HIIT vs. cardio for superior fat loss

written by Philip Stefanov  |  SEPTEMBER 20, 2022

People interested in fat loss often struggle to decide between doing HIIT and steady-state cardio. Who could blame them? There is so much contradicting information that picking the right option often feels impossible.

Well, let’s break it down.

HIIT vs. Steady-State Cardio For Fat Loss Outcomes

HIIT refers to high-intensity interval training, a form of exercise where you alternate between bouts of intense exercise and recovery. For example, sprint for 10 seconds, walk for a minute and repeat five to ten times.

Steady-state cardio refers to various activities where you elevate your heart rate to some degree (say, 60 percent of maximum heart rate) and keep it there for 20, 30, or even 60 minutes. The activity can be walking, jogging, running, biking, swimming, or something else.

Both types of exercise are technically considered cardio and offer many of the same benefits. For example, research finds that steady-state cardio and HIIT are good for cardiovascular health (1, 2).

A recent review and analysis of 54 studies looked at body composition outcomes for people doing steady-state cardio or HIIT (3). The researchers behind the investigation found that fat loss didn’t differ much between modalities. Folks doing HIIT saw minor improvements in fat-free mass compared to the steady-state cardio groups, but the difference wasn’t significant.

Both exercise protocols had similar adherence rates, with subjects completing at least 90 percent of their sessions. The average dropout rate across the board was around 15 percent.

In other words, both forms of cardio deliver similar benefits, and neither brings special benefits.

If The Two Are Equal, How Do We Pick?

You should pick the modality that best fits your situation, athletic ability, schedule, and preferences. Let’s break these down.

1. Schedule

People with less free time would benefit from HIIT because the approach condenses more training in less time.

2. Athletic Ability

More advanced trainees can benefit from HIIT, but newer trainees would be better off with steady-state cardio. HIIT is beneficial but also demanding, and trainees with little experience are more likely to injure or overtrain themselves.

3. Preferences

If you’re in a position where either approach works, your choice should come down to preferences and convenience. For example, if you feel like pushing yourself hard with an interval session, go for it. Alternatively, if you prefer to have a less challenging and more meditative cardio session, go for a jog or bike ride.

The Bottom Line

Steady-state cardio and HIIT offer many of the same benefits, and you shouldn’t worry too much about your choice. Experiment with both modalities and see which one fits you better. You can even do both forms of cardio if that’s what you prefer.

For example, let’s say that you don’t have much time for training on Monday––do HIIT. But what if you have more time on Thursday? Well, do a steady-state cardio workout.

What matters most is being consistent, enjoying the process, and recovering well between workouts. As far as fat loss and general health go, both modalities will deliver similar results, so long as you pay attention to your nutrition.

Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,


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