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Difference Between HIIT and Steady State Cardio

The Benefits and Differences, with a Closer Look at Specific Workouts

When it comes to cardio, there are two primary modalities that stand out: High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Steady-State Cardio.

Each form of cardio has its unique benefits and is best suited to different fitness levels and goals. In this blog post, we’ll take an in-depth look at these two forms of cardio, unpack their respective benefits and differences, and also provide specific workout examples for both HIIT and Steady-State cardio.

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The Basics: HIIT vs. Steady-State Cardio

Before diving into the differences and benefits, let’s first understand what each term means.

HIIT, or High-Intensity Interval Training, is a form of exercise that involves short, intense periods of exertion, followed by periods of rest or lower-intensity exercise. These bursts of high-intensity workouts are designed to raise your heart rate and metabolism significantly.

On the other hand, Steady-State Cardio involves maintaining a consistent, moderate level of exertion for a prolonged period. This type of exercise focuses on endurance and is characterized by a steady heart rate and oxygen consumption during the workout.

Benefits and Differences Between Steady State Cardio and HIIT

Steady-State Cardio is the traditional form of cardiovascular exercise. It has several benefits:

  • Improved Cardiovascular Health: Regular steady-state cardio can help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and decrease the risk of heart disease.
  • Improved Endurance: By training at a consistent pace for a prolonged period, your body learns to use oxygen more efficiently, increasing your endurance.
  • Fat Burning: Steady-state cardio is effective at burning fat, as it primarily uses fat stores for fuel.
  • Easier on the Body: This type of workout is generally easier on the body, making it suitable for beginners and those recovering from injury or illness.

HIIT, on the other hand, offers different benefits:

  • Efficient Calorie Burn: Due to its high-intensity nature, HIIT burns a large number of calories in a short amount of time.
  • Increased Metabolic Rate: HIIT can raise your metabolic rate for hours after exercise, resulting in additional calorie burn long after you’ve finished your workout.
  • Muscle Building: Unlike steady-state cardio, HIIT can help build muscle due to the intense exertion involved.
  • Time-Efficient: HIIT workouts can be done in a short amount of time, making them ideal for those with busy schedules.

Workout Exercises

HIIT workouts can be performed using various exercises, including running, cycling, rowing, and bodyweight exercises.

Steady-state cardio can also be done with various activities, such as jogging, swimming, or cycling.

HIIT Workouts

  1. Treadmill Sprints: Warm up with a 5-minute jog, then sprint for 30 seconds, followed by a 1-minute walk or jog. Repeat for 15-20 minutes, then cool down with a 5-minute walk. Treadmill Deals
  2. Jump Rope HIIT: Warm up for 5 minutes, then jump rope as fast as possible for 30 seconds. Rest for 1 minute. Repeat 10-15 times.
  3. Tabata Squats: Warm up with a light jog or some jumping jacks. Then do air squats for 20 seconds as fast as possible, and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this cycle 8 times.
  4. HIIT Cycling: Warm up with light cycling, then sprint for 30 seconds, followed by 1 minute of light cycling. Repeat for 20-30 minutes, then cool down with light cycling.
  5. Burpee HIIT: Warm up for 5 minutes. Perform burpees for 30 seconds, and rest for 1 minute. Repeat 10-15 times.
  6. Kettlebell Swings HIIT: Warm up for 5 minutes. Perform kettlebell swings for 30 seconds, and rest for 30 seconds. Repeat for 15 rounds.
  7. Mountain Climbers HIIT: Warm up with light jogging. Perform mountain climbers as fast as possible for 30 seconds, and rest for 1 minute. Repeat 10-15 times.
  8. Plyometric Jump HIIT: Warm up with a light jog. Perform plyometric box jumps or jump squats for 30 seconds, followed by 1 minute of rest. Repeat for 10-15 rounds.
  9. HIIT Rowing: Warm up with light rowing, then row as fast as possible for 30 seconds, followed by 1 minute of light rowing. Repeat for 15-20 minutes, then cool down with light rowing.
  10. Push-Up HIIT: Warm up for 5 minutes. Perform push-ups as quickly as possible for 30 seconds, and rest for 1 minute. Repeat 10-15 times.

Steady-State Cardio Workouts

  1. Steady State Running: After a warm-up, run at a steady, moderate pace for 30-60 minutes. Cool down with a slow jog or walk. Treadmill Deals
  2. Steady State Swimming: Warm up with light swimming, then swim at a moderate pace for 30-60 minutes. Cool down with slow, easy swimming.
  3. Cycling: Warm up with light cycling, then cycle at a moderate, steady pace for 30-60 minutes. Cool down with slow, easy cycling.
  4. Elliptical Trainer: Warm up for 5 minutes at a slow pace, then increase to a moderate intensity that you can maintain for 30-60 minutes. Cool down for 5 minutes at a slow pace. Elliptical Deals on Amazon
  5. Rowing: Warm up with light rowing, then row at a steady, moderate pace for 30-60 minutes. Cool down with light rowing.
  6. Stair Climber: Warm up with a slow pace, then increase to moderate, maintainable intensity for 30-60 minutes. Cool down with a slow pace. Climber Deals on Amazon
  7. Walking: Warm up with a light walk, then increase to a brisk walk for 45-60 minutes, cooling down with a slow walk.
  8. Aerobic Classes: Engage in a Zumba or dance class, keeping a steady pace throughout the class duration.
  9. Cross-Country Skiing: After warming up, ski at a moderate, steady pace for 30-60 minutes. Cool down with light skiing.
  10. Hiking: Choose a moderate trail and maintain a steady pace for an hour or more. The warm-up and cool-down can be lighter sections of the trail.

Is steady state cardio better than HIIT?

The question of whether steady-state cardio is “better” than High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) isn’t black and white. The truth is, each form of exercise has its unique advantages, and the choice between the two should be dictated by your fitness goals, physical health, preferences, and lifestyle.

Steady-state cardio can be ideal for:

  • Beginners: If you’re new to exercise or returning after a long break, steady-state cardio may be a safer and more comfortable place to start.
  • Endurance Training: If you’re training for a long-distance event like a marathon, steady-state cardio can help build the endurance you’ll need.
  • Active Recovery: If you’re doing intense strength training or HIIT on other days, incorporating steady-state cardio can help your body recover while still keeping active.
  • Individuals with Certain Health Considerations: For those with joint issues, heart conditions, or other health concerns, steady-state cardio might be a safer option.

HIIT can be a good choice for:

  • Burning Calories Quickly: HIIT workouts tend to burn a high number of calories in a short time span, which can be beneficial for weight loss.
  • Saving Time: Because of their intensity, HIIT workouts tend to be shorter than steady-state workouts, making them a good option for those with busy schedules.
  • Building Strength and Endurance: HIIT workouts can help improve both your aerobic (endurance) and anaerobic (strength and power) fitness.
  • Post-Workout Calorie Burn: Thanks to the ‘afterburn effect’ (also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC), your body can continue burning calories at an elevated rate after a HIIT workout.

Does steady state cardio burn more calories than HIIT?

While steady-state cardio can burn a substantial number of calories, HIIT typically burns more calories in a shorter amount of time due to its high-intensity nature and the afterburn effect, where the body continues to burn calories after the workout.

Which is more effective for weight loss: HIIT or steady-state cardio?

While both HIIT and steady-state cardio can aid in weight loss, HIIT tends to be more effective for burning calories in a shorter period due to its high-intensity nature.

Moreover, HIIT also stimulates the ‘afterburn effect,’ causing your body to burn more calories for hours after the workout.

However, the most effective method will depend on individual preferences, time availability, and physical condition. It’s crucial to maintain consistency with whichever method you choose.

Is HIIT or steady-state cardio better for improving cardiovascular health?

Both HIIT and steady-state cardio have been shown to improve cardiovascular health by strengthening the heart, lowering blood pressure, and improving overall cardiovascular function.

HIIT workouts can provide these benefits in shorter workout sessions, but they can be challenging for beginners or those with certain health conditions.

Steady-state cardio, on the other hand, may take a longer duration but is generally more manageable for most people and still provides excellent cardiovascular benefits.

Can I combine HIIT and steady-state cardio in my workout routine?

Absolutely, combining HIIT and steady-state cardio in your workout routine can provide a well-rounded approach to fitness.

You might do HIIT workouts on some days for an intense, calorie-burning session and steady-state cardio on other days to build endurance and facilitate active recovery. This combination can help to avoid overtraining and promote a balanced fitness regimen.

What are the risks and considerations when choosing between HIIT and steady-state cardio?

When choosing between HIIT and steady-state cardio, it’s essential to consider several factors:

Personal Fitness Level: HIIT can be intense and may not be suitable for beginners or those with certain health conditions. In contrast, steady-state cardio is generally more accessible for all fitness levels.

Injury Risk: Due to its high intensity, HIIT may pose a higher risk of injury, especially if not done with the proper form and technique.

Time Commitment: HIIT workouts are usually shorter than steady-state cardio workouts, so they might be more suitable if you’re time-constrained.

Health Conditions: Those with cardiovascular conditions, joint problems, or other health issues should consult with a healthcare provider before starting a HIIT regimen.

Goals: Your specific fitness goals should guide your choice. If you’re aiming for improved endurance or active recovery, steady-state cardio can be beneficial. If your goal is quick calorie burn or improving anaerobic fitness, HIIT might be a better fit.

Chart: Key Differences between HIIT and Steady-State Cardio


Here’s a quick comparison chart to highlight the differences between HIIT and Steady-State Cardio:

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)Steady-State Cardio
DurationShorter (typically 20-30 minutes)Longer (typically 30-60 minutes)
IntensityHigh-intensity intervals alternating with lower-intensity periodsLow to moderate intensity maintained throughout
Calorie BurnHigher in a shorter time, with continued burn post-workout due to the ‘afterburn effect’Lower during the workout, but sustained over a longer period
Fitness LevelMore suited to intermediate/advanced levels, or those accustomed to physical exertionMore suited to all fitness levels, including beginners
EnduranceIncreases both aerobic (endurance) and anaerobic (strength and power) fitnessPrimarily improves aerobic endurance
Time EfficiencyMore efficient: achieves similar or greater results in less timeLess efficient: requires a longer duration to achieve similar results
Risk of InjuryHigher due to the intense nature of the workoutLower, as the exercises are usually less strenuous
RecoveryRequires more recovery time due to intensityGenerally requires less recovery time

Final Thoughts

Both HIIT and Steady-State Cardio offer unique benefits and can cater to different fitness goals. If you’re pressed for time and want a quick, intense workout, HIIT might be the way to go. If you’re seeking to improve endurance or want a workout that’s easier on the body, Steady-State Cardio may be your best bet.

Ultimately, the best form of cardio is the one that you enjoy and will stick with in the long term. Always consult with a fitness professional or healthcare provider when introducing new exercises into your routine.

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