High Intensity Interval Training or Steady State Cardio?
By Dr. Nathaniel Shober
Recently, there has been a tremendous amount of hype around high intensity interval training (HIIT) and less so for the old school steady state cardio. But which one is “better”?
The short of it is…..it depends. Don’t you love that answer? You knew I was going there. But, it really does depend! And actually both methods have their advantages and both should be incorporated into your training program.
Steady State Cardio
Steady State Cardio (SSC) is exercise that utilizes oxygen and fat to generate energy for the workload. SSC is considered a low-key exercise that reduces stress, improves oxygen utilization, and promotes recovery. Think of easy runs, elliptical machines, bikes, row machines, etc. While elements of more vigorous exercise can be incorporated into an SSC workout, such as hill repeats, sprint intervals, or long distance training (more on this later), typically during SSC workouts you are able to be relaxed and able to hold a simple conversation.
SSC allows the left ventricle of the heart to completely fill with blood before ejecting. This promotes a lower resting heart rate and an increase in parasympathetic tone. Our parasympathetic nervous system fosters a calm, relaxing, “rest and digest” state. Which is why the common prescription for “stress” is “exercise”. So if you need to chill-out, steady state cardio is the right choice.
High Intensity Interval Training
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is anaerobic in that it does not use oxygen for energy production, and uses stored carbohydrates for fuel. However, it has been shown that HIIT is very effective at burning fat – more so than SSC. It is yet to be firmly determined exactly why this is. But this is most likely due to the metabolism remaining elevated long after an intense exercise. HIIT has also been shown to regulate blood sugar levels better than SSC.
A HIIT session utilizes 85-95% of max effort for shorter bursts of time followed by a short rest period, and repeated. So, you’re breathing hard, utilizing more muscle power and more muscle groups, and performing more explosive movements. While HIIT is considered anaerobic, the training still activates oxygen pathways and therefore builds endurance, just not in the traditional sense. For example, performing 300 total push-ups during a HIIT session is going to require endurance.
As opposed to SSC, HIIT causes “Stress” on the body and therefore engages the sympathetic nervous system, or better known as the “fight-or-flight” response. Performing HIIT daily isn’t recommended because it promotes a constant state of stress. If you already find yourself stressed, doing HIIT daily is definitely not recommended.
Steady State Cardio & High Intensity Interval Training Recap:
- Requires oxygen
- Burns fat
- Decreases stress
- Good option for evening workout
- Uses fewer muscle groups
- Does not increase muscle
- Uses stored carbohydrates
- Burns fat
- Increases stress
- Good option for morning workout
- Uses more muscle groups
- Increases muscle
So back to the question of when and what exercise is best for you:
Based on your training goals, the best answer is, a combination of both. That combination can be a day of SSC, a day of HIIT, or SSC with a little bit of HIIT mixed in as mentioned earlier. This could look like a run out to a playground, perform as many pull-ups, push-ups, and air squats as you can in 10 min, and run easy back.
Bottom line is listen to your body and try different exercises.
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Contact our office today to schedule a free information consult with Dr. Shober. (603) 427-6800