HIIT vs Aerobic Workouts

There’s a big obsession with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) in the fitness industry.

The benefits are that it gets faster results than aerobic (sometimes called Steady State Training), improves muscle mass, burns fat, and improves cardiovascular system.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

An HIIT session consists of short bursts of very intensive exercise, for example sprinting, alternating with periods of very low intensity to recover. A common ratio is 1 to 2 such as one minute sprint followed by two minutes easy recovery. These are repeated for a duration of about 20 to 30 minutes. The high stress involved makes a 50 minute session very demanding and requires at least two days recovery so that two sessions a week are all most people can cope with.

The popularity of HIIT stems from the time challenged person to get maximum benefit from two 30 minute workouts per week. The downside of HIIT is that it is both mentally and physically demanding and the physical stresses can cause injuries especially to the less fit. Post workout the body continues to burn fat.

Steady State Training (SST)

Steady State Training is a more traditional approach where exercise is done at a fairly low intensity for a long duration of 30 to 60 minutes such as a brisk walk or jogging. One advantage of SST is that it can be done for longer and more frequently than HIIT.

The question is, which should you do?

The answer, as with most things, is it depends. If you don’t have much time, then HIIT might be the better option with a couple of 30 minute workouts per week. On the other hand, if you can exercise 3 or 4 times a week for say 30 to 60 minutes then SST is better. SST also allows the mind to adopt a more meditative state with deep steady breathing. You can practice Mindfulness during your SST session by focusing on your breathing and learning about your physical sensations.

So with each approach having its benefits the simple answer is to adopt a fitness régime that includes a bit of both.

This leads us onto the concept of Training Programs.

However, variety is the spice of life. A good exercise program needs to be variable to keep it interesting. If you’re just starting an exercise régeme the less depending SST is recommended as it gives time for the body to adjust to the movements involved. After a period of time HIIT can be introduced once the muscles and joints have adapted and become more flexible and stronger. The brain will also be more prepared and able to deal with the physical stress.

The research into HIIT has only been done compared to SST. However there is a third approach to training which is gaining recognition in cycling, especially since the increased use of Powermeters. This is training at a medium intensity which has been called ‘Sweet-Spot’ or more traditionally Tempo training. For a long time this was often described as ‘No Mans Land’ as it wasn’t thought be of much benefit, but powermeters have shown that it can actually be the most effective training for cyclists.