So far we have explored the benefits and drawbacks of both HIIT and steady state cardio, looked at whether post-exercise caloric expenditure is a meaningful advantage in favour of HIIT, hopefully explained why HIIT advocates are wrong about arguing that sprinters' physiques are justification for using HIIT for bodybuilders, as well as looked at the research on the effects on performance of both steady state cardio and HIIT.
Which form of cardio is best for you?
By now you can probably guess that there is no single best form of cardio for all people at all times. Instead, context will define the best choice for any given individual. However, rather than just tell you that "it depends' we will present some guidelines to help you work out when you might consider going with one option over another.
Guidelines for Steady State Cardio
- Beginners or Unfit People- For those who are new to cardio, steady state cardio will be the best option. Not only will it be easier to perform, but beginners are more likely to get injured performing intervals not to mention they will struggle to perform at the required intensity to make HIIT effective for fat loss.
- Heavy Individuals - In a similar camp to beginners, heavier individuals will tend to find steady state cardio a better choice being easier on their joints and requiring a lower level of fitness. However, for heavier individuals who have a high degree of aerobic fitness, non-impact HIIT forms such as rowing or cycling could be performed if it fits into their overall training plan.
- Cardio Frequency - Unlike HIIT, steady state cardio can be performed more frequently, daily even, making it the only form of cardio for those who want to perform cardio at a high frequency. Anyone attempting HIIT that frequently will rapidly run into problems with injuries and losing muscle mass.
- Weight Training Frequency - Those who perform lots of weight training . especially lower body work, will find intervals more taxing. Anyone who is squatting two or three times a week will really struggle to find any room to maintain their strength if they also add on any HIIT workouts into the mix.
Guidelines for Performing HIIT
- TIme Efficient - Where individuals have limited time for cardio then HIIT will make a better choice than steady state cardio providing they are able to perform at the required intensity. For a given amount of time, HIIT will always burn more calories than steady state cardio both during and after the exercise bout.
- Variety - Steady state cardio has a reputation for being boring, especially if being performed indoors, so for those who are easily bored, HIIT is likely to be a better choice.
- Limited Weight Training (especially legs) - If you are performing a relatively low volume of weight training, then HIIT can be included more safely into your program without sacrificing progress. However, this raises the question about whether you should prioritise weight training more but if for whatever reason, weight training is limited, then HIIT will make more sense than cardio.
- Athletes - While HIIT does not resemble the type of training done by sprinters, it is a useful form of training for many sports so for those of you who play sports such as football or rugby, HIIT is a great tool to not only support fat loss but also improve your overall fitness, certainly compared to steady state cardio.
What about Bodybuilders?
For the dieting bodybuilder, especially if they are natural, losing muscle mass is a huge concern when they are trying to diet down to very low bodyfat percentages. For these individuals, the focus should absolutely be on maintaining strength levels, and dropping their overall training volume down as a harsh diet is not the time to try to perform very long workouts. When it comes to cardio, while these individuals they could perform some degree of HIIT (carefully!) or steady state cardio, they could also look to perform some higher rep, short rest interval work once they have performed their regular weight training workouts.
Wrapping things up, we hope you can see that there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to selecting cardio workouts but instead you must factor in your overall training program, goals, your aerobic fitness levels, your diet and supplementation program and much more besides.
- Meckel Y et.al (2011): Hormonal and inflammatory responses to different types of sprint interval training.
- Gibala MJ et.al (2008): Metabolic adaptations to short-term high-intensity interval training: a little pain for a lot of gain?