One of the great arguments in the fitness industry today is cardio verses strength training. In the end, each have their place in your fitness routine.

But another argument also happening concerns just cardio. Is it better to do cardio at a steady rate over a longer period or do a more intense workout, but for a shorter amount of time? There are arguments on each side of the fence; in the end, you have to use the one that will get you to your fitness goal.

Steady State

This type of cardio is done at a low intensity, but steady rate for a long period of time – usually 30 minutes or more. If just starting to work out, this is a good choice until you have been doing it a while and feel ready to move up in intensity. It is also good for your cardiovascular system and it keeps your heart rate and blood pressure elevated over a longer period of time. Just be sure to keep your heart rate in your target range (70% to 80% of your maximum heart rate which is 220 – age).

Steady state cardio also increases the capacity of your lungs and gets more oxygen to the cells thus providing maximum energy to your muscles. It’s great for just improving general fitness

steady state

From a personal perspective I find steady state cardio is great for improving my endurance, my breathing (I suffer from the occasional bout of winter asthma) and long runs are meditative and relaxing.  I find though if I am wanting to lose weight and tone up – its a long, slow process. This is where I love to add HIIT into my regime.


High Intensity Interval Training sessions usually last 20 minutes or less. Workouts are bursts high intensity cardio coupled with lower intensity at a ratio of 1 high to 2 low. If you exercise one minute at high intensity, you should do two minutes at low.

HIIT can be done on some of the same machines as steady state, such as a treadmill or elliptical. Just increase the incline, resistance or speed (or all three).

Not only is HIIT less wear-and-tear on your muscles, but you get a greater EPOC factor after finished working out. EPOC stands for Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption meaning your body continues to burn more calories than it normally would after exercising.

hiit training

While not for beginners – you should start with steady state as noted earlier – it is a great workout to do after first building up some endurance, because HIIT kicks butt. While you want to stay in the 70% to 80% target heart rate with steady state, you’ll want to be in the 90% range with HIIT! Also, don’t forget to throw in a couple days each week of strength training just to round things out.

And just to add another dimension, why not include cardio into your strength training regime. (I’m all for two birds – one stone)  This can be achieved by doing compound movements instead of isolated exercises.

Isolation movements require the stimulation of only one muscle or joint – and while that results in the strengthening of that muscle / joint, you are burning minimum calories. The are great however for fixing muscular imbalances

Compound movements on the other hand use multiple muscles and joints – burning more calories.  Try three sets (10 -15 reps) of a dumbbell shoulder press combined with a squat.. Bet your heart rate goes up. Compound movements are also great for building lean muscle.  And we LOVE lean muscle… that’s the stuff that burns fat even while we are resting!


Which one is right for you? In the end, it comes down to you as an individual. As noted earlier, if you are just getting into fitness, start with steady state and then move up to HIIT when you feel you are ready. If you already have the endurance, move on up to HIIT right away.

HIIT is a good workout if you are pressed for time as the workouts tend to be shorter – some as short as 11 minutes. But steady state can be more relaxing and a better stress reliever for some people. And you may want to mix it up occasionally by doing steady state and HIIT.

So there is definitely a place for both in a balanced exercise regime.  But consider what your goals are… general fitness or weight loss and it will help you work out where to focus your workouts.