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HIIT vs Cardio Training

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HIIT vs Cardio Training

The debate rages between HIIT vs cardio workouts.

Some people love the rapidness of a High-Intensity Interval Training session, while others stand by the effectiveness of a traditional cardiovascular endurance workout.

Both are really very different, though, but both are incredibly effective when they are incorporated into a varied training regime with specific, targeted goals. HIIT is perfect for anyone with limited time who wants to improve their fitness fast. With pull up bands, you can use HIIT to target both cardio fitness and strength.

If you're training your body for a long endurance event, though, you can't skip out on prolonged cardio sessions. There's no replacement for getting solid miles under your shoes. But HIIT can complement endurance training!

In this article, we take a deeper look into the benefits of cardio training and the benefits of HIIT, so you can decide which workout style is best for your fitness goals.

What exactly is HIIT?

Cardiovascular training needs no introduction. Steady-state cardio workouts are one of the most common forms of exercise, and you're practicing it every time you go out for a walk, a jog, or a steady bike ride.

Cardio aims to build endurance while burning fat as you exercise. Steady-state cardio is consistent, with the level of intensity generally remaining the same throughout the exercise. For example, you might run at the same intensity for a total length of 45 minutes, for a steady-state cardio exercise. That's the key to cardio definition; there are no huge differences in intensity.

This is where HIIT differs greatly from cardio. A HIIT workout, or High-Intensity Interval Training, is a workout that combines short bursts of exercise performed at your maximum potential, with short periods of rest. Intense intervals are followed by short recovery intervals. HIIT workouts are similar to circuits, but again, more intense. You can focus on one exercise at intervals or vary the workout and include multiple exercises.

HIIT is a fairly new phenomenon, but it's one that has really taken the fitness world by storm. Compared to steady-state cardio, which needs a prolonged period of time to see results (think how long you need to cycle for to burn calories!), HIIT workouts are often just 20 minutes long, sometimes even less!

For training to be effective, your HIIT heart rate should ideally reach at least 80 percent of its absolute maximum, for at least one full minute at each interval.

HIIT vs steady-state cardio

So, HIIT workouts are short, and they are targeted. They raise your heart rate and help to burn fat quickly, but does that mean that HIIT workouts are better than steady-state cardio workouts?

The answer isn't a simple yes or no.

Let's take a look at the most important benefits of HIIT training to learn more:

  • HIIT raises the heart rate above 80 percent for an intense workout.
  • Raised heart rate leads to shorter exercise time in comparison to traditional workouts.
  • HIIT raises your metabolic rate for the next 24 hours. That means you burn more fat, even after you stop exercising.
  • HIIT can combine both cardio and strength training exercises (it's perfect for resistance bands).
  • Lose fat, improve your fitness, and build strength at the same time.

As you can see, there are clearly some major health and fitness benefits to HIIT workouts. If you've had a busy day, then a 20-minute HIIT session is going to be much more inviting than a 60-minute run, especially if you've got lots of other things to be getting on with!

There are some key points to remember, though, and really, the two styles of exercise are not mutually exclusive. In fact, many top athletes will train with steady-state cardio one day and HIIT the next. Variety really is excellent for your overall bodily fitness.

Is cardio or HIIT better for weight loss?

Fitness fanatics will often focus their energy on trying to decide if HIIT or cardio workouts are the best at helping them lose weight.

Both styles of workout have the potential to help you to lose weight, as both HIIT and cardio will burn through calories and fat.

The key point here, though, is that HIIT will burn through fat quicker, and because the exercises raise your metabolism massively, you continue burning all through the day, long after you've stopped exercising.

If weight-loss is your key target, then HIIT is a clear winner. You can lose weight faster than traditional cardio exercises. A standard HIIT session will be 20 minutes long, and this is likely to burn through as many calories as a 1-hour steady-state cardio session.

Cardio for weight loss just isn't as effective as HIIT for weight loss is.

Can HIIT replace cardio?

HIIT sounds fantastic, doesn't it? But could HIIT replace cardio entirely?

We all lead busy lives, and we all try to make those lives as efficient as they can be. If you can burn more calories with a HIIT workout (and in a shorter space of time,) why would you ever bother going for a run again?

There are a few reasons not to give up cardio entirely, in fact.

For starters, the body is highly and easily adaptable. You'll quickly start to adapt to HIIT workouts when you first take them up. That means it soon gets harder and harder to see quicker results. You need to shock your body every now and then with new exercises to see progress, and that includes cardio alongside more varied HIIT sessions.

HIIT is super-intense too (in case you hadn't gathered!). Too much HIIT can lead to injuries if you overdo it too quickly or are performing exercises wrong. Athletes mix up HIIT with steady-state cardio to give their bodies a chance to recover.

A more relaxed cardio session the day after a HIIT session is great for recovery and can actually help you to develop your fitness more effectively (and safely). Equally, a HIIT session after multiple cardio endurance sessions also gives your body a break!

HIIT can't replace everything either. If you're running a marathon, then your body won't be able to handle the continual strain of several hours worth of running if it's only been put through 20-minute workouts in training. While your cardio might be up to scratch, your joints, your feet, and your muscles won't be trained for endurance!

The reality is that it all depends on what you are training for. Regardless of your goal, a varied exercise regime mixing traditional cardio activities with resistance band focused HIIT workouts are going to be more effective than practicing one style of workout on its own.

You'll build a better all-around level of strength and fitness, and you won't get bored either; variety really is the spice of your fitness life.

HIIT resistance band workout

There are some clear benefits to be gained from incorporating HIIT workouts into your weekly training schedule, particularly if you're short on time and want to build up your fitness. With resistance bands, you can add more difficulty to the workout, too (you can make it much more intense than working out against your own body weight!).

Our 20-minute HIIT resistance band workout is a full-body training session that will help to improve your core fitness and cardio while building muscles and burning fat. Remember, this is HIIT.

That means you need to complete each exercise below at maximum intensity. Perform each exercise as hard as you can for 60 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds, then move onto the next exercise. You only complete 1 circuit of exercises, but trust us; this one's a killer. It's good practice to stretch and loosen up for a few minutes before you commence the workout.

If you're finding the exercises are starting to become too easy, you can select a resistance band with a higher strength to make the circuit more challenging.

Here's our 20-minute HIIT resistance and workout. 90 seconds on, 30 seconds off!

#1 Resistance band split squat (right foot forward)

#2 Resistance band split squat (left foot forward)

#3 Banded bicep curls

#4 Resistance band full squat

#5 Banded shoulder press

#6 Squat hold with resistance band pull apart

#7 Banded push-ups

#8 Banded archer pull (right-hand side)

#9 Banded archer pull (left-hand side)

#10 Banded overhead triceps extension

#11 Crunches

Once you've finished the exercises, you should warm-down with some light stretches to cool off.

HIIT vs cardio: is one really better than the other?

So, in conclusion, there' not really a clear winner when it comes to deciding between HIIT and pure cardio training. They both offer unique benefits, and the style of training that's best for you is really going to depend on what you are training for and what you enjoy doing.

But HIIT, when used in conjunction with endurance cardio training sessions, can give you fantastic results, fast. HIIT is particularly effective if your goal is to lose weight and build up your fitness and strength in a short period of time.

An intense 20-minute workout will give you huge results. On the other hand, if you're training for a marathon, then HIIT on its own just won't cut it, but it will help yo build up your fitness as part of a wider training regime!

Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Katherine is a CrossFit expert with humble origins. Starting out on a ranch, ever since she was nine, she spent most of her life roping and competing in team roping. After finding bodyweight exercises interesting she sought after a career in CrossFit and dedicated her life towards achieving the body of her dreams. Today Katherine is a personal trainer that loves to travel the world and change the lives of her clients.

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