Kent Probst, BS, MEd
Kent Probst is the owner of Long Healthy Life Blog
Benefits of HIIT vs Cardio: Introduction
High intensity interval training (HIIT) has become popular among people who want to maximize the benefits of exercise while shortening the time they exercise. People frequently ask: what are the benefits of HIIT vs Cardio?
Both are beneficial regarding cardiorespiratory fitness. So it’s important to determine which one is right for you. Or should you do both?
Exercising at an intensity level that’s too low will not result in improved cardiorespiratory fitness.
Conversely, highly trained people may need to workout at high intensity levels to improve cardiorespiratory fitness.
In a 23 year study published in JAMA, the participants who had the highest cardiorespiratory fitness had the lowest mortality rates from all causes.
Let’s examine the benefits of HIIT vs Cardio.
Benefits of HIIT vs Cardio: Pros and Cons
High Intensity Interval Training
HIIT is generally defined as intense exercise periods mixed with recovery periods.
For example, interval training often consists of vigorous intensity exercise (20-240 seconds) followed by moderate-to-light intensity exercise (60-360 seconds), alternating between the two levels of intensity.
Interval training is frequently performed at an intensity level > 80% – 100% of peak heart rate.
One benefit of HIIT is that it can improve cardiorespiratory fitness with less workload than traditional cardiovascular exercise.
HIIT may not be appropriate for deconditioned people. An alternative for deconditioned people would be to alternate between periods of brisk walking and walking at a moderate pace.
Beginners who exercise at an intensity level that’s too high become susceptible to overtraining and injury.
Also, because of the difficulty of HIIT, the learning curve for HIIT is greater than steady state cardiovascular exercise.
Bodies of published research have shown that HIIT is beneficial for glucose regulation and reducing insulin resistance.
One of the drawbacks of HIIT is that cardiovascular exercise and resistance training conflict with each other at the molecular level. When resistance exercise and cardiovascular exercise are done in the same session, gains in muscle mass (hypertrophy) and strength are adversely affected.
The molecular mechanisms in the muscles involved in strength gains need approximately 3 hours to reset. This is why you should do cardiovascular exercise and resistance training at least 3 hours apart if you don’t want cardiovascular exercise to interfere with strength training.
Additional research has shown that you need between 6 hours and 24 hours to avoid having cardiovascular exercise interfere with gains in strength and muscle mass.
Steady State Cardiovascular Exercise
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous cardiovascular exercise to significantly reduce the risk of disease.
Participating in steady state cardiovascular exercise would be more appropriate for someone who is training for a bicycle race or a marathon.
An exercise program that’s easily integrated into your daily life will make it more likely that you’ll keep following it. When starting an exercise program, consider costs, physical barriers, distance from your home, and your schedule.
Depending on your situation, steady state cardiovascular exercise may require less equipment than HIIT, and therefore may be more accessible.
On the other hand, steady state cardiovascular exercise doesn’t improve muscular strength. For optimal fitness, strength training should be included in your fitness regimen at least twice a week.
With HIIT, you can incorporate resistance training into your workout and get the benefits of cardiovascular exercises as well as resistance training. As mentioned earlier, the benefits of resistance training will be greater if done at least 3 hours apart.
A word of caution: Chronic excessive cardiovascular exercise, such as frequent marathons and triathlons, can result in problems such as myocardial damage, myocardial fibrosis, coronary calcification, and atrial fibrillation.
Whether you’re doing HIIT or cardiovascular exercise, modes of exercise should involve major muscle groups such as running, stair climbing, or walking.
When it comes to the benefits of HIIT vs cardio, one isn’t necessarily better than the other.
You may want to alternate between a HIIT workout and steady state cardiovascular exercise.
Doing the same workout for a long time contributes to boredom due to lack of variety. When you lose interest in exercise, you’re more likely to drop out. It’s a good idea to change your workout once a month, or when you start getting bored.
Find a workout that you enjoy. This seems obvious, but some people seem to think the most effective exercise is painful and difficult. It doesn’t have to be this way. An unpleasant experience can cause you to drop out rather quickly. So make exercise fun!
If you decide to incorporate HIIT or steady state cardiovascular exercise into your fitness regimen, you may want to consult a fitness professional. A personal trainer can help you reach your goals faster and avoid injury.
You can find a sample HIIT workout at the American College of Sports Medicine.
Need help designing a workout? The American Council on Exercise has resources to help you find a fitness professional.
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