How to choose between HIIT and steady cardio training

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High-intensity interval training packs a tough workout into a short amount of time, making it sound like it should be an efficient, superior way to exercise. But HIIT doesn’t have as many benefits as we do led to believeand often steady-state cardio is the better option. Let’s take a look at a few factors to consider when choosing what type of workout to do.

Do you have to be fresh tomorrow?

One cool thing about low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio is that it has almost no recovery costs. You can do it as a warm-up before a lifting workout, if one of two workouts on a given day, or as a “recovery” workout on an active rest day. As long as you refuel afterward and eat carbohydrates to replace the muscle glycogen you’ve been using, your future workouts won’t take a noticeable toll not at all.

HIIT, on the other hand, tends to make us feel like a poo. If you work hard enough during your HIIT session, you may be too exhausted to do another good workout later on. Depending on the type of HIIT you’ve done, you may also have issues with muscle soreness at first. These don’t have to be total deal breakers, but they can shift the balance in LISS’s favor.

How much time do you have?

HIIT is often billed as a time saver, but it doesn’t always deliver on that promise. The total amount of time you work difficult may be small (just a few minutes, in many cases), but remember that the reason you can go so fast is that you can recover nice and easy between sprints.

When you add in the warm-up and cool-down, many HIIT workouts take 20 minutes or more, which is starting to sound like the same investment of time as a short session of non-HIIT cardio. And if you want to break into a pool of sweat after your HIIT workout, that adds time too. (I have never jumped up and got straight into the shower after any kind of HIIT.)

So if you choose a workout based on the time you have available, make sure you consider the full commitment. And if you’re looking for HIIT because you find stable cardio dull, to attempt these underrated cardio workouts.

Are you trying to burn calories?

Again, the tradeoff of HIIT for being short and efficient is that it’s intense. That may sound like a good thing, but remember that burning calories depends on the total amount of work you do.

If you train as part of an effort to lose or manage your weight, guidelines recommend 50 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week. You can’t achieve that with HIIT alone, especially if you want the energy to do other exercises as well, such as the two days a week strength training that is also recommended. However, a mix of HIIT and steady-state cardio could do the trick.

Do you participate in a sport?

If you want a fast 5K . want to race whether improving your performance on the basketball court or soccer field, steady-state cardio is great, but it can’t be the only thing you do.

HIIT and other types of interval training make it difficult for you to breathe and send huge amounts of oxygen to your muscles in those all-out efforts. This type of training directly benefits your VO2max, a measure of cardio fitness. You want to do intervals in addition to other types of cardio, but they’re definitely too important to leave out.

Are you trying to control your blood sugar?

During intense exercise, your muscles scream for nutrients, especially glucose. Therefore, practice improves your body’s ability to use blood sugarand it reduces insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is one of the hallmarks of type 2 diabetess and from pre-diabetes.

So intervals, including HIIT, are a great tool for people who want to help their bodies learn to use glucose better. Paradoxically, HIIT is also sometimes easier to get started with than steady-state training, because all you have to do is work hard and then you can rest. Again, this is one case where you still want to do steady state cardio (yes, walking counts) but HIIT is a great addition.

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