Steady State Cardio v. Interval Training: Which is Better?

Steady State Cardio v. Interval Training: Which is Better?

Raise your hand if you like cardio.  If you are one of those 1 percenters who would have raised their hand, good for you.  If you begrudgingly do it as part of your training regimen, welcome to the club.  For anyone who is looking to lean out, cardio is an unfortunate necessity. 

The past several years there has been an ongoing debate on what is better: steady state cardio or interval training.  So I am here to break down the pros and cons to both types of cardio.

Shared Benefits of Steady State Cardio and Intervals

  • Cardiovascular Efficiency – Regardless of if you engage in steady state cardio or intervals, your heart efficiency will prove. Overtime your resting heart rate will lower and thus the heart will pump more blood with each beat.  This is beneficial as it means that more oxygenated blood can reach your brain and muscles with less effort.  Additionally, the density of capillaries increase making oxygen deliver to muscles more efficient.  And finally, your mitochondria energy factories increase so that your body can more efficiently burn calories.
  • Increase your Aerobic Threshold – By engaging in steady cardio or intervals your aerobic threshold will increase, allowing you to continue the activity for longer and recover faster.
  • Fat Burning – Both types of cardio will burn body fat. Cardio increases fat burning enzymes. It allows a greater blood flow to the muscle thus allowing muscles to use stored fat instead of carbs for energy.  Finally, it causes our bodies to be more sensitive to hormones that increase fat burning.

Pros & Cons of Stead State Cardio

  • Pro - Enjoyment – While I do not enjoy this type of cardio,some do.  For example, our CEO Rick Alexander is constantly running Ultra Marathons and enjoys stead state cardio for long durations…he is also crazy.
  • Pro - Reduces Muscle Soreness- Perhaps the best way to reduce muscle soreness is to engage in exercise that taps into the aerobic system. This gets more blood, oxygen and nutrients to the muscle, thus reducing muscle soreness.
  • Con – Increased Appetite – While not conclusive, many studies show that steady state cardio triggers an elevation in hormones that makes you hungrier.
  • Con – Food Compensation – We all have engaged in food compensation. This occurs when you work out and therefore you think you get to eat more.  People who have this type of mentality struggle with fat loss.
  • Con – Muscle Loss – Over the long-term, steady state cardio (as your only source of exercise) can lead to a loss of lean muscle mass. This will reduce the number of calories burned by the body at rest.

Pros & Cons of Intervals

  • Pro – Lose Body Fat – Studies consistently show that interval training leads to reduction in body fat. Researchers attribute this to the fact that intervals trigger protein synthesis which leads to a greater post-workout energy burn.
  • Pro – Save Time – Interval training can be done faster and in less time. Typically to be effective in interval training, you only need to do intervals for 20-25 minutes.  A study showed that those who engaged in 15 sprints for 30 seconds over 15 weeks lost 9 times as much as their counterparts who were doing stead state cardio.
  • Pro - Builds Muscle – As touched on before, intervals assist in the building of muscles, which increase your net calorie burn at rest. With traditional cardio you can become catabolic in the long-term.
  • Pro - Increases Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption – Interval training causes a large metabolic disturbance in the body that produces energy. Meaning the body is using energy at a very high rate, thus increasing calories burned. 
  • Con – It Sucks – There are not a lot of downsides to interval training except that it can be mentally challenging. You are constantly forcing your mind to power through to one more interval.  Just keep in mind that it is shorter than traditional cardio so you will be out of the gym and onto better things in no time!

As always, after you engage in your steady state cardio or interval training, grab some of LuaVíve's Refuel to replenish the vitamins and minerals lost during your workout! Happy sweating!