Written by: Nastelle van Biljon

Whether your goal is to lose weight or get fit, cardio is an essential component to your workout program. In recent years the focus has shifted from doing the same old moderate intensity exercise for 30-60 minutes daily to performing exercise in a manner that not only saves time but also reveals increased health benefits. The industry has seen a surge in interest in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and controversial studies about its effectiveness in increasing cardiovascular fitness compared to standard continuous endurance training.

Steady-state endurance training and HIIT are both convenient, versatile, and safe ways to develop your cardiovascular system. You can do them virtually anywhere with a minimum of equipment; you can switch up your activity at will (from running to swimming, say); and you don’t need a lot of coaching to do them effectively. In practice, however, the two styles of training are very different.

Standard continuous endurance workouts are as simple as they come. Perform your activity at a steady, challenging-but-manageable pace (60 to 70 percent of maximal capacity) for 20 minutes or more, aiming for a heart rate of 120 to 150 beats per minute. HIIT workouts are slightly more complex. Perform your activity as hard as you can (90 to 100 percent of maximal capacity) for a brief, set time period (usually two minutes or less), then reduce the intensity for a predetermined rest interval (usually three minutes or less), and repeat the cycle four times or more.

VO2max is considered the body’s upper limit for consuming, distributing and using oxygen for energy production. Often referred to as maximal aerobic capacity, VO2maxcan be used as an indicator of exercise performance. Improving the VO2maxwill result in an increase in the body’s cardiovascular function. A study done by Daussin et al. (2008) showed a greater increase in VO2maxin individuals that participated in an 8-week HIIT program than the individuals that participated in a continuous training program.

 In a perfect world, you would have some mixture of both steady state and HIIT. For beginners, you can actually build up your endurance and stamina for HIIT training by starting with aerobic interval training. That involves changing up your intensity just enough to push you out of your comfort zone. As you practice, you can start to increase the intensity of your intervals from week to week.

“The truth is that both high-intensity interval training and steady-state cardio are effective in their own ways,” says exercise physiologist Jonathan Mike, MS, CSCS, from Albuquerque.

References

Milanović, Z., Sporiš, G. & Weston, M. Sports Med (2015) 45: 1469. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0365-0

Verywell. 2017. HIIT vs. Steady State Cardio: Which Is Better?. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.verywell.com/is-hiit-training-or-steady-state-cardio-better-4126506. [Accessed 27 October 2017].

Experience Life. 2017. Steady-State Cardio Vs. High-Intensity Interval Training – Experience Life. [ONLINE] Available at: https://experiencelife.com/article/steady-state-cardio-vs-high-intensity-interval-training/. [Accessed 27 October 2017].

www.ideafit.com. 2017. HIIT vs. Continuous Endurance Training: Battle of the Aerobic Titans. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/hiit-vs-continuous-endurance-training-battle-of-the-aerobic-titans. [Accessed 27 October 2017].