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HIIT vs. Steady State Cardio: Which One Should You Choose?

There is new evidence showing that HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) cardio is better at burning fat than regular, long duration, cardio. However, there are many variables to consider and being informed on the benefits and potential risks are crucial before starting a HIIT routine.


Supporting evidence for HIIT workouts 

There has been increasing evidence supporting HIIT workout over the past decade. Basically research shows that unlike traditional, long duration cardio, which burns a small amount of fat during exercising, HIIT continues the fat burning process after the training.


A 2001 study by East Tennessee State University showed that a HIIT group of subjects dropped 2% body fat compared to no loss in a group doing steady-pace cardio. Other studies also show that shorts sprints coupled with short resting periods decrease overall body fat significantly faster than long periods of cardio. So 20 minutes of interval training can have better results than 40 minutes of cardio. This is explained through the MHR (Maximum Heart Rate) which is constantly higher with HIIT training.


The downsides of HIIT routines 

The problem with HIIT routines is that they come with a long list of disadvantages. From dizziness to injuries, the routine can cause serious issues to those with little experience.


Joint problems have been reported with those starting out with HIIT. This is caused by the extreme pressure on the joints and the improper form and biomechanics. Form is the one single most important characteristic of an exercise and this applies to HIIT also.


Professional athletes doing HIIT are always under the strict supervision of physicians and nutritionists. Football players and soccer players are known to interval sprint during games and training sessions and yet their training routines don`t rely solely on high intensity workouts.


As HIIT is known to mainly involve the lower body it can develop pubalgia. Common in football and soccer players, pubalgia is a groin lesion that can be caused by the muscle imbalance between the abdominal and the pubis. The treatment often involves of core strengthening exercises that have the ability to correct the imbalances. So training that is exclusively based on high intensity intervals can cause some injuries especially over a long period of time.



The recommended workout time

There is a great debate on the perfect duration of a HIIT workout. Some trainers recommend as little as 7 minutes per session while other go as far as 60 minutes.


This will largely depend on the individual fitness level. Although a 7 minute high intensity session is better than doing nothing, it may not bring in the expected results. On the other hand there is solid research showing that a training session should last up to 45 minutes. However, having someone telling you what the perfect duration is like expecting a miracle. The best way to determine the perfect training time is to analyze effort. If you feel you can go more than 30-40 minute you probably need to push yourself harder. If your workout is less than 15 minutes it could mean the increased heart rate for a minimum period of time is not enough to bring tangible results and fat loss.


A more professional approach would also include some form of results tracking. You can begin with short 20 minutes sessions and gradually increase to 40 minute sessions. You can use various apps to track the calories you lost. Keeping track of exercises is also beneficial for overloading, which in the case of HIIT training can be done by increasing volume with the number of sets or difficulty by increasing weights.


Combining cardio with HIIT for best results

When it comes to an actual results-oriented mindset, we need to train as athletes to look like athletes. As we`ve seen before, athletes use a combination of methods for improved results. This is why we can choose from one of the following workouts combining lower intensity with higher intensity exercising:


Treadmill cardio and Kettlebell Swings

This combined workout is great for lower and upper body exercises. After warming up, start with a light treadmill jog:

    Beginner – 10 minutes

    Intermediate – 15 minutes

    Advanced – 20 minutes

    Continue with HIIT Kettlebell Swings:

    Beginner – 20 seconds swings followed by 30 seconds rest x 10 sets

    Intermediate – 30 seconds swings followed by 40 seconds rest x 10 sets

    Advanced – 40 seconds swings followed by 50 seconds rest x 10 sets


Cycling with Sprints

A lower body combination of cardio and HIIT can start with a cycling session as follows:

    Beginner – 10 minutes at near maximum level

    Intermediate – 15 minutes at near maximum level

    Advanced – 20 minutes at near maximum level

    After the cycling session you can continue in the treadmill with sprinting sessions:

    Beginner – 10 seconds sprints followed by 25 seconds walking for 10 rounds

    Intermediate – 20 seconds sprints followed by 35 seconds walking for 10 rounds

    Advanced - 30 seconds sprints followed by 45 seconds walking for 10 rounds


Full body HIIT with TRX squat jumps

A full body routine is perfect for intermediate and advanced levels.

    Beginner – 10 jumping jacks, 10 push-ups, 10 triceps dips, 10 bicep curls – with 45 seconds rest

    Intermediate - 15 jumping jacks, 15 push-ups, 15 triceps dips, 15 bicep curls – with 45 seconds rest

    Advanced - 20 jumping jacks, 20 push-ups, 20 triceps dips, 20 bicep curls – with 45 seconds rest

    After a resting period of 2 minutes you can begin the TRX squat jumps

    Beginner – 6 sets of 6 with 1 minute rest

    Intermediate – 8 sets of 8 with 1 minute rest

    Advanced – 10 sets of 10 with 1 minute rest


There is no perfect training routine when it comes to cardio or HIIT. While there is an increasing feeling that HIIT itself can maximize results with minimum effort, professionals keep integrating steady pace cardio with high intensity training. Keep in mind that doing HIIT for longer periods of time puts an extra pressure on ligaments or blood pressure and can even facilitate injuries. Alternating or combining HIIT with cardio seems the right way to go.