Phoenix Ignition Fitness Company

Fitness By the Fire: Benefits: HIIT Training vs Steady Cardiovascular Conditioning

by Ron Kennedy • January 09, 2017
It’s an inevitability for every fitness enthusiast. When the time comes to display the results of all the hard work, well planned execution, and hours of discipline dedicated to reaching their peak fitness potential… A “cutting” phase. After all, what good is it to have muscle mass if it does show? Save for the primary component of serious results (proper nutrition), cardiovascular conditioning is a very close secondary element to showing off those toned shoulders, sculpted calf, and even possibly, the mark of a true devotee… chiseled abdominals. If your long-term fitness training plan involves a concentrated segment of effective fat burning/muscle definition, it’s very important to understand the differences between steady cardiovascular conditioning and high intensity interval training(HIIT).

To be clear, there is a difference between fat loss and weight loss. Fat loss means that you've been able to burn the "extra" fat you add. This method is often used by people who want to burn fat while maintaining their muscle mass. On the other hand, losing weight can also occur when you've lost muscle tissue, or simply water. Muscle tissue loss happens when you're burning a great deal more calories than you consume, so your body uses muscle tissue as a source of energy. It's the worst-case scenario for people who want to keep their muscle mass.

Steady and consistent cardio is any aerobic exercise that you perform at 60%-70% of your maximal capacity for 20 minutes or more. The speed remains the same during the whole exercise. Speed walking, jogging and running, swimming, elliptical cross-trainer, any fitness based motion that can be maintained consistently with an elevated heart rate.

H.I.I.T focused on cardiovascular conditioning is much different. The subject must execute a certain exercise at maximal capacity for a short period (often between one and two minutes). Then you rest for about the double of time you spent performing the exercises (between 2 minutes and 3 minutes). The cycle is repeated until maximum fatigue is reached (five times or more). Some examples of this technique are Mountain climbers, jumping jacks, battle ropes, sprinting intervals, and treadmill programs that incorporate variations in speed and inclines.

The more mitochondria you have and the more active they are the greater oxidative capacity you will have for fat loss. HIIT increases mitochondrial capacity and you actually increase the number of mitochondria you produce. Studies show that you get greater fat loss through high intensity training because of the increase in oxidative capacity. Whereas with low intensity training, you’re only burning calories at that precise moment, there’s no 24-hour energy expenditure (boost in metabolism) and it hurts you down the line because your body adjusts to it and you end up needing more to lose fat. With HIIT you are burning calories at the moment, but you actually change the muscles metabolism and it boosts your metabolism because you increase the mitochondria density of your muscle, so you increase the muscles oxidative capacity and you really do burn more calories. What most people don’t realize is you must put your body in an uncomfortable mode and use the max energy expenditure.

While working as a fitness trainer, I see a lot of people doing hours and hours a week of low intensity training and per calculations they should be losing pounds, but they can’t lose anything because the metabolism adjusts to low intensity exercise. It just doesn’t cut it because it’s just a calorie burn at that time, not 24-hour energy expenditure. If you do low intensity training all the time, you’re basically trading calories in and calories out and you can cut these same calories through diet and still get the same effects.

Do the type of cardio that you have a personal preference for. HIIT is quicker, proves to be more effective for fat loss, creates metabolic changes, and helps with muscle retention but not everybody can do HIIT for the strains in places on the body. Low intensity training is safer, but takes twice as long to accomplish similar things and it still has its place for fat loss in moderate amounts, from a pure calorie burning standpoint (meaning only to burn calories & not make changes to your metabolism). My intentions weren’t to favor one form of cardio and bash the other, though personally I change up what conditioning I do for whatever phase of training I am approaching. Yet to educate and notify you that times have changed and science is proving that what was once thought to be very effective is actually a moderate approach to a structured fitness regimen. But at the end of the day it’s up to you on what kind of cardio suits you best.