To HIIT or not to HIIT?
Which Should I DO?
As is usually the case, there are advantages to both methods. If you have to chose one over the other however, it would depend on several factors that are specific to the individual.
1. How much time do you have to devote to conditioning aside from resistance training?
2. Do you enjoy longer bouts of aerobic cardio like jogging or rowing or do you like for your cardio to be short, sweet, and intense?
3. What is your fitness level? Are you a beginner or are you advanced?
Lets first take a look at the advantages and disadvantages or steady state aerobic cardio. Steady state implies that your heart rate stays elevated to a moderate intensity for the duration of your cardio session without much fluctuation. During steady state cardio we want to maintain 60-70% of maximal heart rate capacity for 20 minutes or more with the heart rate around 120-150 bpm. Steady-state cardio can be very rewarding. Some people really enjoy long speed walks or jogging at a consistent pace. IT gives you time to think about life or watch the new episode of Game of Thrones. It also produces the highly sought after “runner’s high.” The release of endorphins that follows a steady-state cardio session can become highly addictive. Some people enjoy the sweat dripping from their nose and the fluid, rhythmic sound of their steps as they jog. These people are weird as hell. I personally will take a quick 15 minute, all out HIIT cardio session over an hour long jog any day of the week. The advantages of steady-state are that it is less intense (great for beginners), releases feel good chemicals, and burns fat when done strategically and consistently. The disadvantages are that steady state is boring as hell, takes longer, and doesn’t burn fat as quickly as HIIT cardio.
Now lets take an in depth look at HIIT cardio. High intensity cardio is anaerobic cardiac output as opposed to aerobic. This simply means that we are trying to reach almost maximum cardiac output upwards of 90-100%. During HIIT we are focused on 10-60 second high intensity bursts followed by ample recovery time of at least equal to or double the work time (and much of the time even more). For example, me might do a 30 second incline sprint on the treadmill at 12 mph followed by a 60 second medium pace incline walk at about 3.3 mph. As you can imagine if you have never done HIIT before, this can be very difficult and requires practice and steady progression. There are a couple of different ways to set up and gauge your HIIT cardio sessions should you chose this style of cardio. The advantages of HIIT cardio are that it takes less time, is more fun, and burns fat faster than HIIT.
The Work to Rest Ratio
In this style of HIIT we simply chose a work time limit and a recovery time limited and alternate between the two. For example, we would do 30 seconds of work followed by 60 seconds of recovery. It is important to note however that the more conditioned you are, the less recovery is needed. Conversely, we generally want to increase recovery time for each successive interval to insure proper recovery since the time needed to recover takes a bit longer after each interval. An example of this would look like this:
60 seconds Work–60 seconds Rest
60 seconds Work–70 seconds rest
60 seconds Work–80 seconds Rest
The Heart Rate Method
With this method we choose and appropriate work heart rate (90-100%) and recovery heart rate, which should be somewhere around 60% of maximum heart rate. After a work interval of a predetermined time or distance is completed, the recovery is simply set by the time required to return to recovery heart rate of around 60%
At Fitness United our coaches use a combination of both techniques with our members. Both styles are effective by themselves but even more so when combined. If you have the time and you are serious about your goals, doing a combination of both steady-state cardio and HIIT cardio will produce the best results. Every session at FitU ends with conditioning. Most of the time we are doing some form of anaerobic HIIT to finish off the workout. We do everything from sled sprints, deadmill sprints, heavy rope work, tire flips, sledge hammer hits,shuttles, biking, rowing, or elliptical bursts. In the article Steady-State Cardio vs HIIT, Adrew Heffernan suggests that, “The best system of cardiovascular training probably isn’t the all or nothing approach. Rather it’s a blend of both higher and lower intensity cardio training that’s tailored to your body and your goals.”
Weather you prefer steady-state or HIIT cardio you are likely to see the benefits of either. However, if you are wanting the most bang for your buck I highly recommend choosing a 20 minute HIIT session over a grueling 60 minute, boring ass treadmill walk. That’s just me though. Remember, if you have the time, do both! For optimal results do at least 3-4 steady-state cardio sessions a week and 1-2 15-20 minute HIIT sessions a week as well. This should NOT be a substitute for weight training however. If you have to chose only one thing to do, LIFT!