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SLOW CARDIO OF HIGH INTENSITY? FIND OUT WHAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU

Updated: Dec 21, 2022



The questions that are typically on everyone’s mind when it comes to cardio are:

  • Steady state vs HIIT?

  • Is fasted cardio better?

  • How much cardio should I do?

We will answer them all here

First, I will go with the assumption that you are doing cardio for fat loss VS athletic training. With that in mind, regardless of the type of cardio you do, if you are not in a calorie deficit, you will NOT lose fat so keep this in mind please.


SS VS HIIT

SS (Steady State/usually moderate to low intensity) cardio would be a very fast walk or a very slow job/bike. Essentially an exercise that you can perform while having a conversation with someone at the same time.


SS is no better or worse than HIIT because you must factor adherence in any cardio routine. The person who is willing and capable of going hiking with a backpack and group of friends consistently for years will have more success than the person doing crazy sprint up hills and giving up after two months. Or getting injured in the process.


But although I do not consider one ‘’better’’ than the other, they do have different physiological effects. Slow SS cardio will burn a greater proportion of fat than HIIT during the workout but HIIT will have a higher EPOC (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption) and your metabolism will remain higher for up to 48 hours. Meaning that you will still be burning extra calories well beyond your workout. Which is not the case with slow SS. Where basically, after about 3 hours, your body has fully recovered and you are not burning any extra calories.


Where I find there is a great value in slow SS cardio is not only in adherence but for the athlete who is cutting and has created a significant deficit, it can be mentally and physically challenging to attack a HIIT workout. These individuals might also have depleted glycogen stores which would make the HIIT workout detrimental to maintaining muscle mass.


If you are always doing the same SS exercise and are looking at the calorie counter to track how much you have burned, stop. Your body adapts to movements and becomes more efficient so the 250 calories you burned the first time you ran 5K is not equal to the calories you are burning today because it has become so much easier.


Take the 130 pound marathon runner who runs 10-20 K a day. He/she might very well burn 1500 calories a day and only consume 2000. Since their basal met. Rate is ex. 1500 calories and day and they are burning 1500 additional ones, they would need to eat 3000 calories /day to simply maintain their LBM. Yet, many eat below and do NOT lose weight. Quite often, this is explained by the fact that they have become so efficient at their exercise that they do NOT burn as many calories as they did at first. The same goes for that person you have seen at the gym that does the SAME cardio for years and never loses any fat. You are all picturing that person now, I know…


HIIT

The major advantage of HIIT is that your metabolism can stay elevated for up to 2 days after your workout depending on how difficult it was. Which means that you are burning more calories and are more prone to having that deficit that is needed for fat loss.


Another advantage of HIIT is that it is short and to the point. You can do as little as 4 x 45 sprints with 3-4 min. rest and accomplish more that the person who ran 5K in terms of metabolic impact.


However, HIIT can be quite hard on your nervous system and you can’t perform it every day. 2-3 times a week, if properly done should be the max.


Conclusion:

If your objective is body composition, you should be combining both forms of cardio in order to maximize the benefits of both. HIIT should only be performed 2-3 times a week and slow cardio at any time. Of course, varying the routine is also critical to prevent muscle adaptation and maximize during and post workout.

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