In recent years, there has been a lot of talk in the world of fitness surrounding the topic of cardiovascular exercise.

Cardio can be performed in a variety of ways, so in this article we’re going to compare the most common forms to determine which, if any, is the most effective for fat loss, and which is may be more suitable for your body and your goals.

Low-Intensity Steady State Cardio

Assuming your goal is fat loss, one school of thought is that cardio sessions ought to be performed at a low to moderate level of intensity for periods of anything from 30 minutes all the way up to a couple of hours (ouch!)

Often referred to as low-intensity steady state or LISS cardio, it is often recommended that this form of cardio be performed first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. This is because your muscle and liver glycogen stores will have run down during the night, leaving you in a fasted state primed for fat loss.

This makes some sense when you consider that low-intensity exercise is aerobic in nature and utilises a slow-burning fuel – fat – to make the magic happen, so if our glycogen levels are depleted, it follows logically that our bodies will be able to tap straight into its fat reserves rather than burning off excess glucose first.

High-Intensity Interval Training

At the opposite end of the spectrum we have high-intensity interval training or HIIT.

HIIT can be performed in a variety of ways but the basic premise is that you must perform some intense exercise for an allotted time period followed by a longer period where you essentially coast and allow your heart rate to come back down.

An example of a typical HIIT session may look like this:

  • 5 minutes warm up
  • 10 seconds all out sprint
  • 50 seconds coast
  • 10 seconds all out sprint
  • 50 seconds coast
  • 10 seconds all out sprint
  • …and so on

This can be performed outside on a road or track, or on a hill, treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bicycle.

There are also other popular time ratios used in HIIT, including:

  • 30 seconds sprint / 60-90 seconds coast; and
  • 6 seconds sprint / 30 seconds coast

The theory behind HIIT is that it encourages what is referred to as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC.

EPOC is credited with providing a significant ‘afterburn’ effect where your base metabolic rate will be increased for 24-36 hours following a HIIT session. Simply put, this means that you are burning more calories throughout the day, even if you’re sitting around in front of the box doing bugger all.

So Who Comes Out on Top?

As with many areas of the health and fitness world, many people become emotionally invested in a particular way of doing things, resulting in a LISS and HIIT camps being formed and people becoming increasingly polarised in their opinions.

Of course, we’re a little more level-headed than that and we can clearly see from the results of hundreds of people who have used these methods that both approaches work.

So let’s weigh up the pros and cons of LISS and HIIT to determine which one is right for you.

LISS Pros

  • Minimal impact on joints
  • Well-suited to unconditioned individuals who are new to exercise
  • A brisk walk or jog can easily be incorporated into your daily routine

LISS Cons

  • Can become incredibly time-consuming
  • Many people find LISS very boring
  • No afterburn effect

HIIT Pros

  • Very short sessions usually lasting 8-20 minutes
  • More challenging, which many people find motivating
  • Increase in metabolism via the afterburn effect

HIIT Cons

  • More impactful on joints
  • Usually not well-suited to unconditioned individuals who are new to exercise

So as we can see, both distance running and sprints have their own benefits and downsides, so it is a case of figuring out which works best for you.

Conclusion

Personalising your approach to exercise and tailoring it to your own fitness levels and body type is going to produce far greater long-term progress than simply jumping on to the nearest bandwagon because you read an article which says X is the best way of doing things.

So, if you are short on time because of work and family demands, HIIT may be better for you, but if you’re fairly overweight or suffer from weak joints, you might need to opt for a more gentle form of jogging, walking, cycling, or swimming before building up to more intense exercise.

By applying this balanced mindset to all areas of your health and fitness, you’re sure to safeguard your success for the future and prevent unnecessary injuries or progress plateaus.

The key is to not get too caught up in the details and the hot debates, and instead use trial and error to figure out which is the most suitable approach for you.

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Gavin Walsh
Gavin Walsh

A British fitness and fat loss magician that helps men and women lose the jelly from their belly pronto. Gavin is the head coach here at Body Fixers and has been featured in the likes of Men's Health, Women's Health and Men's Fitness, as well appearing on British TV several times with delightful nuggets of fitness and fat loss wisdom.

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