So, as we cleared out in our previous article, including cardio in your regimen is of prime importance, as it can greatly help reduce fat, gain muscle and sustain a healthier inner environment and functions.
Cardio workouts specifically reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, as they improve blood pressure and reduce the risk of other complications like insult and type 2 diabetes.
Now, if you want to learn more about the benefits, go back to our articles on “Cardio guide”, where we go in depth on that topic.
For this article, we will discuss High intensity interval cardio and compare it to the usual, steady state cardio, or as others like to call it, jogging.
The difference with other types
Alright let’s first start by defining each type of cardio
- Steady-state cardio
This is the so-called monotone cardio, where we pick up a pace and maintain it for the whole duration of the workout. Generally, the workout consists of slow-paced jogging.
- High intensity interval training (HIIT)
With HIIT, we have a way more different approach to the cardio sessions.
We pick up a slow/moderate pace and include intervals of high intensity.
So, for example, a running HIIT workout would consist of moderately paced running for, let’s say 1 minute, after which, we have a 10-15 second interval of sprints.
This way, we engage both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.
Check out our article on “Differences between anaerobic and aerobic training”
As mentioned already, cardio workouts have a ton of benefits and they are suitable for basically anyone.
However, proper evaluation is a must, as such workouts can have a negative effect with certain conditions.
Now, usually, we recommend starting off with steady-state cardio, to develop a certain amount of cardiovascular endurance, but once that happens, we recommend to also include HIIT workouts.
Even though steady-state cardio burns more calories during the duration of the workout, HIIT cardio makes the body burn more calories AFTERWARDS.
And that goes on for hours, making the total amount of calories burnt greater, as opposed to steady-state cardio.
Which type of cardio is better?
Depends on how you define better- Something that won’t exhaust you excessively, or something that will be more effective for your goals?
Now, that depends on what your goals are, but ultimately, we’d recommend including a good mix of both. You don’t necessarily need to rely on one single type of cardio or means of exercising.
Most of all, bring diversity in your workouts and refrain from doing the same thing over and over again.
“The most common adaptation from HIIT, and certainly highly significant is the improvement in VO2max which is directly related to enhanced cardiprotection from heart disease. Kravitz, L. (2014). Metabolic effects of HIIT. IDEA Fitness Journal, Vol. 11, No. 5, 16-18.” (1)
How much cardio is too much?
Well, again, it really depends. It depends on your gender, age, the rest of your exercise output, your goals and your physical activity.
So there really isn’t a definitive answer to that.
However, we can give you some guidelines which will definitely help you integrate your cardio workouts, within the rest of your training structure.
- Cardio after resistance training
Whether you’re doing steady-state or HIIT, it is highly recommended that you do it AFTER your resistance training session.
Because cardio by itself, triggers the aerobic energy system of the human body.
The aerobic energy system is the least powerful but most sustainable one, as it can sustain low-intensity activity for hours.
It does so, by using the muscle and liver glycogen, as well as fats and proteins, if glycogen and fats are not available.
So, logically, knowing that resistance training uses the anaerobic system, which, utilizes muscle glycogen, we can conclude that we need that for our strength workouts.
Afterwards, we can allow the body to use the liver glycogen stores with aerobic activity.
Bottom line is you have to utilize each type of fuel appropriately to get the best out of it.
- HIIT workouts integration
Generally, HIIT workouts will greatly engage your lower body: The quadriceps, the hamstrings, calves and glutes.
Knowing that, we can say that doing HIIT workouts is done best by making sure they are not before or after a leg training day.
- Number of workouts
As anything else in excessive amounts, cardio is not beneficial when done too much.
Following the first 2 guidelines, we can conclude that the number of weekly cardio workouts should be around 2 to 3.
Whether you’re trying to burn fat or gain muscle, HIIT workouts are your best friend, as by nature, they are an intense exercise that creates an anabolic environment, perfect for muscle growth.
We generally recommend 20-25 minutes of steady state cardio and 15-25 minutes of HIIT cardio, 3 times weekly.
Alright, even though HIIT is a killer workout, steady-state cardio has its benefits too!
Picture it this way: Can you start off right away with HIIT as a beginner with no previous training experience?
Well, probably not, and even if you do so, it will be stressing and exhausting, rather than productive.
That is why steady-state cardio is perfect for beginners, who have not yet established a certain amount of endurance, explosiveness and training habits.
With steady-state cardio, you can gradually work on your pace and slowly transition into interval training, all while gaining the health benefits of this type of cardio.
Furthermore, some age groups can’t really make the best use of HIIT, which is why steady-state would be their go-to choice.
After coming to terms with your goals and carefully structuring your workout plan/regimen, it is time for execution.
Rest assured that you have to devote your time, intention and focus to get the best out of it.
Also, keep in mind that initially, it may not be as effective as you would have thought and it may need adjustments. On top of that, we can tell you right away that training is not everything.
You can’t catch up to your bad habits by just doing a couple workouts a week and expect results.
Training, progressing and staying healthy is all about developing good habits, which of course are sustainable, or in other words, habits you can adhere to.
So, if you want to lose weight, you don’t necessarily need to starve and do exhausting, hours-long steady state cardio sessions.
Instead, you have to put your body in a caloric deficit that will make it burn the energy reserves (fat), all while giving it enough food to sustain a healthy inner environment and fuel your daily and exercise activities.
All of this, done consistently, will lead to consistent, healthy fat loss.
And on the flipside, if you want to gain muscle mass, you shouldn’t stuff yourself forcefully with food and lift as heavy as possible, but rather focus on engaging the anaerobic systems in a proper manner.
That means, implementing high levels of intensity that won’t break proper execution.
All of this, supported by a moderate calorie surplus, will lead to bulk muscle gains and increases in strength.
Ultimately, the goal is to stay healthy, stay good looking and stay functional!