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HIIT vs Steady State Cardio: Which One is Better?

I would be lying if I said I enjoyed doing cardio, (does anyone?) but I know it’s an important part of my fitness regimen. But not all cardio is created equal, and when it comes to deciding between doing HIIT training or steady state cardio, I’m at a loss. 

Luckily I have my trainer Zach to tell me what I need to do!  So I asked him to share his thoughts on the debate over which type of cardio is better. Take it away Zach!

As a trainer, one question I get asked constantly is what type of cardio is best. The two most common forms of cardio are High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Low Impact Steady State (LISS). I can’t really answer which one is better, as that really depends on each individual. What I can do is help you figure out which is best for you! Now let’s dive a little deeper into each form of cardio and the positive and negative aspects. 


LISS is without a doubt the most common form of cardio. It involves doing the same activity for longer periods of time with the goal of maintaining a moderate heart rate, usually 50-65% of your max heart rate. This can include running, cycling, swimming, rowing, or any piece of cardio equipment at the gym. (To calculate your max heart rate, subtract your age from 220. That will help you figure out what range you should be in for steady state or HIIT.) LISS training works the aerobic system (as opposed to anaerobic). That means you’re maintaining a level of intensity low enough that your body is able to consistently send oxygen to the muscles for energy.


One of the benefits of steady state cardio is that it typically places less stress on your body. That means that you’re able to do it for longer periods of time and recover more quickly, allowing you to do it more often. If you’re training for any kind of endurance event (marathon, triathlon, etc.) then the majority of your training should consist of steady state cardio since that’s the energy system you’ll be using. Improving your cardiovascular endurance through LISS is also great for lowering blood pressure, improving heart health, and reducing stress.


One of the downsides of LISS workouts is the length. To really benefit from steady state, I would suggest a bare minimum of 20 minutes, but preferably somewhere in the 30-60 minute range. For anyone with a busy schedule that can eat up a lot of their day, especially if you’re traveling to and from the gym just to do your cardio.


HIIT involves doing short periods of a high intensity activity at 80-95% of your max heart rate, with periods of rest or low intensity activity between them. It can be done with any movement or piece of equipment, but some are more efficient at getting your heart rate up quickly. Sprinting, rowing, or bodyweight movement like burpees or box jumps are popular for HIIT workouts. Other movements performed with low weights at high speeds are also great options (deadlifts, cleans, thrusters, kettlebell swings, etc.)


Unlike steady state, HIIT works both your aerobic and anaerobic system. That means your body is unable to supply enough oxygen to the muscles fast enough and it’s forced to rely on ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and glycogen stores for energy. This means that HIIT is going to be much more efficient at burning fat as it requires more energy. A typical HIIT workout lasting 15-20 minutes can often burn more fat than your average LISS workout. A HIIT workout can also raise your metabolism for up to 24 hours due to the energy needed, meaning you’ll keep burning calories more even when you’re fast asleep that night. So if you’re just looking for the quickest way to burn some calories, HIIT is the way to go.


A downside of HIIT is that it takes a lot more energy and can be harder on your body. That means for anyone trying to pack on muscle while staying lean, you may want to avoid HIIT. The energy requirements mean you either need to eat more or your body can start tapping into muscle to use for energy. HIIT workouts can also be harder to recover from, meaning you might not be able to do them as often as a LISS workout. 

So which one should you be doing? The best answer is whichever one you prefer, and what your end goal is. A lot of the benefits from each overlap, so a mix of both can help ensure you reap all the possible benefits. Either workout is much better than nothing at all! I’ve seen too many people force themselves to do something they hate, only to burn out and quit all together. So if there’s one type of workout that’s able to keep you motivated then stick with that. Let us know if you have any questions below and good luck with the workouts! To check out more of our workout and wellness content click through the links below and head HERE.