Ahhh the great debate about what is better - steady state cardio or interval training?
First of all, let me clarify the definitions of each:
Steady State Cardio
This is aerobic/cardiovascular training where a reasonably steady intensity is maintained for an extended period. It’s usually 30-60 or more minutes of exercise with a steady heart rate of around 60-75%.
Interval or HIIT Cardio
This is any form of activity that alternates high intensity activity with lower intensity activity.
You may hear of this referred to as anaerobic training or HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training. The rest interval is either passive (complete rest) or active (e.g walking). The variations are limitless.
So, which is better?
That question has been tossed around a lot in the fitness industry over many years. This article looks at the benefits of each type.
Here are some of the pro’s of interval training:
1. It’s ideal when you’re short on time.
When you only have 30 minutes or less to workout, it’s great to have the option of busting out a shorter workout. You can burn around the same calories as a steady state session that’s twice as long.
It’s great when you’re on holiday and want to do something in a hotel room or bedroom. You can do plyometrics such as burpees with an explosive jump, squat jumps, jump lunges, jump kicks etc.
You can head out the door and after a warm up, sprint for 30-45 seconds then jog for the same for a total of 20 minutes (or any other similar variation of this).
2. It provides variety
You can do some sprints on a track or at the beach for something different. Or make up your own different routines using various equipment.
An intense cardio-based group fitness class such as Body Attack or Spin utilises interval methods, which is why you’re left in a sweaty, buzzy state afterwards.
3. It cranks up your metabolism and increases fitness
You really can’t beat the level of fitness you feel when you train yourself through lactic acid and extreme heart rates for short times. It leaves the metabolism firing for hours. For a given time investment, interval training leads to greater fat loss because interval training burns more calories post exercise.
4. It can increase muscle
Another bonus of interval training is that you get more muscle activation. Think of the difference between a marathon runners body and a sprinter’s body. One is more muscular as they are using a lot of power to explode their bodies fast.
Interval training can be gruelling. It’s short and intense. Afterwards though, you buzz. It’s so effective!
The Pro’s of steady state cardio:
1. It’s great to do when you’re have a lower energy day or have sore legs
If I were to only ever do intervals as my cardio, boy would I have missed a lot of workouts over the years! There are many times that my legs simply wouldn’t cope with a HIIT workout and in that case, a nice flat jog where I bounce along, not extending my legs too far out is perfect.
2. It’s great ‘YOU’ time
Another reason I love steady state in the form of running, is that it’s my ‘yoga’ time, my ‘ME’ time.
Many ideas have been thought up by people, myself included, while running. My thoughts wander all over the place and by the time I’m finished, I realise it’s been one of the most productive times of my day. I get clarity, ideas, creative thoughts and a huge charge of energy and motivation that didn’t exist before my run.
3. You can do it a lot more often
You wouldn’t want to / shouldn’t do interval training every day. It’s using a different energy system and needs longer to recover between sessions.
Think of weight training and how you load the muscle under tension for a shorter period – it really hurts, but then it’s over and you rest. Aerobic activity is more like a very low level constant burn/ache but generally feels good.
You can go into a nice zone where all you can hear is rhythmical music, steady breathing and I just let your worries go and thoughts wonder. It can be so therapeutic.
4. It’s ideal for beginners
A really great way to put someone off exercise when they’re first starting would be to get them to do interval training. It’s much better for people who have been training for a while who will cope with it better. It’s important when you’re starting out that you do something regularly.
So in closing, steady state or interval training?
My advice to you: unless you are a beginner or you are training for something activity-specific, do a combination of both. They are both awesome in their own way.
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