Are you thinking about joining a gym or starting a new exercise program? Do you wonder if you’ll get better results with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or steady-state cardio? A recent study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) just might answer your cardio conundrum.
ACE’s study compared three different types of cardio: steady-state vs. Meyer vs. Tabata. Study participants were 65 men and women aged 18 to 28 who were relatively sedentary…meaning that in the 3 months before the study, they didn’t exercise more than twice per week, and when/if they did exercise, it was low-to-moderate intensity. Participants were randomly assigned to 3 groups:
Steady-state Group: 20 minutes of continuous exercise at 90 percent of the participant’s ventilatory threshold, which fits into the moderate-to-vigorous intensity category as defined by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Meyer Group: Moderate-intensity interval training consisting of 20 minutes (13 sets) of 30-second work intervals (100 percent of the participant’s peak aerobic power) paired with 60 seconds of activity recovery.
Tabata Group: This is very brief, very high-intensity interval training consisting of four minutes (eight sets) of exercise consisting of 20 seconds of work (at 170 percent of the individual’s peak aerobic power) paired with 10 seconds of unloaded pedaling.
So which group had the best results? All of them! The two HIIT workouts (Meyer and Tabata) didn’t produce significantly greater improvements in markers of aerobic and anaerobic exercise performance compared to steady-state cardio. Participants in all groups showed improvements in cardiorespiratory health at a very similar rate over the course of the study.
Hold up. Before you choose to do four minutes of Tabata rather than 20 minutes of steady-state cardio, here’s another interesting finding from this study. On a weekly basis throughout the study, participants completed a survey called the Exercise Enjoyment Scale (EES). Results from the EES showed that exercise enjoyment declined progressively across the duration of the study for all three groups. In addition, the Tabata group’s EES scores were the lowest of the three groups. Tabata is really, realllyyy hard…so it’s unlikely to be perceived as enjoyable. Sticking with a program and making exercise a part of your lifestyle is one of the keys to long-term health. If you’d rather stab yourself in the eye than do Tabata, you’re probably going to stop working out. Especially for fitness newbies, the drop-out rate from any exercise program is high.
So what does all this mean? Here’s my opinion. Hypothetically, if HIIT were far superior to steady-state cardio, delivering much better, faster results…I’d recommend you do HIIT because the amazing results would potentially keep you from dropping out. Studies show that seeing results over a short period of time keeps people motivated to exercise. Whether or not less enjoyable exercise with far superior fitness results would correlate with a lower drop-out rate when compared to more enjoyable exercise with inferior fitness results has not been studied. What we do know is HIIT doesn’t appear to be superior to steady-state cardio for relatively sedentary young adults…and apparently steady-state is more enjoyable than HIIT. So I recommend you do steady-state workouts with a smile on your face rather than balls-to-the-walls Tabata. You’re welcome. ;)References: www.acefitness.org