HIIT vs. Steady-State Cardio Which is Better for You?

October 3, 2022

Losing weight is something that is easier said than done. There isn't a magical one week workout or diet that will help you burn off your belly fat instantly. Sure, you might lose a couple of pounds through water-weight in a week long crash diet, but if you want to lose your belly fat for good, you need a healthy diet, as well as time, dedication, and a good cardio regime.

One of the most popular forms of cardio that you might have heard of is High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT for short. Infamous for its short bursts of challenging circuits and even shorter recovery periods, HIIT is popular for burning huge amounts of calories in a small amount of time. HIIT sessions are usually no longer than 20 minutes, as you're expected to push yourself to the limit on each set. Some exercises that you might do in a HIIT circuit would be sprints, burpees, mountain climbers, and jumping jacks. On the other hand, steady-state cardio is a form of cardio where you maintain a moderate intensity pace for a set period of time, usually ranging from 30 minutes to an hour. This is the more common form of cardio and is done at a steady pace so that you can sustain your energy for the entire duration of your cardio exercise. Some examples of steady-state cardio would be running, biking, walking, or swimming.

What are the Main Differences Between the Two?

1. Intensity

Steady-state cardio is meant to be done at a moderate pace for a set period of time and puts low amounts of stress on your body. Despite it being lower intensity than HIIT, it's far from a walk in the park. Steady-state cardio should still feel challenging, but not enough to make you feel out of breath. HIIT is meant to push you to your limits! It involves dynamic full-body movements that really make you feel the burn. You are expected to perform as many reps as possible for each exercise with full effort. It's not for the faint of heart and your body will be sore the day after. By the end of your circuit, you should be sweating and out of breath.

2. Duration

Steady-state cardio is usually much longer than HIIT, as you are working at a pace that you can sustain over longer periods of time. These cardio sessions range from 30 minutes to an hour, and sometimes even longer. Since steady-state cardio also puts low amounts of stress on your body, you are able to do it every day as well.

In contrast, HIIT is done in under 20 minutes, making it much more flexible to fit into your schedule. HIIT is done in circuits, where you perform a variety of exercises for 35 to 45 seconds, then rest for 15 to 25 seconds. Because of the high level of intensity, it is not recommended to do HIIT every day, as your body will need time to recover.

3. Calories Burned

There are many factors involved in how many calories you burn while doing cardio, such as age, weight, the effort of exertion, and more, so it is hard to say which one burns more calories. According to a meta-analysis comparing the effects of HIIT and MICT (Moderate Intensity Continuous Training), both exercises showed similar levels of effectiveness in changing body composition.

However, one common benefit that people mention with HIIT is that it has an "afterburn" effect, where your body will continue to burn more calories throughout the day due to increased metabolism after the exercise. You might even hear that this effect would last up to 48 hours.

Although it is true that HIIT does have an "afterburn" effect, it is highly overstated and does not burn a significant amount of calories. Multiple studies have shown that the increased metabolism after HIIT is negligible. One study from Colorado State University even looked at the number of calories burned both during and after a session of HIIT. In short, the calories burned came during and immediately after the workout. HIIT had little to no impact on resting metabolism when it was measured 2 - 3 hours after the exercise.

The truth is, the "afterburn" effect only lasts 2 - 3 hours. This research compares the afterburn effect of HIIT, sprint interval training, and steady-state cardio in a metabolic chamber. Here's what each of the workouts looked like:

  • HIIT (four 4-minute intervals at 95% peak heart rate, separated by 3 minutes of active recovery)
  • Sprint interval training (six 30-second sprints separated by 4 minutes of active recovery)
  • Steady-state cardio (30 minutes at 80% peak heart rate)

They found that energy expenditure in the first three hours was greatest in sprint interval training (110 calories), followed by HIIT (83 calories), then steady-state cardio (64 calories).Around 70% of the calories were burned in the first hour of the exercise, and by the third hour, the difference in post-exercise energy expenditure between the different workouts was less than 5 calories. In the end, the total number of calories burned both during and after the exercise was 348 calories with steady-state cardio, 329 calories with HIIT, and 271 calories with sprint interval training.

So Which One is Better?

Both steady-state cardio and HIIT are beneficial for improving your cardiovascular health and burning off calories. HIIT doesn't provide any extra calories burned when compared to steady-state cardio, but it is much more time-efficient. Although you are expected to work yourself twice as hard, HIIT might be an option if you want to incorporate a quick and intense workout into your schedule.However, if you're already doing some sort of physical activity, I would recommend doing steady-state cardio over HIIT. Your body needs time to rest after doing other physical activities, such as sports or weightlifting. Doing HIIT after these activities would put too much strain on your body, which could impede your recovery. Steady-state cardio may take up more time to do, but it burns the same amount of calories and is much less taxing on your body.

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