When you are at the gym, you may encounter a lot of different opinions about cardio versus interval training. Some people believe cardio is an inefficient way to train, while others believe high intensity interval training (HIIT) doesn’t provide the traditional benefits of cardio. The truth is they both work in different ways. During cardio exercise you will perform the same exercise for an extended period of time, running is a great example. HIIT exercises are performed in very short intervals at your maximum effort. You can get benefits from both cardio and HIIT; however, it is important to know the differences between the two when you are trying to get fit. Although you will get benefits from both, there are some key distinctions of cardio versus interval training that may led you to choose one over the other, depending on what you are trying to achieve.
1. Aerobic Workout
One major difference to be aware of regarding cardio versus interval training is that cardio will provide you with a much better aerobic workout. Aerobic exercise requires oxygen and is fueled by glycogen, a form of carbohydrate that is stored in the muscles, as well as some stored fat. For aerobic exercise, you need to perform at 60 to 70 percent of your maximum effort with a heart rate of about 120 to 150 beats per minute. When you do this, you will be getting a good cardiovascular workout, which, as the name suggests, is great for your heart. It also works your body’s entire aerobic system, including breathing and even digestion. As you can see, cardio exercise will provide you with a great aerobic workout; however, it will not give you an anaerobic workout.
2. Anaerobic Workout
HIIT will provide you with a great anaerobic workout, which does have some benefits. Like an aerobic workout, an anaerobic workout will burn glycogen; however, anaerobic workouts will burn much more fat. For a great anaerobic workout, you will need to perform an exercise at 90 to 100 percent of your ability for two minutes or less. You will then rest for about three minutes before you repeat the exercise. This cycle of exercising and resting is repeated a total of four times. Almost any exercise can be adapted to be an anaerobic workout. You can sprint, lift weights, or even bicycle using HIIT for an anaerobic workout.
3. Cardio Heart Benefits
I mentioned earlier that cardiovascular exercise can benefit your heart, but the benefits are so great that it is worth going into further detail. When you exercise at lower levels of intensity for longer periods of time you will actually make your heart get stronger. During a cardio workout, the left ventricle of the heart fills completely before it contracts. Over time, this causes the left ventricle to grow, meaning it can pump more blood for each contraction. The end result is a decrease in your heart rate, providing you with a greater ability to recover from exercise, relax, and even focus.
4. Shortcomings of Cardio
Although cardio exercise will strengthen your heart, it won’t help you build much strength in the rest of your muscles. Also, you won’t burn very much fat. So, if you are looking to burn fat and increase muscle, cardio is not your best choice. Another problem with cardio exercise is that there is an increased risk of injury. Cardio consists of repetitively doing the same movement pattern, which can place strain on certain body parts. Over time, that strain can lead to an injury, which no one wants. That being said, not everyone gets injured doing cardio. You do, however, need to be careful.
5. Quick Results with HIIT
When you do HIIT, you can get results very quickly. In fact, in as few as six workouts performed over two to three weeks you can see measurable improvements. Part of the reason HIIT has such fast results is because of the afterburn effect. The afterburn affect is where your metabolism stays elevated for hours, resulting in more fat burn. Also, your muscle strength will improve more quickly. One additional benefit of HIIT is that it requires less time at the gym, making it perfect for people with busy schedules.
6. Shortcomings of HIIT
As great as HIIT is, it does have some shortcomings. HIIT does not develop the aerobic system as well as cardio. Consequently, those who exercise with HIIT will have higher resting heart rates, and they will not have as much endurance. Also, HIIT stimulates the fight-or-flight response in your body. This is the same response your body has when it is stressed. Over time, this fight-or-flight response can impair your recovery and result in more aches and pains.
7. Switch between the Two
Clearly, cardio and HIIT each have great benefits, and they also have several shortcomings. To get the benefits of both, you can switch between cardio and HIIT. To get the most benefit from doing this, you want to stick with each for about 3 months before switching to the other. Doing this will decrease your chance of getting an injury from cardio and make sure your body doesn’t become too stressed from HIIT. Also, you will get the heart benefits of cardio and the muscle building benefits of HIIT. It really is possible to have the best of both worlds!
Cardio and HIIT exercises are vastly different. Yet, one isn’t better than the other. They each have their place, and you can use each to your advantage. Using the advice of switching between the two every few months will allow you to get the benefits of both. Would you consider switching between cardio and HIIT to gain the benefits of both?
Heffernan, Andrew. “Steady State Cardio vs. High Intensity Interval Training. Experience Life. Jan/Feb 2014. Print