Updated: Feb 6
"Should I do Steady State Cardiorespiratory Exercise or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)?" I get asked this a lot. While there is no one answer to this question, the short answer is both. Cardiorespiratory exercise is essential in building and maintaining heart health, while high intensity interval training has proven to promote fat loss, build lean muscle and enhance strength and speed, while also improving heart health. Not surprisingly each type of exercise can play an important role in our health and fitness.
The key when considering a new exercise program or adding new fitness elements to your routine is to ask yourself this, "what are my goals?"
Do you want to lose fat?
Are you after strength gains?
Is your goal to build endurance?
Are you looking to increase balance, coordination and flexibility?
Would you like to improve your movement patterns?
Perhaps you want to improve your endurance for activities of interest such as hiking, biking or jogging, or maybe your goal is to take the stairs without feeling winded. Maybe your goal is to shed those last 10 lbs, or you just want to feel stronger, be fitter and move better. Elements of both cardiorespiratory exercise and HIIT can help get you there. To better understand why, let's explore the benefits as well as considerations of each.
Steady state cardiorespiratory exercise
This style of physical activity is classified as any aerobic or cardiorespiratory activity that is performed for 30 to 60 minutes at a consistent level of intensity. Examples of this might include biking, jogging, long walks, rowing, and cardiorespiratory machines such as the elliptical, recumbent bike or stair master. This type of training is key for individuals who participate in physical activities such as long distance running, cycling, swimming and rowing by improving endurance and enhancing cardiorespiratory ability.
Benefits of steady state exercise:
Builds aerobic endurance
Supports heart health
Ideal for fitness beginners
Requires less recovery time
Low risk for overall sedentary lifestyles
Provides calorie burn relative to the level of intensity (low, moderate, high) while engaging in the activity
Utilizes less energy from muscle groups
Can be performed more frequently, up to 5 days a week
Promotes higher level of retention when choosing an enjoyed activity
Increased risk to overuse injuries, common with cycling and running.
Can take longer to achieve fat & weight loss goals
Minimal if any “after burn” effects
Working at too low of an intensity does not build endurance and can stand in the way of fat loss and/or maintenance goals
Doing the same activity at the same rate day in and day out does not challenge the body
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
This style of training includes physical activities that are broken into segments of high intensity bursts of exertion followed by a lower intensity recovery period. An example of this might be a 30 second all out sprint followed by 1 minute of a slow jog (or fast paced walk). Intervals like this can be incoporated into strength training exercises, such as a series of 3 exercises followed by a plyometric event such as 30 seconds of squat jumps. This type of training is key for those who play and/or compete in sports such as football, baseball, soccer and short distance track events by improving strength, speed and agility.
It takes less time to achieve high calorie burn
Enables muscles to use fat as fuel
Increases aerobic and anaerobic fitness
Promotes abdominal fat loss while maintaining and building muscle mass
Supports heart health
Builds strength and speed
Enhances overall sport performance
Recognized “after burn” effect supports increased caloric burn up for up to 36 hours post exercise
Requires greater recovery time
Should not be done more than 2-3x a week (no more than 1x a week for several weeks if just starting this style of training)
Not ideal for fitness beginners
Carries an increased risk to potential injury
Utilizes a high amount of energy from multiple muscle groups
Bottom line - there are benefits and considerations for both steady state and high intensity interval exercise. Most individuals will reap the most benefit by utilizing a combination of both types of physical activities in order to reap optimal benefit. By choosing activities that build and support endurance, strength, balance, coordination and flexibility you're able to support your overall health and wellness. For individuals over 40 this is a key component to maintaining a healthy waistline by steady state exercise alone. If you are unsure of where to start or apprehensive to try something new, consider hiring a personal trainer, someone demonstrating and watching your fitness form can be a great way to start where you are while offering appropriate challenge, ensuring a safe and effective workout.
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