What’s More Beneficial: Steady-State or High Intensity Cardio?

by Experience Life
Share it:
What’s More Beneficial: Steady-State or High Intensity Cardio?

Three times a week, she gets up early, slips on her running shoes, and ventures out into the cool air, running at a strong, steady pace. If it’s cold or rainy, she heads to the gym and hops on the treadmill. The routine is always the same: 30 to 60 continuous minutes at an even speed.

Jane’s neighbor, Susan, is equally dedicated, but she gave up jogging last year in favor of something a trainer told her is more effective: Instead of trotting steadily, she sprints as hard as she can for 30 seconds, rests for a couple of minutes, and then repeats this sprint-rest cycle for 20 minutes. Sometimes, she, too, does her workouts indoors. But like Jane, she never alters the structure of those sessions—it’s always sprint, rest, repeat.

Jane and Susan are both in great shape: They look fit, and they’re lean and healthy. Lately, though, Jane’s been hearing about the benefits of high-intensity interval training and has started to wonder whether Susan’s approach may be just what she needs to kick her fitness up another notch. For her part, Susan has begun to miss her mellower workouts and questions whether slower cardio might be the ideal way to give her achy joints a chance to recover.

Both women are onto something. Though some trainers argue that steady-state cardiovascular training is inefficient, others counter that this traditional approach to cardio exercise delivers indispensable benefits you can’t get from pushing the envelope every time you work out. And although plenty of researchers have recently trumpeted the value of fast, über-intense cardio (also known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT), in practice, many fitness professionals have found that the system has drawbacks, particularly when practiced regularly over long periods.

“The truth is that both high-intensity interval training and steady-state cardio are effective in their own ways,” says exercise physiologist Jonathan Mike, MS, CSCS, from Albuquerque.

The best system of cardiovascular training, say Mike and many other forward-thinking fitness pros, probably isn’t the all-or-nothing approach toward which Jane, Susan, and many other exercisers gravitate. Rather, it’s a blend of both higher and lower-intensity cardiovascular training that’s tailored to your body and your goals.

The Players

Steady-state cardio and HIIT are convenient, versatile, and safe ways to develop your cardiovascular system. You can do them virtually anywhere with a minimum of equipment; you can switch up your activity at will (from running to swimming, say); and you don’t need a lot of coaching to do them effectively. In practice, however, the two styles of training are very different.

Steady-state cardio workouts are as simple as they come. Perform your activity at a steady, challenging-but-manageable pace (60 to 70 percent of maximal capacity) for 20 minutes or more, aiming for a heart rate of 120 to 150 beats per minute.

HIIT workouts are slightly more complex. Perform your activity as hard as you can (90 to 100 percent of maximal capacity) for a brief, set time period (usually two minutes or less), then back off for a predetermined rest interval (usually three minutes or less), and repeat the cycle four times or more.

Steady-state cardio is aerobic: It requires oxygen and is fueled mostly by stored fat. HIIT, by contrast, is anaerobic: The work intervals don’t rely exclusively on oxygen, and are fueled mostly by stored carbohydrates. (Counterintuitively, HIIT makes you breathe harder, and burns more fat, than steady-state cardio. More on that in a moment.)

Both types of exercise measurably improve a number of important health and fitness markers, particularly when you first take them up, says Mike. Your blood pressure drops, metabolism improves, and VO2 max — a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen your body can process—goes up.

Specialize in one form or the other, however, and the benefits—and drawbacks—of each start to diverge in significant ways.

The Case for Cardio

No-frills, steady-state cardio has long been a cornerstone in training programs. And with good reason. The vast majority of physical functions—from digestion to breathing to everyday movements like walking, standing, and sleeping—are powered by the aerobic system.

Even activities that are anaerobic, including HIIT, depend on the aerobic system to help restore the body to a neutral state after each work interval—and after the workout itself. (That’s why anaerobic activity makes you breathe so hard, even though the work intervals themselves require minimal oxygen.) “The aerobic energy pathways are the limiting factor to anything we do,” says strength coach and physical therapist Charlie Weingroff, DPT, creator of the DVD series Training=Rehab, Rehab=Training. In other words, build a better aerobic engine, and you’ll get better at everything else.

Several common beliefs about the dangers of steady-state cardio have recently been proven untrue. Unless you log an excessive number of hours each week doing steady-state cardio, and do little else in the way of exercise, “it doesn’t slow you down, and it doesn’t make you weak,” says Mike Robertson, MS, CSCS, co-owner of IFAST gym in Indianapolis. And people who are concerned that high-repetition cardio will wreck their knees can rest easy. In people of normal weight with healthy joints, moderate jogging can actually strengthen knees, suggests a 2011 study of lifetime runners by Monash University in Australia.

Steady-state cardio, says Robertson, also causes unique adaptations in the heart. When you exercise at a high intensity (while interval training, for example), he says, your heart often beats so fast that the left ventricle—which stores oxygenated blood momentarily before pumping it out—can’t refill completely between contractions. At a slightly lower intensity (and, thus, a lower heart rate), the left ventricle fills completely before it contracts, which causes it to grow in capacity—and thus pump more blood with each contraction—over time. This triggers your heart rate to drop substantially, both at rest and during exercise.

That’s a good thing. A lower heart rate isn’t just an indication of a healthy and high-functioning cardiovascular system. It’s also indicative of high “parasympathetic tone” in the nervous system—an enhanced ability to relax, focus, and recover from stress, including intense exercise.

“So many people these days are stressed out, on the go, can’t relax, can’t shut down,” says Robertson. “And then they go to the gym and stress their bodies more with high-intensity workouts. But what they need is more steady-state, chill-you-out workouts.”

Critics of steady-state cardio exercise are right about a few things. It isn’t a cure-all. Beyond a low baseline level, you won’t build much strength, power, or muscle. And contrary to what many people believe, you won’t burn an appreciable amount of fat, either. Exercisers in a 2009 study conducted by researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Australia who did steady-state cardio five times a week for 12 weeks lost only 7 pounds on average—and nearly half of them lost less than 2 pounds. Steady-state cardio is also repetitive. Jog for 30 minutes and you may take as many as 5,000 steps. To some exercisers, that’s meditative; to others, it’s a bore.

It may also be risky, says sports medicine physician Jordan Metzl, coauthor of The Exercise Cure (Rodale, 2013). “The more you perform a single-movement pattern, the more you load up one area of the body, and the more likely you are to get injured.”

Still, for a low-key workout that reduces your stress level and improves recovery while delivering general health and an efficient aerobic engine, old-fashioned steady-state cardio is underrated and tough to beat.

The Hype Over HIIT

Interval training—in the form of sprints, shuttle runs, and timed lap swimming—has been a staple among athletes for at least a century. More recently, however, casual exercisers have caught on to its benefits as well. “Back in 1992, it was understood that if you wanted to be lean and healthy, you had to do cardio—hours of it,” recalls fitness journalist Lou Schuler, coauthor of The New Rules of Lifting Supercharged (Avery, 2012).

Starting in the late ’90s, however, a number of studies, including one by Japanese researcher Izumi Tabata, who popularized the Tabata Protocol, suggested that short, intense interval workouts may produce results similar to longer, slower cardio workouts in a much quicker time period.

Soon thereafter, Schuler and many other fitness journalists began touting the benefits of HIIT.

Does HIIT live up to the hype? In some respects. “If you’re trying to lose fat, it’s pretty clear that HIIT is a more effective tool than long-distance cardio,” Robertson says. Physiologists have yet to develop a full explanation for why this is, but one reason may be the so-called afterburn effect, in which the metabolism remains elevated for hours—and sometimes even days—after an intense workout.

The how isn’t important for coaches like Robertson and Mike. They just know that when a client wants to lose fat fast, HIIT is one of the best tools. One 1994 study at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, found HIIT was nine times more effective for losing fat than steady-state cardio.

Regular HIIT workouts also improve your ability to withstand the rigors of other types of interval training, adds Mike. The aching sensation in your muscles that accompanies a hard sprint (which results from burning carbohydrates for fuel) becomes less intense and subsides more quickly over time, allowing you to work at a higher intensity with less rest. Your capacity to transition smoothly from burning fat (before your workout and during rest periods) to burning carbohydrates (during your work intervals) and back again—known as your “metabolic flexibility”—improves with HIIT, as well. Together, these metabolic benefits bolster health and athletic performance, particularly in sports requiring short bursts of all-out effort interspersed with periods of reduced effort, such as basketball or martial arts.

All these benefits result from time-efficient workouts that are much shorter than your average lower-intensity cardio session. Just six HIIT workouts performed over two or three weeks, each lasting just a few minutes, produced measurable improvements in key markers of cardiovascular health, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found. Regardless of your goals, it’s hard to argue against including at least some HIIT in your routine.

But just because some HIIT is beneficial doesn’t mean it’s all you need—or that more HIIT will necessarily give you more benefits. “One of the biggest misconceptions about HIIT is that it develops the aerobic system and the anaerobic system equally,” says Robertson. “But aerobic and anaerobic exercise actually place very different demands on your heart and your muscles.” Since the advent of HIIT, Robertson says he’s seen more athletes who are anaerobically fit but aerobically weak. “We’re talking Division I athletes with resting heart rates in the high 70s or low 80s”—the equivalent of a couch potato’s. “They’re fast and strong, but they gas out after just a few minutes on the field.”

Beginners may see some improved aerobic functioning with HIIT, concedes Robertson, but they quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. “After four to eight weeks,” he says, “you’re just grinding your gears and putting a lot of strain on your system at the same time.” Mentally and physically, he says, “high-intensity training can be downright brutal.”

A steady diet of HIIT can also stimulate a near-constant flight-or-fight response from your autonomic nervous system, says Robertson, resulting in a host of anxiety-like symptoms: racing heart, sweaty palms, difficulty sleeping, and an inability to sit still or focus. Over time, this hypervigilant state can impair recovery. “With HIIT, you have a higher probability for overreaching and overtraining, especially if you’re doing strength training as well,” Mike says.

That’s a recipe for aches and pains in the short term, stalled progress and burnout in the medium term, and injury in the long term.

Putting it all Together

So steady-state cardio may deserve a second look—even if some exercisers find it unexciting. And though HIIT is clearly effective in the short run, it can grind you down if you keep it up.

Given these pros and cons, what’s best for your workout?

The answer is a resounding … it depends. Beginners’ needs are different from those of competitive athletes. “Before you can decide on what type of cardio is best, you need a goal,” Weingroff says. “Then, the program you choose should reflect a balance of getting good at what you’re not good at and even better at what you are good at.”

Since aerobic fitness is the foundation for so many activities—in sport and life—Robertson suggests that all beginners emphasize steady-state cardio first, regardless of their long-term goals. Shoot for at least two sessions of aerobic activity weekly, and build up to 30 to 45 minutes at a stretch, for a period of two to three months.

Experienced exercisers seeking general fitness should take this simple test: Sit quietly, find your pulse, and count your heartbeats for one minute. If your resting heart rate is below 60, feel free to experiment with HIIT. “If it’s above 65,” says Robertson, “you need steady-state cardio training.” Drop other cardio activities and follow the recommendations for beginners.

Once your aerobic system is up to snuff, dial back the steady-state training and switch to HIIT. Make sure, however, that your resting heart rate stays below 65 beats per minute. If it shoots above 65, return to aerobic work and limit HIIT.

In general, because of the toll it can take on your body, avoid doing HIIT regularly for more than three months in a row. “We throw in a few weeks of HIIT at the end of our athletes’ off-season, to help them get ready for camp,” Robertson says. “But that’s all.”

This approach can be effective whether or not you’re peaking for a sport. A few months prior to a wedding or reunion where you want to look your best, sub in HIIT for steady-state workouts. After the event, back off the HIIT, return to steady-state for two or three more months, and alternate two- to three-month training blocks throughout the year.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to excel at HIIT and steady-state cardio at the same time. Remember, the two systems place different demands on your body. “Training in blocks is ideal,” says Weingroff. “You can’t get good at aerobic performance and HIIT at the same time.” A better approach is to “periodize” your workouts, or switch them on a regular basis. You’ll reduce your chance of injury, stave off boredom and fitness plateaus, and stay lean and healthy.

If you compete in sports, your priority during your in-season should be your activity or sport of choice. Marathoners should emphasize distance running; tennis players, tennis; and so on. You will likely compromise some aspects of your fitness during this period, but that’s OK. At the end of your competitive season, take a few days off to rest and recoup, then start filling in the gaps in your fitness routine. If you just ran a marathon, switch to something shorter and more explosive, like short-distance swim sprints; if you just competed in a weightlifting event, you might shift to a longer-duration activity, like cycling.

If you’re worried about losing your competitive edge during the time away from your sport, don’t be. In the long run, your game will only improve. “I’m a huge believer in cross-training for all my athletes in all sports: baseball players, runners, triathletes—doesn’t matter,” says Metzl, who is a year-round competitive athlete and sports-medicine doctor to professionals in nearly every sport. “When you specialize, your risk of injury goes up exponentially.”

Gym-goers can be extremists. They don’t just like their group cycling classes or weightlifting workouts, they love them—so much that they’ll keep doing them even long after the workouts have stopped making them feel, look, or perform better. “The biggest thing we need to respect,” says Robertson, “is that it’s not one extreme or another. There’s a time and a place for both low- and high-intensity training. You just have to figure out how to put it together into one seamless, integrated package.”

The first step? Recognize that the best workout program for you is probably the one you’re not doing right now.

About the Author

Experience Life

Experience Life is the best whole-life health and fitness magazine you’ve never heard of — until now!  We aim to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenge the conventions of hype, gimmicks, and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. No six-pack-abs-in-five-day promises. Just real, in-depth coverage of health, fitness, nutrition, and optimal-living topics to help you reach your healthy-living goals. Visit ExperienceLife.com to explore 10-plus years of archives, to sign up for our newsletters, and to subscribe to our print or digital editions. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Special offer for MyFitnessPal users: Subscribe to Experience Life for only $15.95 and get 2 free issues!


70 responses to “What’s More Beneficial: Steady-State or High Intensity Cardio?”

  1. This is a really great article to explain in a simple manner what is going on.
    I personally chose the first way (steady cardio), and along with some relatively strict diet, resulted into a ca. 91 pounds loss in 9 weeks, ergo; it works.

    • AJ says:

      You lost 10 pounds a week? Am I reading this right?

    • Ted says:

      91 pounds in 9 weeks is impossible.

      • Steve says:

        Yep. 10 pounds loss a week would be incredibly unhealthy.

        • FenlandBuddha says:

          Its also physically impossible. He would have to be running a calorific deficit of 5,000 calories a day, every day, no test days, for 9 weeks.

          • I did. To be more specific I was in a 1800-2100 calorie loss cardio per day and eating was about 1200-1400 cal. per day. Minimal to no carbs. Entered Ketosis the first week.

          • NoJunkMiles says:

            That’s not healthy at all. Your muscles must have hated you. Heck your organs probably hates you.

          • I have to ask you; have you actually done this yourself or you just repeat whatever all these “specialists” write at the magazines, sites etc.?
            I never had any sour muscle, nor pain at all. As in a matter of fact, my EKG score after this was 4.9/5! This is a world class heart score, and I was really not active at all before.
            All these opinions are different from culture to culture, and time to time. How many times have doctors, specialists, gymnasts etc claimed “white white white” and after a couple of years all just went “actually it was black black black”
            Just do what your spirit has the strenght to do, and if you feel something is wrong, then stop.
            I started With half and hour a day and said I can do 1 hour at 11km/h at 2.5% uphill. Then I said I can do rowing 30 minutes also, and then an extra 30 min ski. And I could. And then I said I can also do 30 min intervals at the end at 20km/h and I couldn’t. So I didn’t.
            But always did as best I could, and yes, it will have pain, stress, sweat, etc. that’s why it’s difficult, and it’s perfectly normal.
            Unhealthy would be if I’d insist on running until failure at 16km/h at a 12% uphill for 3 hours.

          • Diana says:

            Slow and steady progress= longer benefits. It’s s not about dieting is about having a healthy lifestyle .. It is a commitment.

          • Becky says:

            I say good on you for doing it.

      • Kristin says:

        it’s unhealthy for your body to lose more than 2 pounds a week

      • briguy says:

        Actually it’s been stated here on myfitnesspal and in scientific studies that heavier people loose more weight when they first start to “be active”. So someone just starting out doing steady cardio and is heavy could loose that much weight in that little of time. That 2 pounds per week is mostly for “normal” people 😉

      • Let me be more specific then: 1st February 2015 was 121kg. 1st of May 2015 I was 80kg.
        Diet: 6X courses. 06-09-12-15-18-21 hours. Each course was 150gr, chicken and salad.
        Exercise 11km running, 5km ski, 5km rowing and 4km elliptical cross trainer every morning.

    • cnc says:

      Are you sue that 1 didn’t accidentally pop up next to the 9 ?

  2. maina shet says:

    Does functional fitness come under HIIT?

  3. Eimear says:

    I’m a beginner and starting with periods of jogging and walking. How would this impact my cardiovascular system?

    • Todd Selle says:

      I’d recommend postponing reliance on HIIT for some months, Elmear, if you’re just beginning to exercise.

      HIIT, as the first “I” implies, is intensive. Our bodies do best with a steady, gradual shift from inactivity to greater & greater levels of activity, rather than a sudden shock to the system. Strains and injuries – and, for some who are sufficiently out of condition – even life-threatening episodes, can occur from attempting too much too fast.

      When you reach a point when the jogging part of your workout is substantially longer than the walking part, you might consider introducing HIIT in small increments to your routine. If your spirit is really engaged in your jog – and you aren’t disposed to just move mechanically while listening to an iThing or watching TV on the treadmill – listen to your body. It’ll tell you when it’s ready. 🙂

  4. TKring says:

    Too long of an article… Can we have cliff notes?

    • cnc says:

      I think, in short only do HIIT if you’ve never done it, or it’s been at least 6 months since you’ve last done it.. maybe you’re wanting to start/restart it, due to wanting to lose weight for an event soon, but then stop it after a short while.

      But if you’ve been doing HIIT for a while, without change up, because you’ve been absorbing all of the internet hype around HIIT, stop it since you’ve probably already benefitted from it, and go back to regular moderate cardio

    • msdrpepper says:

      I liked toward the end, where it says “The answer is a resounding….it depends!” That pretty well summarized for me (after glazing over some of the highly technical discussion!). Way to overwhelm the beginners, but sounds like I will keep walking for awhile!!

    • Michael Wills says:

      It’s not that long, and if you really care you can spend 5 minutes actually reading the article… Neither response is really a CliffsNotes.

  5. SLF says:

    V-A-R-I-E-T-Y = long term motivation…

    I do hot yoga 2/3 times per week (burns calories and covers of meditation as well), superset weights 2x per week and one steady state cardio workout (but over 2 or 3 machines; rower, stepper and elliptical). It sounds like allot, but not really (just cut out some TV or the like)

    Variety is the spice of life and it keeps me going 🙂

  6. 2wheelgal says:

    I summarized this article for a friend:

    HIIT is high intensity, i.e. anaerobic, therefore is does not train the cardiovascular system. Steady state cardio does. And most activities in life are dependent on the cardiovascular system.

    Because HIIT is high intensity, too much of it can cause injury and/or over training. This is the same reason runners do not do interval training all the time, nor at the expense of their steady state running.

    HIIT can trigger the fight-or-flight response by your autonomic nervous system. This can cause unwanted stress in your body, the opposite of what steady state does.

    The article talks about doing HIIT only for seasoned athletes. Their recommendation is if your resting heart rate is above 60 BPM, your body may not be ready for HIIT. If your RHR is under 60, your cardiovascular system is fit and you can do some HIIT. Do HIIT for 2-3 months, then back off to recover.

    That being said, it seems to me that including some higher intensity work during a
    workout 1 – 2 days/week is probably beneficial. But I don’t have the facts to back that up.

  7. caz1310 says:

    For me, steady cardio of at least 45 mins several times/week is the only way to consistently lose weight.

  8. msdrpepper says:

    How come we can’t pin this excellent article to Pinteresr?

  9. Krnchina says:

    Wondering about the testing heart rate of 60-65. What age range are you talking about. Does it differ the older you get? 58 female with a resting heart rate of 68…

  10. Rachel Keyte says:

    I’d like to know if there’s a difference between the two in improving insulin sensitivity. I do need to lose weight, but that’s mainly because of insulin resistance. I need to exercise, and of course anything is better than nothing, but naturally I’d prefer to do the things that work best for my condition.

  11. Chaim says:

    I do hiit for 29 months now, lost 125 pounds.
    My resting heart rate is in the high 40’s.

    So it’s working for me.

    • Pat36902 says:

      I basically profit in the range of 6.000-8.000 dollars on monthly basis from working online at home. So if you are looking to complete easy online work for 2h-5h a day from your home and earn valuable income for doing it… Try this gig UR1.CA/p7vuk

    • essie8612 says:

      I basically make approximately 6-8 thousand dollars monthly online. Those who are prepared to do easy online jobs for 2-5 hours a day from comfort of your home and get valuable income for doing it… Then this work opportunity is for you… UR1.CA/p7vw7


  12. MCPX says:

    Steady state cardio and HIIT may be polar opposites, but why do they have to be exclusive? The effects of different methods of weight training are well known and have been for many years, high weight low reps build strength, low weight high reps build stamina/endurance, so why should cardio be any different.

    To get the benefits of both you need to do both, I do high rep weight sessions and I do low rep weight sessions, I do ss cardio and I do HIIT, variety is not only the spice of life it is also the most important factor if your goal is to consistently progress. Doing any form of exercise exclusively will eventually lead to burn out, if you don’t die of boredom first that is, unless your goal is very specific, such as to excel in a particular sport or discipline.

    • Kristin says:

      that’s what is says at the end of the article, you can switch up and all that.. thanks for that lesson though on reps didn’t know that!

      • MCPX says:

        There is also the principal of adaptation, if you do anything for long enough your body will adapt to make it easier to cope with that activity. Do a lot of heavy squats and you will get big thighs, run 5k 3 times a week and you’ll develop great endurance. The problem with this though is that it always, without exception, leads to a plateau, where your body says ‘this is as good as it gets’ and no matter how hard you push, you get nowhere. Mixing up your training on a regular basis forces the body to keep guessing, to not plateau and to keep trying to adapt to the different demands you put on it. Schwarzenegger used to talk a lot about shocking his body to make it change, seemed to work for him.

  13. Kate says:

    Loved the article! I just started with HIIT about a month ago. I am normally a runner/weight lifter but hadn’t seen results in months. It definately gave me a boost. It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be and I was questioning how much longer I could do it. i love the results I’m getting but my body feels drained all the time.

  14. Judy Kuhn Parsons says:

    When you say don’t do HIIT regularly for more than 3 months; what do you mean regularly? I’m doing 2 days hiit, 3 days moderate intensity cardio, and 2 days low intensity each week. Can I keep this up?

    • Kristin says:

      I think they mean to not do it at all for 3 months cuz it can wear your body out and things and then switch

    • Michael Wills says:

      Listen to your body. I recommend taking at least 1 day of a week, but if you don’t feel exhausted and are seeing improvements, then this routine might work for you. However, eventually you’ll want to change your routine.

      And remember that rest isn’t always a bad thing.

  15. Hillary Heilman says:

    Great article!!!!!

  16. rainatdusk says:

    “A steady diet of HIIT can also stimulate a near-constant flight-or-fight response from your autonomic nervous system, says Robertson, resulting in a host of anxiety-like symptoms: racing heart, sweaty palms, difficulty sleeping, and an inability to sit still or focus. Over time, this hypervigilant state can impair recovery.”

    Is there any evidence of this? There is no study mentioned. It is just a quote from a gym owner (not a doctor or expert in physiology). I have been doing HIIT with a trainer regularly for almost 5 years. I am 50 years old, my resting heart rate is 48-50, and I am calm, focused, and sleep like a baby.

    This article contains a lot of good information referencing studies, but it also has a lot of opinion stated as fact and not supported by any evidence mixed in.

  17. rainatdusk says:

    Don’t make the mistake of trying to excel at HIIT and steady-state cardio at the same time. Remember, the two systems place different demands on your body. “Training in blocks is ideal,” says Weingroff. “You can’t get good at aerobic performance and HIIT at the same time.”

    Another example of opinion stated as fact without any evidence cited. Of course you can do both. I know lots of people who do both, and they are super fit.

  18. I’m an old school distance runner and have run Boston twice under three hours. The gang I ran with back in the 70’s and 80’s used both intense and steady workouts. Our base was LSD (Long slow distance) combined with a couple of days at the track doing stair step intervals where we would run 1/4 lap warm up and then 1/4 lap fast (80 to 90%), then 1/2 easy with 1/2 fast (again 80 to 90%) and so on. We also ran fartlek workouts that was less structured than track and usually on soft surfaces golf course or park. Worked wonders for our speed and legs. So I say, do both if you are a serious competitive runner.

    • Mark Edwards says:

      Marathon under 3 hours is definitely good running and of a standard a good competitive club runner would be proud.

      I too have used interval and LSD in combination but there were usually phases to the training where the emphasis would be upon speed using interval training, stamina using LSD or strength increasing optimal force which would vary in technique for different sports but for running longer distances would involve hill running or weights.

  19. Valerie Horner says:

    I’ve been doing HIIT twice a week for 15-20 minutes (this is ALL you have to do) for 6 months now. I’ve been a walker for years. In the last 6 months, I’ve lost 20 pounds, my fasting blood glucose levels which have always been 99-101 are now 85, and when I walk, I go up steep hills much faster and I walk longer.

    • Rachel Keyte says:

      Wow, awesome results! You definitely answered my question! Are you doing this by walking? Running? Something different?

      • Valerie Horner says:

        In winter, I was going to the gym 3xs a week doing 20 minutes of HIIT and 20 minutes of weight lifting on machines. In Spring I add about 2/3 days of walking. Now in summer, I garden about 10 hours a week (my passion) and go to gym 2xs and walk 2xs a week approximately. I also take an occaional Zumba or yoga class. I am also dieting (1600 calories a day) which explains weight loss but not the inches.

      • Valerie Horner says:

        Oh – I do HIIT on an arc trainer or elliptical at the gym – no stress on my joints. I tried running spurts when I walked and ended up injuring my knee – too old and overweight for that.

  20. briguy says:

    I take martial arts and it’s a great way to get mix of cross-training, HIIT (primarily) and a dash of steady-state. I know the article does say that you shouldn’t do both of them; however, I know that isn’t necessarily true because I have, in the past, seen great results. I’ve been doing Shaolin Kung Fu for a few years now and we start off with ~5-10 minutes of jogging and transition to some HIIT with running, frog jumps, high-knees…,etc. We then stretch our legs and hips. After the stretching we start practicing standard kicks and other stuff we are learning for our “sash”. The last fifteen minutes entails us learning/practicing forms or techniques that are required for the next “sash”.
    With this kind of a pseudo-workout, I feel you get the added benefits of all three without the heavy cost of focusing on one specific paradigm.

  21. WWBrock says:


    I have been running about 50 miles per month for the past 9 months. I like the idea of trying the HIIT for a month or so. How long does the typical work out session take? If you run for 30 seconds and rest for 2 minutes, repeated 4 or 5 times the session would only last 12.5 minutes or so?

    Thanks for the article it was very interesting.


  22. James says:

    Good article. Boxing/kickboxing/Muay Thai etc are good ways of getting a HIIT. It’s intense rounds with short rests.
    Find a boxercise class or suchlike.

  23. Christin Seegers says:

    True about the low blood pressure. I forgot about mine and used some powdered NOS in my Gatorade before my HIIT. My blood pressure dropped dangerously low.
    HIIT works for me though (I just have to raise my blood pressure before hand). Because of a schedule change in work, I now work six days; one day off with two half days. This gives me a chance to work on my new HIIT routine which I just started about three weeks ago along with my protein shakes. Versus just the treadmill, going five to six days, 30 to 60 minutes.
    I’ve lost inches and have drastically put on muscle and toned up. With the treadmill, I eventually lost weight but have never gained muscle like I do on a HIIT routine. And in half the amount of days in less time.
    As a woman in my thirties, I would rather be thick and curvy with a toned muscled core, compared to just going on a fancy diet and loosing weightmass.
    Still get on the treadmill now, but only to cool down after my HIIT and to relax after a hard day at work.

  24. Abdullah Jefri says:

    Excellent article. It explains how each technique works on the body and then makes a recommendation. Even if you don’t agree with the recommendation at least you leave with a good understanding to arrive at your own conclusion. As for the comments complaining about the article being too long perhaps their authors should be reading Twitter instead of this blog.

  25. Jake Larsen says:

    Concur that both steady-state and high-intensity form a balanced approach to conplete cardio fitness. If, however, weight loss is the goal, maximizing caloric burn in a sustainable way is key. For this reason, steady-state, sub-maximal training is much better than HIIT. This is because many people burn out or get injured with HIIT because they use it as the staple of their training. Seasoned runners generally follow the 80/20 rule: 80% low-intensity miles coupled with 20% high-intensity miles (lactate threshold + VO2 Max training). HIIT is like dessert: great when used sparingly, but will make you sick when consumed in excess. Steady-state should form the basis (70-80%) of cardio training. HIIT is icing on the cake.

  26. Glen Johnson says:

    Never been able to understand why people can’t do both. I do HIIT twice a week and steady state twice a week. Same with strength training lifting 3 times a week and body weight twice a week. You can get the best of both if you put the work in.

  27. Lea says:

    I’ve been walking for 40-120 minutes per day (with a few rest days I was busy) for about 6 months straight, my resting heart rate is exactly 65. So is my steady state cardio just not intense enough? And did any of these studies factor in diet?

    • Jake Larsen says:

      Jogging is an excellent way. Mile for mile, jogging is more effective than walking for burning calories. But it’s also not as intense as HIIT cardio. Jogging is essentially steady-state cardio. Walking is very relaxing, but, for many, doesn’t get HR high enough to get cardiovascular benefits (though there are still plenty of other benefits that walking provides). The key is to make sure that you are able to carry on a conversation while you are jogging/running. The “talk test”, as it is known in running circles, is a simple way to measure if you are in the low-intensity range. If you can easily carry on a conversation, you’re doing it right. If not, you need to slow down. Most of your cardio should be in the low-intensity range (60-70% of HR max). Like HIIT vs. steady-state, walking and jogging are not incompatible; one can incorporate both into a fitness regimen.

      • Lea says:

        I used to not be able to talk after 5 minutes of walking. I’ve been afraid of trying anything more intense but perhaps now is the time! I don’t get winded anymore 🙂

        • Jake Larsen says:

          That is fantastic! What I think might be good is alternating walking/jogging. 5 minutes of each, then switch. Lots of people who are transitioning from jus walking to jogging have great success with this hybrid approach.

  28. Siza Rauf Jambaz says:

    Excellent article

  29. Siza Rauf Jambaz says:

    Excellent article

  30. Siza Jambaz says:

    Excellent article

  31. John McGlynn says:

    Duh. I repeat…DUH.

    High intensity interval training is the latest hype… like this is actually something new. Marathon runners and triathletes have been doing this for decades now – they do tempo runs (just under lactate threshold, sustained for a few minutes, then back to LSD, i.e., Long Slow Distance – not lysergic acid diethylamide 🙂 ) or
    interval training, e.g., 6×400 m flat out with a short (1 min) rest interval, combined with normal pace running. There’s also hill work, which accomplishes the same thing. Swimmers do similar training to achieve maximal results – 1,000 m normal sets, interspersed with 50 m flat out sprints, fly or freestyle, then lather-rinse-repeat 4-5 times… at least, I certainly did in Masters swimming. Likewise, cyclists do sprint training, time trials, and hill work mixed in with long distance steady-state. None of this is new – the aforementioned athletes aren’t trying to lose fat, except incidentally, but you certainly didn’t find too many chubby triathletes (when I used to do this madness, about 10 years ago, I clocked in at 6.5% body fat, which put me smack in the middle of the distribution for over-40 male triathletes… I knew quite a few 50 year old guys with 3% BF or less). The key to peak athletic performance is a balanced mix of long steady state plus high intensity interval training to optimize BOTH slow twitch and fast twitch muscles and kick your VO2-max upward. BTW,as an additional benefit, if you do both of these types of workouts your B.P. will drop and your resting heart rate should plummet – when I did my Ironman, at age 45, my resting heart rate was around 36-38 BPM.

  32. awaylett says:

    I’ve been doing different methods of high intensity training now for 18 months. I do a HIIT routine once a week, along with body combat twice a week and strength training in between. This has seemed to work for me. I lost 40 lbs in 4 months (along with diet), kept it off, gained lean muscle, my heart rate doesn’t race out of control and I feel better. I have more energy, more stamina, more self confidence.

    So, seems my routine is steady and high intensity. I do switch my routines up, as my instructors says that is good for your body and that your body gets use to doing the same routine over and over. I’ll throw in aqua combat, hiking, running and even just a nice walk on the treadmill.

    Love what I do. It has worked for me…with no injuries.

  33. Joel Mella says:

    Me encanto el articulo.

  34. Maureen Mulligan says:

    For a non sport specific conditioned person, incorporating both on a regular basis, is a good idea and helps break monotony. At least that’s what consistently works for me, and my heart rate hovers around 45-50bpm year round. Even when I do steady state, I only do about 15-20 min on one machine and switch to another so I don’t get bored on my non lifting days to get a full hour in. And, I’ll use 3-4 machines to fulfill my steady state cardio per workout but also do Zumba once a week for a fun way to get steady state cardio in. When I’m doing HITT, it’s usually one minute at a time at the end of a lifting circuit for a total of 4-8 min per workout, 3-4x’s / week. Then I’ll add 10-15 minutes of cardio after my circuits, either with HITT, steady state OR even a mix of both depending on my energy level.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Never Miss a Post!

Turn on MyFitnessPal desktop notifications and stay up to date on the latest health and fitness advice.


Click the 'Allow' Button Above


You're all set.

You’re taking control of your fitness and wellness journey, so take control of your data, too. Learn more about your rights and options. Or click here to opt-out of certain cookies.