Steady State Exercise vs HIIT: Which is Best For You?

Choosing between steady state exercise and HIIT (high intensity interval training) is a question many ask when they are new to exercise or want to improve their cardiovascular fitness, especially if they have preconceived notions about one they’ll like and one they hate. 

While these two types of exercise are often pitched against one another, the only true similarity they offer is that they get your heart pumping and will help you burn calories. Let’s take a closer look at steady state and HIIT so you can decide which is best for you. 

What is Steady State? 

Steady state exercise is where you maintain the same level of effort (60-70% of maximal capacity) for a prolonged period (generally 20 minutes or more) aerobically; such as long-distance running, jogging, cycling (most of the time), swimming, and more. You use oxygen to maintain that effort – hence being an aerobic activity. 

What is HIIT? 

HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training, which is where you will perform activities at maximum effort (90-100% of your maximal capacity) for a brief time (10 seconds to 2 minutes) before backing off to allow your body to recover (for 10 seconds to three minutes). This cycle is repeated at least five times, depending on the period of effort and recovery. 

These efforts largely depend on anerobic efforts, meaning your body doesn’t rely on a fresh intake of oxygen to fuel your effort, but instead on glycogen stores (the carbohydrates stored in your body). 

What are the Benefits of Steady State? 

Steady state is a type of exercise enjoyed by many because it allows them to set the pace and maintain it – you don’t have to push yourself to your upper limits to experience the benefits. It also allows you to push yourself mentally, as you need to set your pace and, to some extent, distract yourself from the effort you are maintaining. It requires mental fortitude to keep going, especially when it starts to get hard. 

Steady state is great for cardiovascular health and those who exercise with steady state multiple times a week (whether walking briskly or training for competition) lose weight, see their resting heart rate drop, see a drop in blood pressure, an improved mood, and many other benefits. 

What are the Benefits of HIIT? 

HIIT is both easier and harder than steady state, and whether or not you’ll enjoy it depends on the way you best like to exercise. HIIT is best for those who like to give something their all for a short time, recover, and do it again. It gets you breathing hard, giving it your all, and many studies have seen that shorter periods of HIIT burn the same amount of calories as a longer period of steady state cardio. 

Steady State vs HIIT: Is One Better Than the Other? 

Yes and no; and the answer is completely up to you. The truth is that when used together they are a powerful tool to getting fit, improving your cardiovascular health, and seeing improved performance in whatever you do. However, if you find steady state boring or won’t push yourself to the limit for HIIT, then the one in which you can perform to your best effort will be best for you. 

Both steady state and HIIT are great for cardiovascular health, so pick the one you enjoy or mix it up each week or from time to time and you’ll see your cardiovascular health improve dramatically.