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Steady State vs. HIIT Cardio

We’ve all heard or seen different arguments for HIIT versus steady state cardio. So many people with so many opinions, adamant that theirs is right. Let us for a moment push the data and arrogance aside to look at both of them separately and figure out how we can make each of them benefit us.

What is steady state cardio? 

It’s a continuous, steady effort, as opposed to a start/stop interval or mixed pace effort. It varies in time from 20-30 min for novice athletes to 60-90 min for more advanced.

I always recommend a fast paced uphill walk or something relatively low impact. But you can use a bike, swim, rower, elliptical, stepper or anything similar.

What are the benefits of steady state cardio? 

The benefits of steady state are many, some you may agree with and some you may not. This is how I see it;

  • Good for the mind
  • Low impact
  • Good for beginners, old or injured
  • Improves heart health
  • Boosts recovery
  • Improves blood flow and therefor nutrient delivery
  • It burns calories
  • More time spent in your “fat burning zone”

What are the negative effects of steady state cardio? 

Its not all good depending on how you look at it, here are a few of the potential short falls of steady state cardio;

  • A poor use of time if you are limited to only a few hours a week in the gym
  • Its not good for gaining muscle and building shape, its more likely to make you look like a soggy twiglet if you’re doing only cardio and no weights
  • It can have negative effects on cortisol levels if you’re not careful causing muscle breakdown, slowing metabolism and undoing your hard work elsewhere
  • It can be boring and tedious

How can you use steady state cardio to your advantage? 

When programming for a client and adding in steady state cardio I use it for two main reasons. Firstly as an active recovery to aid blood flow, fat loss and muscle recovery outside of their weight training. Secondly to improve mental state, relaxation and to almost use it as active meditation.

For this reason I encourage my clients to get outside early in the morning and take a walk. The earlier you go to bed and the earlier you wake up the better. Wake up without an alarm, get your trainers on, mix up a bottle of BCAAs and go for a stroll. You’ll be amazed at the effect it has on your body and mind after just a few short weeks. You’ll be calmer, clear headed, healthier and not to mention a lot leaner.

I have all of my clients drink 15-20g of liquid BCAA during any steady state, HIIT or weight training workout to minimize muscle breakdown and keep cortisol under control. This helps to keep the negative physical effects described above under control.

What is HIIT cardio? 

High intensity interval training is varied speed training, using short and extremely intense work periods immediately followed by low intensity recovery or complete rest.

An example of this would be one of my favourites form of training-sprints.

100% output maximum pace uphill sprint for 20 seconds followed by complete rest or slow walk for 60 seconds repeated for 10-20 rounds.

You can use sprint training, bike, battle ropes, kettlebells, body weight and many more methods with this one.

What are the benefits of HIIT?

  • Mental toughness
  • In and out of the gym in record time while still having a brutal and effective session
  • Physical strength and endurance
  • Good for those on a tight schedule
  • Improved blood pressure
  • Improves insulin sensitivity
  • Improves heart health
  • Improves blood flow and therefore nutrient delivery
  • It burns calories not only during exercise but elevates metabolic rate for up to 36 hours after
  • It can help torch stubborn belly fat

What are the negative effects of HIIT?

Here are a few of the potential shortfalls of HIIT;

  • It’s hard work and may not be suited to the beginner or older trainee
  • It’s often high impact in nature and this can cause huge issues for peoples knees, ankles and backs
  • It’s often appallingly coached and the rushed nature of it can promote a lack of attention to proper form
  • People don’t take a warm up for HIIT seriously so often they get injured
  • It can have a negative effect on testosterone and stress hormones if over done
  • It’s hard work… again

How can you use HIIT to your advantage? 

I’d suggest 2 x 20 min sessions per week along with 3 weights sessions, I’m currently doing dead mill sprints but you can pick whatever activity you like to get started.

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