Wednesday, December 5, 2018

HIIT vs. Steady-State Cardio for Your Best Body

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. ;)



  1. My Fitness Nurse, i'm going back to the gym today after not even using my expensive gym membership since january of last year 😓 does it matter which cardio machine i do? I like the eliptical but really want to tone up my behind so if there's a better machine for that i'll do something other than the eliptical. Thank u! Love your blog! Michelle

    1. Thanks for your kind words Michelle. I'm obsessed with all things health and fitness! My blog's a healthy outlet for my obsession ;)

      First, and most importantly, it appears to me that you're beating yourself up. In this case, you're beating yourself up about not using the gym for which you're paying good money. I'm going to assume that in general, you beat yourself up about things...maybe more things than you realize. While it's beneficial for you to observe where you're not taking action to reach your goals, it's counterproductive to beat yourself up. You're human. You have setbacks, make mistakes, and completely screw things up. If I were sitting across from you and told you half of the things I've completely flubbed up, you wouldn't beat me up for it, would you? If you're gentle and kind with others, you can give yourself the same compassion.

      Jumping back to your question about the sounds like the elliptical is something you're going to be more likely to do regularly because you like it. Set yourself up for success and stick with the elliptical for cardio. As you feel your endurance increasing (you'll notice it's feeling a bit easier when you're doing the elliptical at the same level of intensity) go ahead and try other cardio machines. So say you've built up to 30 minutes on the elliptical and it's feeling easier. Next time you hit the gym, do a 5-10 minute warmup walking briskly but comfortably on the treadmill. Then do 5 minutes on the StairMaster or rowing machine or Jacob's Ladder or whatever cardio equipment they have at your gym. Then do 25 minutes on the elliptical. Build up your time on other equipment and eventually you might find different types of cardio machines you enjoy as much or more than the elliptical.

      Oh, one more thing. Cardio is going to reduce the body fat that lies over the muscles, so yes, cardio will help in the butt department. To give your butt more shape, weight lifting is essential. If they offer personal training at your gym, grab a session or two with a trainer. They'll show you exercises that'll strengthen your glutes. It's super important if you haven't lifted weights before to start with a trainer, even if it's just one session, so your form is correct and you don't get injured.

      Have fun in the gym and take good care,

    2. Hi AMy, your right I beat myself up about stuff. I am working on it and, just being more aware of the things I say to myself makes me feel a lot better. I made an appointment with a Personal Trainer for this this Thursday! Thank you for your help and messaging me back. Michelle

  2. While I would say that HIIT is more superior in giving fat-burning results as opposed to Steady-state, I think you highlighted a very good point that people should just do whatever works for them and also consider their fitness level.

    For newbies who wants to try out tabata, go for 1-2 sets first and then increase the sets as you get fitter. At least that's how I did it when I first tried out tabata haha.

    Nevertheless, awesome post Amy, very detailed facts and explanation!

    1. Hi there Haikal! Thank you so much for your insightful comment and your kind words about my blog content. I *love* your idea for Tabata newbies! Starting with 1-2 sets would at the very least show people they can do it. Before they know it, they'll be doing a full set of 8 rounds. LOVE IT!!!