So here we are back again. Another day, another question. This time it's between steady-state cardio and HIIT. Let's set up the scenario.
There's Aditya, who gets up at 6 in the morning and goes for a run. It's the same routine, run for about 45 mins at a comfortable pace while listening to music and then get back home and get ready for the rest of the day's work. Then there is Naman, who does the same thing but with a bit of a difference, instead of running for 45 mins at a comfortable pace, he runs as fast as he can for 1 minute, then rests for 3 minutes. That cycle of a run then rest is repeated for about 25-30 mins.
Now both of them are in great shape and look lean and healthy. But recently Aditya's been hearing about all the hype that has been created around this run and rest concept whereas Naman has started to miss a relaxing run and no more aching muscles.
So what Aditya is doing is old fashioned jogging or what we like to call steady-state cardio. To simply define it, these include physical activities like jogging, biking or swimming at 60-70% of your maximum capacity for an extended period of time. It's also what we call an aerobic exercise i.e. cardiovascular exercises where you breath faster and deeper, thus increasing the oxygen in your blood and using that as energy.
What Naman is doing is HIIT or high-intensity interval training. These are a little bit more complex versions of steady-state cardio like the run and rest example above or activities like german sprints, tabata etc. This is where one performs at the maximum capacity or near it for a short period of time, then rest and repeat the whole cycle for a certain amount of time. It's what we call an anaerobic exercise i.e. exercises where you require instant energy in short bursts and instead of oxygen, you rely on stored energy in the form of carbs and glucose.
Now both of them have great health benefits like better cardiovascular health, drop in blood pressure, better metabolism and improved VO2 max (the measure of the maximum amount of Oxygen one's body can process).
To ask which is better is not the right question. What you have to ask yourself is which one is more optimal for your fitness goals?
If your goal is fat loss, the HIIT might actually give you a better result. The reason is you will be burning more calories in a shorter interval of time compared to steady-state cardio. Also, you burn more calories during the post-exercise period as your body is in the state of returning to its normal state. Recovery needs energy too! It also helps in increasing the production of human growth hormone, or HGH in short. That hormone is responsible for basically controlling ageing. More HGH means more calories burnt as more fat is being broken down.
But with all that being said, HIIT also is harder and you have to grind more to keep it up. There will be days where you'll have aching joints and recovery will take longer. Managing and maintaining your diet for this will also be of utmost importance.
On the other hand, there is no HIIT without steady-state cardio. Steady-state cardio is the bedrock of fitness and if you are a beginner, then this is most definitely the better option for you. It'll help you get in the swing of things and get your body accustomed to the pleasurable rigours of physical activity. With increased VO2 max and a manageable physical workload, you will be all the while better for it before you move on to more complex activities such as HIIT.
The simple way to find that out is by checking your heart rate, if it is below 65, you are good to go to try HIIT. If it is above 65, then it is recommended that one should begin with steady-state cardio to build up the tolerance to move towards HIIT.
Either way, the goal is to have a sustainable fitness lifestyle. So if HIIT results in pains every day and you start to hate it, change up your routine and go for a nice relaxing jog. And the same way if steady-state cardio is getting monotonous, why not add this extra step of excitement and challenge to your fitness activities!
Cardio for the win in both scenarios ✌️