HIIT Vs. Steady State Cardio for Burning Fat?

HIIT on treadmill

When it comes to burning fat, which will give you better results:  HIIT or steady state cardio?

For those who don’t know, HIIT simply stands for high intensity interval training.

A lot of you already know what this is and specifically a lot of you who have been working out for a while, but for this article in particular I’m going to explain the benefits as it pertains to burning fat and also muscle development.

Why am I going to do this?

I’m going to do this, quite frankly, because a lot of you are doing cardio in a way that’s not giving you the maximum results.

I can relate to that because I used to do the same thing.

I would spend a lot of time doing a lot of steady-state “conventional” types of cardio like jogging on the treadmill for 20 minutes or I’d get on a stationary bike and cycle for 20 minutes.  Or I’d even just go for a run outside for a half hour.

Here’s the thing… It’s not that these types of cardio workouts are wrong or bad or anything like that. They can actually be very good.

I mean, let’s face it, pretty much any time you can exercise and get your heart rate up it is probably going to be good for your cardiovascular health.  But what when it comes to pure fat loss as quickly as possible, doing intense intervals has some very distinct advantages.

Especially if you’re looking to get a better looking set of abs.

Now there a bunch of studies out there on HIIT cardio and it’s benefits.

For example:

HIIT Cardio Reduces Dangerous Visceral Fat

Visceral fat is the most damaging to your health.

It forms on the inside of your abdominal cavity around your organs.  If you are obese, it can begin to choke your organs.  Also, this type of fat has been directly linked to insulin sensitivity and diabetes.  In short, you want to get rid of it!

The good news here is that research has shown that visceral fat is very susceptible to exercise.  And HIIT works extremely well.

One study in particular was published in the Journal of Obesity and found that over a 12-week span people who did high intensity interval training had substantial reductions in total, abdominal, trunk and visceral fat.  (Trunk fat is simply fat found around your core, love handles, lower back, etc.)

For the study 46 inactive overweight men were chosen from a university population and assigned to either an exercise group or control (no exercise).  The exercise group performed high intensity intermittent exercise (same as HIIT) 3 times per week for a total of 12 weeks.  Specifically they did 8 second sprints followed by 12 second rest for the entire 20 minute period at 80-90% of each subjects max heart rate.

The exercise group had a whopping 17% reduction in visceral fat after 12 weeks, and waist circumference was significantly decreased already by only week six!

The high intensity group also had significant reductions in total fat, trunk fat and abdominal fat.

Surprisingly enough, and this is truly exciting if you’re just looking for a better looking body, the group also had significant gains in fat free mass (muscle).

This is something that endless hours of conventional cardio just does not provide.

The reason HIIT cardio is able to build muscle is that it has been shown in study to release a significant amount of Human Growth Hormone (HGH).  As a result, instead of burning muscle like a lot of you might be doing right now with your long durations of steady state cardio, the high intensity intervals will actually build muscle while it burns fat.

It’s a great way to avoid the “skinny-fat” look that a lot of long distance runners experience.

So, that’s one of the primary reasons you might want to think about doing intense intervals.

HIIT Burns Unsightly Subcutaneous Fat

Another reason you may want to consider doing HIIT is to get rid of subcutaneous fat.

That’s the fat specifically below your skin.  If you pinch the fat on your abs that’s subcutaneous fat.  It’s directly below the skin and it covers up your abs so you can’t see your six pack.

This type of fat is typically not associated with the extreme negative impacts of visceral fat, although it’s still not good for you and it just flat-out looks horrendous!

I realize a lot of you want to get six pack abs, and it’s not just the guys… a lot of females want those great abs too and a tight waistline that runs around your back.  Unfortunately many of you have love handles and muffin tops that just don’t look good.  Well, the only way you are going to ever get that nice midsection is to get rid of the subcutaneous fat.

The good news is that HIIT is dynamite for that too.

Research found in the Journal of Obesity looked at high intensity intermittent exercise on fat loss and insulin levels in young women.  Women between the ages of 18 and 30 were assigned to one of three groups:

  • HIIE (high intensity intermittent exercise – same as HIIT)
  • Steady state exercise
  • No exercise (control)

The study lasted for 15 weeks.

At the end of the study both groups demonstrated significant cardiovascular improvements.  However, it was only the women in the HIIE that showed a significant reduction in fat mass, trunk mass and insulin levels.

I personally could never get rid of this subcutaneous fat until I starting doing high intensity intervals.

If you have a muffin top or love handles or other types of subcutaneous trunk fat, intensity can really burn if off.

What Type Of Intense Intervals Do I Do?

Specifically what I do is either interval sprinting or swimming.

When I sprint I usually get on the treadmill and put that treadmill on an incline and I turn up the speed to about 85% to 90% of my max and then I will just proceed to sprint.  It’s like I’m running up a hill for 20 or 30 seconds and then I’ll rest for like 60 to 90 seconds.  Then I’ll come back and repeat that interval again.

Here’s the thing – it’s not a big deal if your intervals vary.

Some of you want might find that running longer works better.  Some of you might want to go shorter.  Both can be super effective.  Not to mention you can also vary how many intervals you actually do.

I personally like to do anywhere from around five to seven intervals depending on how I feed because that gives me good results.  And as I mentioned, I will also swim intervals too.  I simply swim as fast as I can for around 30 seconds, and then rest.  Basically, it’s identical to sprinting only you’re swimming instead.

So as you can see, you really have a lot of freedom with HIIT cardio.

You can do it on the stair-master or elliptical machine.  You can even mix it up and do combinations of things like sprinting for one interval and stair-master for the next.  Whatever suites you.

Again, studies show that this type of training leads to significant mid-section reduction as I have shown above.

Honestly guys, it wasn’t until I started doing forms of high intensity training that I was able to finally see my six pack abs.  And it just makes sense… look at the difference between an Olympic sprinter or somebody else who sprints a lot (100 m, 200 m, or even 400 m) vs. someone who runs marathons or other long distance events.

There is no comparison in muscle definition and the “ripped” look of a sprinter.

Again, it’s not that running long distances is bad, if you like to do that that’s totally fine, it’s just that it’s not the most effective if you want to get those six pack abs.

Post Workout Fat Burn

One of the single biggest reasons why I prefer doing some form of HIIT cardio has to do with once the workout is finished.

Specifically, I’ve found that the “after-burn effect” that doing high intensity interval training has on my fat loss and overall body “shaping” is far superior to what I get doing steady state.

I realize that there are articles out there that try to “debunk” the idea that HIIT burns more fat in the following 24 to 48 hours after the exercise is completed, but for me it absolutely does.  People will provide all sorts of science and calculations why the EPOC (excess post-exercise energy consumption, basically the amount of calories you burn when the exercise is complete) is just as good using conventional cardio… but the only sure-fire way to find out is to actually do it.

I’ve done both, my results with intense intervals are far better.  Not just fat loss.  Muscle development too.  There really is no comparison for me.  None.  Nobody will ever convince me otherwise because I have the “real-world” proof.

Intensity trumps monotony!!!

HIIT is going to lean you out, burn your stomach fat, and all the while help build muscle even after you’re done.  Steady state will burn calories, but isn’t going to give you much in the way of muscle development.

One study published in the Journal of Cell Metabolism in 2012 actually found that there was a significant difference in DNA alteration between two groups of exercisers:

  • Group 1: 40% maximum aerobic intensity (moderate)
  • Group 2: 80% maximum aerobic capacity (intense)

Group 2 demonstrated an immediate chemical alteration in DNA molecules.  Dr. Mercola referred to this study in one of his posts titled “The Truth About Exercise:  The Case For High Intensity Workouts”

“This contraction-induced gene activation appears to be early events leading to the genetic reprogramming of muscle for strength, and to the structural and metabolic benefits of exercise. Several of the genes affected by an acute bout of exercise are genes involved in fat metabolism.”

What separates HIIT is not necessarey the fact that you are doing intervals, it’s that the actual exercise time is so intense.  The rest intervals are there to simply allow you to carry that intensity through the full 10 to 20 minute workout.

So essentially, if you do high intensity intervals for say 10 minutes, you’ve just sprinted at 80% to 90% of you max for a full four to five minutes!

Other Health Benefits of HIIT

One of the single greatest reasons why you may be scared to do HIIT is because you think that pushing your body that hard is somehow bad for you.

People fear all sorts of things, but #1 fear that keeps most from high intensity exercise is having a heart attack.  Somehow the idea that “intense equals dangerous” has seeped into the fitness industry through isolated stories that the media dramatizes.

What absolutely floors most people though, is the mounting pool of evidence that suggests high intensity exercise is just as safe… if not even safer… than standard forms of prolonged steady state cardio.

For example, a Norwegian study published in 2012 in Circulation called “Cardiovascular risk of high- versus moderate-intensity aerobic exercise in coronary heart disease patients” made some outstanding findings…

4,846 coronary heart patients were examined for risk of having another cardiac event. The patients performed both organized high intensity interval training (HIIT) and moderate intensity training (steady state).   There was a whopping 175,820 hours of total exercise time recorded.  The breakdown was as follows:

  • Moderate exercise: 129,456 hours of exercise
  • HIIT:  46,364 hour of exercise (remember, HIIT takes a lot less time)

During the study just 3 cardiac events were recorded.  Only 3 out of 4,846 patients with noted severe hear issues!  This is shocking.

One of those 3 proved to be fatal and took place NOT during the HIIT, but during the moderate exercise.  The other two events were non-fatal, and took place during the HIIT sessions.

Researchers concluded the following:

The results of the current study indicate that the risk of a cardiovascular event is low after both high-intensity exercise and moderate-intensity exercise in a cardiovascular rehabilitation setting. Considering the significant cardiovascular adaptations associated with high-intensity exercise, such exercise should be considered among patients with coronary heart disease.

Another 2012 study published in Sports Medicine looked at past research pertaining to HIIT performed by patients with coronary heart disease and heart failure and concluded that in stable, selected patients, HIIT actually appears to be safer and easier to tolerate than doing moderate intensity exercise.

They also found that it brought about several superior improvements including ventricular function and endothelial function all leading to improvement in quality of life.

Listen guys, safety is top priority.  You should always consult your doctor and have a physical done before you attempt any type of exercise routine.  I mean, that’s just smart.  But according to study, the typically fear the people have toward intense exercise is just not supported by research.

Conclusion

Do I still do steady state cardio?

YES.  Again, there is nothing wrong with it and it can be a great way to burn some excess calories off your body.  Truth is, if you preferr steady state things like jogging you would be just fine.

However, there are three very specific reasons why I prefer doing HIIT cardio vs. steady state cardio:

  1. It works phenomenal.
  2. It’s fun.
  3. My time is precious.

Allow me to explain.

1. It works phenomenal.

Above all else my fitness goal is to burn fat while building muscle and improving my health on a weekly basis.

With high intensity forms of exercise I know that I’m getting that.

Sure, I can burn fat and improve health with conventional cardio too.  It’s just that I personally know that high intensity works far better for me.  So, if I’m forced to choose between the two… I’m going to choose the HIIT.

2. It’s fun.

I mean, some people get their “kicks” by running marathons and that’s totally cool, but I’ve never been a long distance runner.  Just thinking about it gets me anxious and irritated!  I’ve never enjoyed going for a jog.  I’ve only done it in the past because I felt it was something that I had to do to be healthy.

I mean, haven’t most of us been taught since we were young that jogging is the way you improve your cardiovascular health?

I now know that it absolutely isn’t the only possible solution!

Having fun is important to me – HIIT is just way more fun than conventional steady state and it gives me the option to do something I enjoy and reap extreme benefits from it at the same time.

3. My time is precious.

I mean, it may be different if you don’t lift weights.  A lot of people just go to the gym to do their cardio.  They spend 45 minutes to an hour a day on it.

Nothing wrong with that if that’s what you truly love.

However, I love lifting weight and if I tried to squeeze those long cardio sessions into my regular lift schedule, there would be times when I wouldn’t get out of the gym for 2.5 hours.  With intense cardio I literally can get away with doing just 5 minutes and my results are still through the roof.  No joke.  100%.  Period!

That’s my take on this matter.

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4 Speak Your Mind on "HIIT Vs. Steady State Cardio for Burning Fat?"

I Respond To All Comments Left Here

Clarke

Hey Jason,

Great article, I’ve read quite a few HIIT articles but it’s nice to see one that’s informed by research! 🙂

Nice to see the balance, my personal preference is HIIT if I’ve only got 30 minutes to spend in the gym, though that doesn’t stop me taking a long run on a Sunday around the parks!

karen

Hi. I have watched your 2 videos on youtube on ‘naturally lose fat fast’. Is there a vegetarian substitution or should I use protein shakes. Thank you in advance. Love your blog/website

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