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HIIT vs Steady-State Cardio: How Are They Different?

There are lots of different ways to train your cardiovascular system. 2 types I will discuss here are called HIIT (high-intensity interval training), and steady-state training. Both are great options for cardio, but there are some key differences between the two.


What is steady-state training?

With steady-state training, you exercise at a lower intensity for a longer duration of time. After warming up, you increase your speed so that you are within around 50-60% of your max heart rate, and keep that rate and speed throughout your workout. This type of cardio training can be done for 30 to 60 minutes, or even longer to build endurance. 

What is HIIT training?

In HIIT training, the work intervals are very intense, taking you to within 80-90% of your max heart rate. Work intervals are usually anywhere between 20 to 45 seconds. After each intense work interval, there is what’s called an “active rest” interval, which can be between 10 to 20 seconds (or longer, depending on your own individual needs). During active rest, you keep moving but at a lower intensity. This allows the heart rate to slow down a bit, and gives your muscles a chance to get ready for the next high-intensity work period. Throughout the workout, you just keep alternating between work/active rest intervals. 

HIIT cardio training sessions can last anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes, depending on your fitness level and goals. Since this type of training is very intense, you don’t have to workout as long as you would with steady-state training, to get the same (or better) cardiovascular and fat-burning benefits. 


An important caution

Keep in mind that it’s not advisable to do HIIT training more than 2 or 3 times per week. While it is a very beneficial type of training (and fun!), it is also very taxing on the body. If done to an extreme, it can cause too much stress to your system, leading to burnout. 

Having said this, it is a good idea to balance out your cardio HIIT training with steady-state cardio workouts. For example, one way to do this would be to do 2 or 3 HIIT workouts, and also 2 or 3 steady-state workouts per week.

Another way would be to do 3 HIIT workouts one week, then alternate that with a week of steady-state workouts.

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Cool down and stretch

After completing either a steady-state or HIIT cardio workout, it is important to cool down for at least 5 minutes, to bring your heart rate back down to normal. This can be accomplished by simply walking at a slower pace. If working out indoors, you can cool down by doing some slower movements such as marching in place, or stepping side-to-side. 

After you cool down, it is a good time to do some stretching. It doesn’t take long to give your muscles a nice stretch, so don’t skip this very important part of your workout! Just taking 5 minutes to stretch out the major muscle groups can go a long way toward keeping your flexibility, and avoiding muscle strains and soreness.


Now we know the two basic differences between steady-state and HIIT cardio workouts: the work intervals, and the intensity of the work.

Steady-state = lower intensity at a constant speed, at mid-range of max heart rate, for a longer duration of total workout time.

HIIT = alternating intervals of higher intensity at almost max heart rate, followed by lower-intensity rest periods, generally for a shorter duration of total workout time.

In Conclusion

Now that I have explained the differences between steady-state and HIIT cardio training, you’ll know a little better what to expect when choosing your next cardio workout. Both styles are great options for training the cardiovascular system, and there are benefits to each. Which is the best for you really depends on your own preference and fitness goals.

Please feel free to leave any thoughts or questions in the comments below.

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