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Unlocking the Weight Loss Debate: HIIT Vs. Cardio

Yiwen Lu, MS, RD, CPT
August 25, 2023
December 19, 2023

Losing weight can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to choosing the right exercise routine. Two commonly discussed options are High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and steady-state cardio. While both methods have their advantages, it's important to understand their differences and weigh the benefits of each exercise to create a workout program that suits your unique needs.

What is HIIT?

HIIT, also known as High-Intensity Interval Training, is a dynamic workout approach that combines brief, intense exercises like sprints, jumping jacks, burpees, and kettlebell swings with intervals of rest or easier movements. Curious to find out if this exercise style suits you? Read more here.

Pros and Cons of HIIT

Pros

  • Time efficient:
Busy bee? Consider HIIT workouts—it's a time-saving powerhouse that torches calories faster than traditional cardio.
  • Increased post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC): Like a bonus round, HIIT triggers EPOC, where your body keeps burning calories and using oxygen even after the workout ends.
  • Improved cardiovascular health: HIIT's mix of intense bursts and quick recovery challenges your heart, improving its fitness. 
  • Better endurance: HIIT boosts your body's oxygen use during exercise, enhancing endurance and stamina. 

Cons

  • Higher risk of injury: HIIT comes with a higher risk of injury if you don't maintain proper form and technique. 
  • More stress on the joints and muscles:
Trying out HIIT? Careful if you have joint or muscle issues, as the explosive movements might put too much stress on them.
  • Longer recovery time between sessions:
High intensity requires extended recovery. Always allow your body sufficient time to heal and rejuvenate between HIIT sessions.
  • Not suitable for everyone: HIIT isn't for everyone. If you have cardiovascular or orthopedic concerns, it's wise to consult with a professional or adapt HIIT workouts to suit your needs. 

What is Steady-State Cardio?

Steady-state cardio, on the other hand, refers to continuous, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise performed for an extended period, at around 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate. Examples include jogging, cycling, swimming, or using the elliptical machine at a steady pace for a duration of around 30 minutes or longer.

Pros and Cons of Cardio

Pros

  • Suitable for all fitness levels: Cardio workouts are suitable for all fitness levels. They're easy to learn and can be adapted to meet individual needs. 
  • Improved lung capacity:
Cardio boosts lung capacity by enhancing oxygen delivery during exercise. Aim for 150 minutes weekly for better conditioning!
  • Healthier heart: Regular cardio exercise fights off heart disease, stroke, and high cholesterol. 
  • Better mood: Cardio triggers the release of dopamine and serotonin, those wonderful "feel good" hormones. 

Cons

  • More time consuming: Steady state cardio can be a time-consuming affair. It usually requires more time to burn calories and reap cardiovascular benefits compared to intense workouts like HIIT. 
  • Less EPOC: You won't experience the same prolonged calorie burn post-workout as you would with intense workouts like HIIT. 
  • Can become monotonous: The lack of variety in steady state cardio routines can make them feel repetitive and monotonous.

Debunking the "Fat-Burning Zone" Myth

You may have heard about the "fat-burning zone," which advises a lower heart rate (around 50-70% of max) for burning fat. But here's the real deal: Burning fat isn't just about heart rate. High-intensity exercise burns more calories overall. Plus, it boosts your metabolism, helps build muscle, and keeps your body burning calories even after you're done working out. 

Takeaways

So, which option is better? Well, there's no definitive winner. It all comes down to factors like your schedule, fitness level, preferences, and health conditions. Here's my suggestion: Why not embrace the best of both worlds? Incorporating a variety of exercises at different intensities, along with a nutritious, well-rounded diet, holds the key to conquering those persistent pounds. If you're still unsure, don't hesitate to reach out to your Care Team for guidance. They're always here for you!

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