Should You Do Steady State Cardio Or HIIT For Fat Loss?
In the past, the concept of cardio exercise was pretty cut and dry…
It simply meant doing some sort of aerobic activity at a steady pace for a period of time.
But in recent years, many experts are now recommending something called HIIT instead, which stands for High Intensity Interval Training.
This is heralded as much more effective than traditional cardio (known as ‘steady state’ cardio), and can supposedly help you lose a lot more fat.
In this article, I’m going to compare steady state cardio and HIIT, so you can determine which one is best for you to do.
Steady State Cardio
This refers to any form of cardio where you maintain a steady intensity for a period of time.
For example, this might mean 20-40 minutes of something like running on a treadmill or cycling on an exercise bike, where you maintain a heart rate of 140-150 for the entire time.
The Pros Of Steady State Cardio
- Depending on the intensity, you can actually burn more calories than HIIT within the same period of time.
- Can be more appropriate for beginners or overweight people who don’t yet have the capacity required to perform HIIT.
- Can be done more frequently than HIIT, without placing the same amount of stress on your central nervous system.
The Cons Of Steady State Cardio
- Can be boring and monotonous, since you are maintaining the same basic pace without any variation for long periods of time.
- Too much steady state cardio, especially at higher intensities, can lead to overtraining and result in muscle loss.
- For most people that do steady state cardio at a moderate/low intensity, it can be tough to burn enough calories to make a significant impact. For instance, in a 30 minute moderate intensity session, you might only burn 200-300 calories.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
This is any form of cardio activity that alternates periods of higher intensity with periods of lower intensity.
This will typically be 1-2 minute periods of low intensity, followed by 30-60 second periods of higher intensity, alternated like this for the entire session.
Typically, you would also do a 5 minute warm-up and 5 minute cool-down at the beginning and end of the session.
The Pros Of High Intensity Interval Training
- Within a given period of time, HIIT can lead to greater fat loss, despite burning fewer calories. This is because of something known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), which are the calories burned after the workout.
- Can improve the body’s ability to use fat for fuel compared to steady state cardio. This can help with stubborn fat loss (more applicable at lower levels of body fat).
- Can help reduce appetite after training, making it easier to stick to a cutting diet.
- More time efficient, since effective HIIT sessions can be done in just 15-20 minutes.
- Can be less dull, since you are alternating ‘sets’ of high intensity and low intensity, which can make the time seem to move faster.
The Cons Of High Intensity Interval Training
- Often not appropriate for beginners or people who are obese, since the high intensity periods can be too taxing.
- Depending on the activity, can lead to more injuries (sprinting).
- Limited to how many days you can do it per week. 2-3 days is the maximum I’d recommend for HIIT without overtraining (and even that is a lot).
- It’s not very pleasant. You have to push yourself during the high intensity periods, which can be painful (lactic acid burning), otherwise you won’t get the benefit.
So now that we’ve gone through the pros and cons of both steady state cardio and HIIT, you’re probably wondering what you should do.
Well, if you’re a beginner, you should definitely stick with doing steady state initially (at least 4 weeks consistently).
After that, however, it doesn’t have to be an either/or thing.
Since there is a limit to how many HIIT sessions you can (sensibly) do each week, you might decide to do 2 sessions of steady state and 1 session of HIIT.
There is nothing wrong with mixing and matching to find a pattern that works for you.
At the end of the day, though, when done properly HIIT is generally a more efficient way for non-beginners to get the best fat loss bang for their buck out of their cardio sessions.
Finally, regardless of which form of cardio you do, you should remember to keep increasing the intensity/difficulty as your body adapts, in order to keep it effective.
Just as progressive overload is important when lifting weights, you should also be gradually increasing the difficulty of your cardio sessions.
So if you’re doing steady state and that same level of resistance starts to feel too easy, increase it.
The same is true with HIIT – you should be increasing resistance for the high intensity periods as your body adapts.