High-Intensity Cardio vs. Low-Intensity Cardio: Which Is Better?

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One of the biggest questions people have when it comes to fitness, and even one I’ve asked myself, is what type of cardio is better?

The answer is actually simpler than you might think. Today, I will talk about the two types of cardio, their benefits, and how you can implement them to your program to get the best of both worlds.


What’s The Difference?

The main difference between high intensity cardio (HIIT) and low intensity cardio (LISS) is the energy required to perform them.

High-Intensity Cardio (HIIT)

This type of training includes short, intense bursts of activity followed by a period of rest or a lesser intense activity. The idea is to repeat this process for a certain period of time in order to reap its benefits.

The biggest benefits of HIIT is the high amount of calories burned within a short period of time, and boosted metabolism post workout. 

HIIT utilizes carbohydrates as the primary source of energy and fat as a secondary source, which makes it efficient at burning calories at shorter periods of time.1

Additionally, HIIT can elevate your metabolism for hours after exercise due to its high intensity. This results in additional calories being burned even after you have finished exercising.2

However, since high intensity cardio requires so much energy, it also requires a lot of recovery and rest, which may even get in the way of your strength training if you’re combining both. You may also be more at risk of injuries/muscle discomfort if not properly warmed-up prior to.

Overall, HIIT is great for when you feel more energized and/or don’t have too much time to get a good workout in.

Low-Intensity Cardio (LISS)

This type of training includes long, steady state activity for a prolonged period of time. The idea is to maintain the same speed or intensity throughout the entire workout and it is usually performed for prolonged periods of time in order to reap its benefits.

The biggest benefits of LISS cardio is the high amount of calories burned without requiring high amounts of energy, and that it utilizes fat stores for energy.

LISS does not require as much energy due to its low intensity, making it a great way to burn extra calories without applying too much stress on the body. This is good news if you happen to mix both cardio and resistance training.

Additionally, since energy is derived much slower from fat stores and you need energy for a prolonged period of time when performing LISS, it predominantly taps into fat stores for energy rather than the much faster energy source counterpart, carbohydrates.3

However, since LISS is so low-intensity, it requires you to perform it for a much longer period of time, which may not be ideal if your schedule doesn’t allow it. It may also be very boring to perform if you’re not mentally prepared for it.

Overall, LISS cardio is great for when you don’t have too much energy, have time to kill, and want to give your body rest, but continue to be active and burn calories.

Implementation

As you can see, both cardio types have their own benefits and have their own time to shine. If you still have trouble in figuring out how you may implement both types to your program, take a look at my own program as an example:

For my strength week, I usually train with lower reps and higher loads, meaning my muscles are pretty fatigued by the end of my sessions, so to compensate since I want to continue improving my endurance, I implement 2-3 easy runs x/week and walking as my cardio.

This allows for me to continue improving my endurance and performing some cardio without hindering my weight training, and sometimes if my schdule permits, I actually split up my cardio and weight training sessions completely (cardio in the morning, weight training in the evening.)

For my hypertrophy/endurance week, I usually train with higher reps and lower loads, meaning my muscles aren’t as fatigued by the end of my sessions, this is where I take advantage of my extra energy to focus on my more intense runs and overall athletic training. These I do 2-3x/week as well.

Notice that I still have some lower-intensity recovery runs between my higher-intensity runs in order to let my body properly recover and perform at its peak when the time comes again.

Conclusion

Both types of cardio are great and should be a part of your regular training regime. There’s a time and place when you implement each type, and knowing this is all you need to know for maximizing your progress.

Its important you understand how both types of cardio impact your body so that you can make the best choices within your workouts and continue to progress.


Links

  1. High Intensity vs. Low Intensity Exercise: Which Is Better? by Richard Weil, MEd, CDE
  2. Is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Or Low Intensity Sustained State Training (LISS) Better? by Regi George Jenarius
  3. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) versus Steady State Cardio (SSC)
  4. 7 Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) by Grant Tinsley, PhD
  5. What Is LISS Cardio and Is It Right for You? by Sara Lindberg

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The reader assumes full responsibility for consulting a qualified health professional regarding health conditions or concerns, and nutritional advice before applying the content on this site to themselves. Samuel Navarro will not assume any liability for direct or indirect losses or damages that may result from the use of information contained in this post. You are ultimately responsible for all decisions pertaining to your health.

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