Steady-State Cardio vs. HIIT: What’s the Diff?

Steady-state cardio vs. high intensity interval training (HIIT) has been a topic of discussion for years, not only in the fitness industry, but among gym-goers all around the world just looking to get their sweat on. These two styles of training are like those red headed twins (Susie and Stan) that lived down the street form you while growing up. Although related, they looked nothing alike and acted completely different form one another. And, to be completely honest, you never really liked Susie in the first place. Plus, Stan was better looking. And had better hair.

Anyway, the point is…

Steady-state cardio and HIIT are the same in the sense that you can do them anywhere with minimal equipment. However, in practice, the style of these two types of training are very different.

Simplicity vs. complexity – Steady-state cardio is a no-brainer. It’s the “tie up those laces, hit the pavement, and just go” kind of easy. HIIT, on the other hand, is more complex. You’re performing a movement as hard as you can in a set period of time, recovering during a rest period, and repeating the movement again. Although steady-state cardio may be simple for some, the complexity of the HIIT workouts lend themselves to a higher amount of calories burned AFTER the workout. Say whaaaaaaat?!

Aerobic vs. anaerobic – Steady-state cardio uses oxygen (aerobic) from muscles as they generate energy to sustain the workout. Blood is continuously being pumped by the heart to deliver oxygen to working muscles, therefore breaking down muscle quicker than HIIT does.  HIIT requires oxygen, but also carbohydrates (anaerobic). When performing a HIIT circuit, you get out of breath quicker because of the explosiveness of the movements. Thus, the body’s demand for oxygen exceeds the oxygen available and energy is pulled from other sources, rather than just from muscle.

Fat burning vs. muscle burning – When you perform at a constant, steady pace (let’s say between 30-60 minutes), you risk muscle break down. That is because the body enters into various metabolic processes during cardio, which, in fact, is a good thing. However, when sustained, your body is pushed into a catabolic state. In other words, bye-bye muscle! HIIT is more effective at maximizing fat loss because of the greater demand on the anaerobic (see above!) pathway used for energy. Short bursts of energy, coupled with the fact that the post-exercise recovery period allows for more oxygen in take to regenerate and repair muscle tissue than post steady-state cardio, leads to high fat burn and muscle retention. WIN!

Whether you do steady-state cardio or HIIT is really up to you. But, if you’re looking for that satisfaction at your 20-year reunion when you see slumpy, old Susie again and think to yourself, “Dang, I look good,” HIIT is the way to go. A combination of both may be the ticket, too! Everyone is different, but if you’re going to be exercising, you may as well get the most out of it (whatever that means to you!).