOC or afterburn effect on the body compared to a similar duration of Steady State cardio. But at the same time, the calorie burn is not as much significant so as to neglect the effects of a Steady State Cardio when done for a longer duration.
2) HIIT is a short duration cardio workout that can be helpful for people having time constraints as they generally last upto 20 minutes while a Steady State Cardio needs to be done for a longer duration to produce similar effects and hence it consumes more time.
3) Steady State Cardio is less taxing on the muscles and recovery here is easy as compared to a HIIT session that demands greater effort and can be exhausting. Recovery from a HIIT session can take more time. Hence it is always recommended to schedule a resistance training and a HIIT session on separate days.
4) Both HIIT and Steady State Cardio burn calories as per their workout durations and level and are effective in overall fat loss of the body. The HIIT uses anaerobic metabolism while a Steady State Cardio would use more of aerobic metabolism to burn calories.
5) During an Aerobic or Steady State Cardio session carbohydrates and fats are utilized to produce the energy whereas an Anaerobic or HIIT session mostly depend on glucose or glycogen for the energy source.
6) During the HIIT workout, Lactic Acid is produced as a byproduct of anaerobic metabolism leading to muscle fatigue. Hence such a workout cannot be sustained for a longer duration. Whereas, a Steady State Cardio can be carried out for a longer duration as it does not produce a high quantity of Lactic Acid.
7) HIIT and Steady State Cardio both are prone to injuries when overdone without giving the body time to recover. However, a Steady State routine, when done for the prescribed duration with adequate rest, is better for muscles and joints as compared to high impact HIIT training.
8) A HIIT routine can add more variety to a workout split as it can be done as a combination of a number of functional body movements while steady state cardio may usually have similar kind of exercises in a routine.
What to choose: HIIT or Steady State Cardio
Below are some points that can help you make the decision between the two regimes.
1) If you have a time constraint and need to dabble between cardio and weight training in your routine then go for HIIT. As this would be an effective choice as compared to long duration Steady State Cardio sessions.
2) HIIT is more suited for intermediate to advanced trainees as it is more intense and can be hard while Steady State cardio can be better for beginners.
3) Steady State cardio can be effective for people who prefer a jog or a run in the park and other such activities that can be more enjoyable rather than a high intensity workout that leaves you exhausted for the day.
4) People who are recovering from injuries or have been on a break from exercise for long must go for Steady State Cardio as HIIT can lead to injuries for the less conditioned body.
5) HIIT is suited for people who like to mix and match their cardio and challenge their physical limits by pushing for more intensity.
Though both the HIIT and the Steady Cardio have their own benefits and shortcomings.
It is always better to add both kinds of workout into your routine for the sake of variety and efficiency.
Also, the best type of workout is something that you enjoy doing and can continue over a period of time to get the desired results.
So to answer the question of which of the two is better?
You can infer for yourself that when it comes to choosing against the efficacy of the two regimes both are winners in their own way. As far as including a cardio regime in your workout – choose whatever suits your taste as both can deliver the results.
It must also be kept in mind that the loss of weight or fat and lean muscle gain is not possible solely depending on the type of workout you do.
In fact, as the saying goes – ” You can never out train a bad diet”
It is quintessential to have a balanced diet that comprises of all the macro and micronutrients necessary for proper growth of the body.
Comment below your thoughts on the two regimes. Which do you prefer for yourself?
Does the article help you in choosing one of the two types of cardio?