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August 08, 2021 9 min read

Are you that lifter skipping their weekly cardio session? If so, then snap out of it right now! Weekly cardio sessions have so many benefits, including making you a better weight lifter. However, which cardio exercise is the best for you? Two of the most popular and best of all the cardio workouts are HIIT and steady-state cardio.

To help you decide which one is best for you, we are sharing everything you need to know about HIIT and steady-state cardio. After this, you will get back on the cardio train!

What are HIIT and Steady-State Cardio?

Do you fully understand what HIIT and steady-state cardio are? Before diving into which one is better for you, you should understand the primary differences between the two workout methods.  Let's break things down a bit before going any further:

Muscular Shirtless Man in a Gym Exercises with Battle Ropes

First off, HIIT is short for high-intensity interval training. It involves doing intervals of short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by even shorter rest periods. You can do either resistance exercises or cardiovascular exercises. Even better, you can put together a complete HIIT session that incorporates both types of exercise.

Most HIIT workouts include four to six intervals. Each interval involves a different exercise. You do the interval four times, then move on to the next one.

Moreover, here is what a typical HIIT workout looks like:

Interval 1:

  • Exercise 1 for twenty seconds
  • Break for ten seconds 
  • Repeat 3 more times

Interval 2: 

  • Exercise 2 for twenty seconds
  • Break for ten seconds
  • Repeat 3 more times

Interval 3:

  • Exercise 3 for twenty seconds
  • Break for ten seconds
  • Repeat 3 more times

Interval 4:

  • Exercise 4 for twenty seconds
  • Break for ten seconds
  • Repeat 3 more times

You can exercise for a longer period of time by tacking on extra intervals or increasing the length of your exercise bursts by ten seconds. However, HIIT is a very effective workout method, so you don’t need to spend an endless amount of time doing it to see results.

Second, steady-state cardio is more straightforward than HIIT is. Steady-state is doing any cardio exercise at a steady, low-intensity pace for a continuous period of time.

For example, traditional cardio exercises, including jogging and biking on a flat road, are typical steady-state workouts. Moreover, any aerobic exercise done at a single low to moderate-intensity pace constitutes a steady-state workout.

HIIT and Steady-State Benefits

While HIIT and steady-state are structured very differently, they do have some of the same benefits.

Here are some of the benefits that they share:

  1. They boost your heart rate: First off, HIIT and steady-state cardio elevate your heart rate above its resting level. Bringing your heart rate above resting level has several benefits, including supplying your body with extra oxygen and improving heart health.
  1. They both stimulate weight loss: Because they boost your heart rate, both HIIT and steady-state cardio promote fat burning. When your heart rate goes up, your body needs more energy to sustain itself. The way that it sustains itself is by tapping into your body fat reserves. As a result, you experience body fat loss.
  1. They both improve your overall health: HIIT and steady-state cardio share many of the same physical and mental health benefits. While we could go on all day about the health benefits of having a workout routine, some of the top ones include:
  • Reducing your chances of getting life-threatening diseases
  • Alleviating mental health issues, including anxiety and depression
  • Helping you feel and look better from the inside out

Regardless of whether you do HIIT or steady-state cardio, we just want you to do something! In the end, any exercise is better than no exercise. Therefore, pick whichever exercise that not only gives you the most benefits but you are also likely to enjoy! Enjoying your workout routine increases the odds that you stick to it and reap the health benefits.

Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training

Are high-intensity workouts your thing? If they are, then you are probably already a HIIT fanatic. However, if you are into lower-intensity cardio workouts or are unfamiliar with HIIT but like higher-intensity workouts, we highly suggest giving it a try!

There are so many excellent benefits to HIIT that the odds are that it can help you achieve at least one of your fitness goals.  

Without further ado, here are the top benefits of HIIT:

  1. Combines resistance training and cardio training: First off, resistance training and cardio training both have their own unique benefits. And, HIIT combines both resistance and cardio training into a single workout. Therefore, you get the benefits of both training methods all in one training session!

    Are you one of those lifters who despises hitting their weekly cardio session? If so, then we highly suggest swapping out your boring cardio workout for a HIIT session. HIIT gives you a solid cardio workout without feeling like one. At the same time, you will still build muscle mass thanks to the strength training element of HIIT.
  1. Increases excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC): Many of you are probably here to get this specific question answered: Is HIIT or steady-state cardio better for weight loss? As we mentioned above, they both stimulate weight loss, but the truth is that HIIT is better at it!  What makes HIIT better for weight loss? It comes down to two things: HIIT exercises are higher-intensity and HIIT increases excess post-exercise oxygen consumption

    First, HIIT exercises are usually very intense. The higher intensity an exercise is, the more calories it burns. If you want to lose as much weight as possible, fill your HIIT session with as many high-intensity resistance and cardio exercises as you can.

    Second, HIIT boosts your heart rate high above its resting rate. Not only does it make it go high, but it moves it up and down thanks to the intervals of high-intensity exercise and rest. The fact that your heart rate moves up and down results in an increase in excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).

    Also known as the afterburn effect, EPOC refers to how much oxygen your body consumes after exercise in order to restore your resting heart rate.
    When your heart rate jumps around, it actually takes more oxygen to restore your resting heart rate than if it stayed elevated at a constant level.

    And, the more oxygen your body consumes, the higher your metabolic rate goes. The higher your metabolic rate, the more calorie-burning ensues after exercise.
    Moreover, you burn extra calories from doing a HIIT workout! As a result, you burn more fat doing HIIT than you do steady-state cardio. Bottom line: If you want to lose more weight in less time, opt for HIIT!
  1. Can be done in less time: Because HIIT is so efficient at boosting calorie burning, it is unnecessary to spend an endless amount of time doing it to get an effective workout. It gets you up to your maximum heart rate very fast and toggles it there for the entire workout session.

    As long as you do an intense workout, you do not need to spend hours doing it to see results.
    For example, sprint intervals and Tabata are short bursts of anaerobic exercise that take only minutes to do. Yet, they are in many ways more beneficial than more time-consuming workouts.

Benefits of Steady-State Cardio

Steady-state cardio exercises like jogging have been staple cardio exercises for years. Part of the reason they have stuck around for so long is because they have so many benefits. Like HIIT, we could spend a long time going over each of the benefits of steady-state cardio. However, to keep things simple, we are sharing the top benefits of the classic workout method.

Here are the top benefits of steady-state cardio:

  1. Promotes optimal muscle recovery: Are you the kind of person who works out every day? If so, then you probably already know that rapid muscle recovery is essential. If your muscles take too long to recover after a workout, then you could go into your next workout session on muscles that are not yet fully recovered.

    If you do work out on worn-down muscles, you become more prone to workout-related injuries.
    Steady-state cardio does not take too much of a toll on your muscles. As a result, they do not break down as much during the workout, and they take less time to recover after working out. Not only that, but they are less likely to break down to a degree beyond repair from overtraining.

    Therefore, steady-state cardio is an overall safer training method. By doing it, you get a great workout and significantly increase the odds that your muscles will recover properly. If you are that person who works out every day, then doing steady-state cardio on your cardio day will ensure that your next lift is on healthy muscles.
  1. Improves cardiovascular health: Cardiovascular health refers to the health of your heart and all of the other elements of your cardiovascular system. In many ways, your cardiovascular system is at the core of your overall health. When your heart is healthy, you better avoid several potentially debilitating health issues, including:
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol 
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
The simplest way to get your heart in check is to do steady-state cardio!  It gets your heart rate up to a moderate level to improve blood flow, burn body fat, and increase oxygen flow.
  1. Improves cardiovascular health and aerobic endurance: Lastly, steady-state cardio improves your aerobic endurance. Aerobic endurance refers to how long you can do a cardio exercise without having to take a break. Long-distance runners, swimmers, and bikers are clear examples of people with impeccable aerobic endurance.

    In the world of working out, we usually spend most of our time talking about building strength rather than endurance. However, having endurance is just as essential as having strength. Endurance promotes:
  • Better bone, joint, and brain health
  • Increased daily functional capacities
  • Greater energy levels

The next time you sit down to create fitness goals, make improving your aerobic endurance be one of them!

Cons of High-Intensity Interval Training

Despite the pros of HIIT, there are some cons that are worth mentioning. Perhaps the most prominent one is that HIIT impedes muscle recovery. Unlike steady-state cardio, HIIT workouts take a huge toll on your muscles. It breaks down the muscle fibers to a point where they take a significant amount of time to repair.

male runner feeling terrible pain in knee after injury

While having broken down fibers can help stimulate muscle growth, it can set you back on your next workout. Like we mentioned above, if your muscles fibers do not fully recover before your next workout, they could get injured to a point beyond what your body can repair.  

Therefore, if you do a HIIT workout, you will need to wait at least one to two days before working out again.  Otherwise, your muscle fibers won't have enough time to repair and could get injured. Also, total newbies to HIIT might need a personal trainer to get started. Knowing what exercises to do and in what order can be a challenging task. 

A personal trainer could help you organize a proper HIIT workout, but not everybody has access to one. Moreover, the most effective HIIT workout isn't as accessible as other cardio workouts, such as steady-state cardio. 

Cons of Steady-State Cardio

Like HIIT, steady-state cardio also comes with some negative downsides.  The most prominent one is that steady-state cardio is not nearly as efficient at burning calories as HIIT. Imagine going on a long steady-state jog at a lower intensity. While it is not the most intense run, it is still challenging.

You finish up your run and look down at your FitBit to see how many calories you burned.  You are shocked to see that the number on your FitBit is significantly lower than what you thought it would be. Considering that the run was challenging and you went for a long time, you thought that you would burn way more calories.

Unfortunately, this is an all too familiar occurrence for many people. If you are trying to burn a lot of calories, steady-state cardio can do the job. However, it does not burn as much as other workout methods like HIIT. This is because steady-state cardio is oxygen-inefficient.

Unlike HIIT, steady-state cardio elevates your heart rate above its resting level, then keeps it at the same level for the duration of your workout.  During that time, you do burn a lot of calories because your increasing heart rate increases your metabolic rate.

However, once you finish exercising, your heart rate and, resultantly, your metabolic rate restore to normal levels within a short period of time. Given that your heart rate stays steady throughout the workout, it has an easier time restoring back to a normal rate. 

Therefore, you don’t burn as many calories both during and after your workout. So, if you want to do a cardio workout that burns calories, steady-state cardio is definitely worth doing. However, if you want to burn the most amount of calories, don’t do steady-state.

Final Thoughts: HIIT vs Steady-State Cardio

You now have all of the information you need to decide on either HIIT or steady-state cardio!  Regardless of which one you choose, our mission is simply for you to pick one and stick to it.

Both HIIT and steady-state have their own respective pros and cons, but what’s most important is that you choose the one that is best for you.  If you don’t like one of the methods even though it has many positive benefits, opt for the other method!

The bottom line is that you should pick the one that is best for you, then go as hard at it as you can to continue becoming your best self!   

Bonus tip: Is steady-state cardio the right method for you? If so, check out our  top 10 strengthening exercises for runners to get faster sooner!