HIIT Vs Cardio For Weight Loss

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If you wanna lose fat, you’ll wanna use your exercise time efficiently.

So you might be wondering whether high intensity interval training or LIS, which is low intensity, steady state, is better cardio for you.

There’s also something called moderate intensity continuous training, which is used in the research.

I’ll go through what the latest research says about cardio and fat loss. And there’s actually two very interesting studies that came out in 2021 that give us a very good idea of what type of cardio is best for fat loss.

At the end, I’m gonna help you decide what form of cardio is right for you.

And I’m gonna tell you what I do myself as well.

The Importance Of Cardio

All forms of cardio are beneficial for your health, which you to all be moving more often than we are.

The two studies that I’m gonna talk about compared high intensity interval exercise with MICT, which is moderate intensity, continuous training.

They were meta analyses, which means that both of the studies were going through other studies that were done prior to evaluate for quality, and then comparing all the high quality studies and trying to determine what the evidence actually says.

Fat Loss And Health Markers

In the first study, they looked at fat loss and they also looked at markers of health.

Not surprisingly, high intensity interval exercise was shown to be more effective at increasing cardio, respiratory fitness and cardiovascular health, but moderate intensity continuous training was shown to be better at improving long term glucose metabolism.

I’m gonna go into a little bit more detail in the second study, cuz there’s some interesting stuff there about fat loss.

This research study was called “slow and steady or hard and fast”.

How To Perform HIIT Workouts

There are a couple of different ways of doing HIIT training. You can either go fully all out. Sometimes that is considered sprint training and then you completely stop. Or you can just go to a slower pace.

So if you’re doing this on a bike, (which is for me, a highly recommended form of way of losing fat with minimal risk) you’re sprinting all out by pedaling, as hard as you can really getting the heart rate up and then you slow it down to a slow pedaling speed to allow the heart rate to recover. When you’re ready, you push it back up again. You can do these as timed intervals, or you can just do this according to your own recovery.

So when you’re ready, you just push yourself again.

Now here we come to the main findings of this study.

HIIT and MICT were virtually identical in the amount of fat lost adherence to the exercise program was similar in both conditions.

So often we think that people are gonna have a harder time doing HIIT because it’s more challenging and then steady state.

They’re more likely to stick to that. But that’s not actually shown in the evidence.

People are just as likely to stick to a HIIT program as they are a steady state cardio program. This is a little bit surprising. Enjoyment was relatively similar. So you might think that people don’t want to do interval training and enjoy steady state more because it feels easier. But in fact, it looks like there’s a slight edge when it comes to enjoyment for interval training compared to steady state cardio, but they are pretty much the same, at least in the studies that were analyzed.

HIIT Is More Efficient

And that brings us to another major finding, which is that hit accomplishes the same result in less than half the time. But it requires a harder level of exertion. And not everybody’s willing to do that. You have to push yourself more and a lot of people can’t do that on their own. And some people don’t have the fitness or the mental toughness to do it, especially at the beginning when they might not be aware of what their actual fitness level is or what they’re able to do.

The increase in fat free mass was almost nothing for either of the types of cardio. This is further evidence that cardio activity is really not that great for putting on muscle. You’re not adding mass, you’re simply losing body fat. So if you’re only doing cardio and you’re expecting to build muscle that way, it likely won’t work.

Fat Loss Is Small?!

And the last finding the study, it’s a little bit disheartening, but I’ll tell you how it can apply to you.

The absolute amount of fat loss is relatively small.

So this is starting to add to the research that shows that exercise on own is not an ideal fat loss solution. There are many ways that it’s beneficial and it’s been shown that people who do engage in exercise are more likely to maintain weight loss over the long term. When you’re looking at two or three years down the line, it’s often a measure of lifestyle adherence. If someone’s exercising, they tend to stick with their diet as well. But if we, we just isolate fat loss on its own from exercise, we find that the results are not as effective as we might think. The overall conclusion was that structured exercise only has minor effects on fat loss, regardless of intensity of effort and duration.

When performed at relatively modest doses, the amount of exercise required to achieve practically meaningful changes in this outcome seems to be unrealistic for most individuals.

So the conclusion there is something that I’ve been trying to put into my videos recently is that dietary restriction getting into a calorie deficit and following a diet that gets you burning off fat is actually the best strategy for fat loss, but we’re also hoping that you wanna improve your health. And cardio is a big part of that.

My Takeaway

Here’s my takeaway from all this research, do whatever cardio works for you, whatever you enjoy and that you’re going to stick to. So whether it’s jogging or sprinting or cycling or Zumba, it doesn’t really matter. Just get yourself out there, get yourself moving and keep burning those calories. However you can walking is all you can do. That’s great. Go ahead and do the walking over time.

You might be able to walk a little bit faster and then you don’t have to walk as long to burn the same amount of calories. Although there is some adaptation over a period of time, so you’re gonna burn fewer calories. As you get fitter, you can walk longer or you can walk faster.

HIIT Vs Cardio For You?

As long as you do it consistently with sufficient duration and intensity, then you’re gonna get the benefits for your health and a moderate amount of fat loss as well. The more you do the more fat loss you’ll get, even if it is relatively minor, remember that the studies use moderate intensity, continuous training and not low intensity steady state. So that would be just a slightly higher intensity. And we can probably assume that the fat loss benefits of low intensity cardio are gonna be even lower than moderate intensity. If you’re doing them for the same duration.

But if you compare high intensity interval training with low intensity steady state, then you’ll probably find that that’s just going to require a longer duration. So if you’re doing lower intensity, you just have to go for a little bit longer and then you’re gonna get similar fat burning effects. We already said high intensity interval training is gonna take you less than half the time of moderate intensity in order to get the salt. So low intensity steady state would take you even longer to get the same result.

Cardio Is Safe

One important finding that I thought was quite interesting. There was no real difference in adverse outcomes. This basically means injury coming from that training. So whether the subjects were doing high intensity interval training or moderate intensity, there was no real difference in injury. And the injury rates were extremely low. So most forms of cardio are perfectly safe.

Personal Preference For HIIT Vs Cardio

Some people would rather do their workout quicker, but push themselves a little bit harder. Other people would rather take their time or they just don’t feel comfortable pushing themselves. Which one are you? It’s fine to stick to moderate or even lower intensity cardio for my clients. I usually work with them, decide what’s gonna be best for them. If they’ve been training for a while and they’re super comfortable and they wanna have a bit of a challenge, then high intensity interval training can be quite useful and enjoyable as well.

My Routine (HIIT Vs Cardio Balance)

A lot of the things that I do for cardio like mountain biking or downhill skiing or martial arts naturally incorporate some interval training into them, but I don’t really, really need to time anything. I just try to push myself occasionally if I’m feeling up for it. So I don’t concern myself much with the fat loss benefits of the activity.

I find that when I’m more active, I tend to stay leaner anyway. And I keep up my weight training as well to maintain muscle mass.

What I Recommend To My Clients

So I recommend that my clients do whatever form of cardio they enjoy. I ask that they try to push it a little, a bit harder over time as they get more fit.

Most of my clients have been active for a period of time before they come to me. So they’re not generally beginners.

But for anyone that I work with that is a complete beginner, I usually think that walking is a great idea. And that’s what I recommend, especially if someone’s been very sedentary for a long period of time. Just getting out and walking more often can be really helpful.

I always try to get people to find the type of cardio that they really enjoy and that they know they’re gonna be able to continue with your heart doesn’t care. What activity you do. All it cares about is how fast it’s pumping. So make sure you’ve got some type of cardio in your workout plan.

Ivana Chapman

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Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman BSc BA CSCS is a Canadian fitness and nutrition coach, happy wife, and mom to an energetic 7-year-old boy. She is a YouTuber, writer, published fitness model, speaker, 3rd Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, former World Cup Karate Champion, one-time marathoner, and CBBF National level Natural Bikini competitor. She loves weight training and chocolate, not always in that order of preference.
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