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Steady State Cardio v/s High Intensity Cardio: The benefits

While high intensity cardio will burn fat quickly, the benefits of Steady State Cardio go beyond mere fat loss

brunch Updated: Mar 23, 2019 23:51 IST
Kamal Singh
Kamal Singh
Hindustan Times
cardio,steady state level cardio,High Intensity Intervals
If you go to the gym and come out completely wiped out, then you are just chasing fatigue.(Shutterstock)

“I find cardio mind numbingly boring, so can I just do High Intensity Intervals.”

As a strength and conditioning trainer, I am asked this question almost on a weekly basis. In fact when I ask my trainees to come to the gym and do cardio, they suddenly develop all kinds of aches and pains or have very important work related meetings to get to – this is particularly hilarious because I am sure no meetings are scheduled at 6:30 in the morning! But the moment someone says High Intensity Cardio, everybody seems game. This is despite the fact that HIIT is brutal, mentally as well as physically, but I suppose it’s that old joke about the guy who was asked why he was banging his head against the wall and he replied, I like it when I stop!

Defining Steady State v/s High Intensity

HIIT training rarely lasts longer than 20 minutes at a time. ( Shutterstock )

If you go to the gym and come out completely wiped out, then you are just chasing fatigue. I realise that we live in a world where “no pain no gain” has been drummed into everybody but is all this necessary? But before I go further, let me define some terms. Steady State aka low intensity cardio is any type of cyclical exercise – running, cycling, rowing, swimming etc., done at a steady pace for about 30-90 minutes. The aim is to keep the heart rate between 120-150 beats per minute.

High Intensity Interval Training, on the other hand, has bursts of high intensity exercise lasting 20 seconds to 60 seconds, followed by periods of active recovery, which could be anywhere from 120 to 180 seconds long. Heart rates spike very high during the high intensity interval while they drop in the active rest period. HIIT training rarely lasts longer than 20 minutes at a time.

The benefits of Steady State Cardio

HIIT is difficult for somebody who is out of shape in terms of cardiovascular fitness. ( Shutterstock )

Everybody seems to be aware of the benefits of HIIT – lots of calorie burning in a short period of time. It’s generally considered a good way to burn fat and quickly develop fitness. But most people are not aware that HIIT plateaus in about four to six weeks. However, this is not the case with Steady State cardio.

The benefits of Steady State Cardio go beyond mere fat loss. Low intensity cardio improves the efficiency of the heart, more blood flows in to the heart and thus more can flow out. This leads to the heart pumping out more blood with each heartbeat and thus the heart becomes a lot more efficient.

Low intensity cardio results in a shift towards a more relaxed state of being. People who engage in low intensity cardio sleep better and hence recover from their exercise bouts at a much faster rate.

Also, the whole HIIT burns more calories and thus is better for fat loss is more marketing hype than the real truth, as HIIT is difficult for somebody who is out of shape in terms of cardiovascular fitness. In fact if you are unfit and overweight, high intensity anything should not figure in your training program, as chances of injury would be very high.

How to incorporate Steady State Cardio in a training week

Steady State aka low intensity cardio is any type of cyclical exercise – running, cycling, rowing, swimming etc., done at a steady pace for about 30-90 minutes. ( Shutterstock )

•If you train three times a week with weights, then do two days of low intensity cardio for 30 to 45 minutes.

•If you are lifting weights four times a week, then doing a 20-minute low intensity cardio session after the weights twice a week is a good way to include heart-friendly cardio in your routine. Also add a 30-minute brisk walk on the fifth day.

•If you are a beginner or want to put on muscle, then stay away from HIIT, as recovery would be severely affected.

Sleep better, recover faster, improve cardiac efficiency and generally feel better all over, what’s not to like about low intensity, steady state cardio?

(A strength and conditioning coach for the last 15 years, Kamal Singh, CSCS, specialises in post rehabilitation training and functional training.)

Follow @KamalSinghCSCS on Twitter

From HT Brunch, March 24, 2019

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First Published: Mar 23, 2019 22:55 IST