To Run or to Sprint… That is the question.
Cardio: Long and steady or fast and grueling. This is a constant question I deal with when clients ask about what type of cardio they need to do. There are benefits to both types of cardio and, like most things with training and nutrition, the best program is the program you enjoy most.
Steady State Cardio:
Steady state cardio is simply going out for a run or jog, training at the same pace, keeping a steady heart rate for 30 min to an hour or longer. In today’s world, many people believe that high intensity cardio is the best way to get in shape and burn fat, which isn’t wrong, but there is still a place in your program for steady state.
For a person just starting a training program, steady state cardio is a great way to get moving again. It will burn calories and get your body use to the stress of training. It is also great for seniors who may have developed knee issues over their lifetime and can’t sprint or push the cardio as hard as they used to.
Steady state cardio is also great for athletes or gym regulars who go super hard in the gym all week because the recovery is a lot easier than high intensity cardio. Your body needs to rest sometimes so toning it down with an easy paced run is good. This will also help build up your aerobic capacity and overall endurance.
Lastly, if you just prefer to go for a nice long run over a shorter more intense run, then go for it. You are getting out there and moving which is better than most Americans today.
High Intensity Cardio:
Over the last 10 years, high intensity interval training (HIIT) has really picked up steam. There has been a ton of research showing all the benefits of HIIT training. You can also see its popularity with the increase in boot camp facilities, CrossFit facilities and numerous different HIIT classes offered at your local gym.
What is HIIT and why has it become so popular? HIIT can be anything from sprint intervals on a track to a very intense workout in a gym that will last anywhere from 5-15 min where you are working at or near your MAX heart rate. The American College of Sports Medicine did a study that showed a 2 week HIIT training program can produce the same results as an 8-week steady state program. HIIT training is much more stressful than steady state cardio so your body will burn more calories post workout also.
You are probably thinking to yourself, why doesn’t everyone use a HIIT program for cardio if in 15 min you can get the same results as 1 hour of running? To truly be working at a high intensity as described in the research you need to be at about 90% of your max heart rate which can be a very uncomfortable place to be. If you don’t like the push involved in a HIIT program, then steady state may be your program of choice. If you like the raw intensity of a HIIT program, then get after it.
Don’t stress over which is “THE BEST”. If you still don’t know which you think works better, just mix it up. One day do some HIIT, next day go for a long run. Cover all your bases. Whatever you choose just choose something you like and stick with it. Consistency = Success!