HIIT vs Steady State Cardio - Foundry Personal Training Gyms

HIIT vs Steady State Cardio

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) involves short bursts of intense activity followed by rest or low-intensity periods. It’s well known for delivering results efficiently.

On the other hand, Steady State Cardio focuses on maintaining a consistent pace for longer durations, typically used for its cardiovascular benefits and calorie-burning capabilities.

Which method offers the most benefits? And which one is right for you?



HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

HIIT is a cardiovascular exercise strategy alternating short, intense bursts of anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods.

HIIT sessions can range from 20 to 60 minutes. The high-intensity intervals usually last from 30 seconds to several minutes, pushing close to maximum effort. These are followed by rest or low-intensity intervals of similar or longer durations, allowing the body to recover before the next intense burst.

Steady State Cardio

Steady State Cardio refers to continuous, ongoing effort over a more extended period, maintaining a consistent pace and intensity.

The duration can vary widely, from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the activity (e.g., marathon running). The intensity is maintained at 50-70% of an individual’s maximum heart rate.


How Your Body Reacts


HIIT combines short bursts of intense activity with rest or low-intensity periods. This pushes the aerobic system and deeply engages the anaerobic system. The anaerobic system is responsible for short, high-intensity efforts, like sprinting. Over time, HIIT can enhance both aerobic and anaerobic capacity (VO2 max), allowing for improved performance in sustained activities and short, explosive movements.

HIIT can create a significant post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) effect, commonly known as the “afterburn” effect. Due to its high intensity, the body requires more energy to return to its resting state. This means that, after a HIIT session, the body continues to burn calories at a heightened rate for a more extended period than steady state cardio. This metabolic disturbance can lead to more significant calorie burn during and after the workout, potentially aiding in weight loss and improved metabolic health.

Steady State Cardio

Steady State Cardio primarily targets the aerobic energy system. Over time, regular engagement can lead to enhanced heart health. The heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood, potentially resulting in lowered blood pressure and a decreased resting heart rate. As the heart muscle strengthens, its capacity to supply oxygenated blood to various body muscles improves.

The body uses fat as its primary fuel source during prolonged, moderate-intensity exercise. This is due to the body’s preference for fat oxidation at lower intensities, thus conserving glycogen stores. Additionally, steady state cardio can elevate the basal metabolic rate (BMR) after the workout, increasing energy expenditure. However, this post-exercise calorie burn is typically less than what’s observed with HIIT.


What are Your Goals


HIIT workouts can be much shorter than traditional workouts, making them ideal for those with tight schedules. In a short duration, they can offer intense exercise, delivering results in a fraction of the time.

Due to the afterburn effect (EPOC), HIIT can keep the metabolism elevated for hours after the workout, leading to additional calorie burn.

HIIT can produce visible results in a shorter timeframe, especially when combined with resistance training. This can be motivating for those seeking rapid improvements.

However, the high-intensity nature of HIIT places more stress on the muscles and joints. If not performed with proper form or adequate warm-up, there’s an increased risk of injury.

HIIT can tax the body, necessitating longer recovery times between sessions. Overdoing HIIT without allowing adequate recovery can lead to overtraining and potential burnout.

Steady State Cardio

Since steady state cardio typically involves repetitive, moderate-intensity movements, it often presents a lower risk of injury when compared to more intense forms of exercise. There’s less stress placed on the joints and muscles, making it a safer option for many individuals.

By maintaining a consistent pace, the body continually burns calories throughout the exercise, making it a reliable method for calorie expenditure.

Whether you’re a beginner just starting your fitness journey or an athlete in off-season training, steady state cardio is adaptable and suitable for individuals of all fitness levels.

However, to achieve significant calorie burn or cardiovascular improvement, one often needs to engage in steady state cardio for extended periods, which can be time-consuming.

The continuous, repetitive nature can be monotonous for some, potentially affecting motivation and adherence in the long run. While steady state cardio can yield health benefits, seeing noticeable changes in body composition or fitness levels might take longer compared to high-intensity training.


Practical Considerations

Equipment Needs


  • Open space for bodyweight exercises like burpees, jump squats, or high knees.
  • Weights or resistance bands for added resistance in certain HIIT exercises.
  • Interval timer to keep track of work and rest periods.

Steady State Cardio:

  • Treadmill or open space for walking, jogging, or running.
  • Cycling machine or bicycle for steady-paced cycling sessions.
  • Elliptical machine offers a low-impact option for steady cardio.

Time Commitment


HIIT workouts can be as short as 15 minutes and extend to 45 minutes, including warm-up and cool-down. The high-intensity nature ensures comprehensive training in a shorter span.

Steady State Cardio:

Typically, sessions range from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your fitness goals and level.



Post-HIIT, taking at least 24-48 hours of rest is advisable before engaging in another HIIT session. This allows the muscles to recover and helps prevent overtraining. Active recovery sessions, like stretching or light yoga, can be beneficial during off days.

Steady State Cardio:

Depending on intensity and duration, recovery might mean a day of lighter activity. Daily steady state cardio – like walking or easy cycling – does not require recovery periods.


What is Right For You

Different fitness goals will influence which type of cardio is most beneficial.

While HIIT and Steady State Cardio can aid in burning calories, HIIT can offer a faster calorie burn in a shorter duration and an afterburn effect.

Steady State Cardio is traditionally chosen for improving endurance as it conditions the heart to sustain effort over extended periods.

HIIT often incorporates strength-based exercises, making it a choice for those wanting to build muscular strength alongside cardiovascular fitness.

Beginners might find Steady State Cardio more approachable, as it allows for pacing and gradual intensity increase. Those at an intermediate or advanced level might leverage HIIT for its challenging nature and potential for quick results.

At Foundry, we use HIIT classes for an extra top-up of cardio for our members as a primary method of training for our small group training members. If you have any questions on the above or would like some advice on how we could help you with your fitness goal, visit one of our gyms in London and try one of our fitness training programmes.


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