Steady-State Cardio vs HIIT

Steady-State Cardio vs HIIT

Steady-state cardio vs HIIT is a good comparison to know if you’re active and trying to improve your fitness. When choosing a type of cardio, the two main focuses are usually the impact on fat loss, and benefits to cardio health. And cardio is one of the best tools you can implement for burning body fat, but what is the most effective type of cardio for you?

Most active people focus on two popular types of cardio: Low-Intensity Steady-State (LISS) and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). There are advantages and disadvantages for each type, and it’s important to know these differences. We’ll cover both in more detail, and see if one is better than the other.

What Is Steady-State Cardio

Steady-state cardio, often referred to as Low-Intensity Steady-State cardio (LISS), is the more traditional form of cardio that most people are familiar with. 

Steady-state cardio is a form of cardio that keeps your heart rate at a stable level. You’ll raise your heart rate to a level of 60% to 70% of your max heart rate (MHR), but no more than 75%. You’ll also raise core body temperature, perspire slightly, but not overexert yourself.

Low Intensity CardioMany would consider steady-state cardio to be a more laid back and manageable form of cardio. It is ideal for beginners and people that are overweight. 

Additionally, it’s also a great selection if you are relatively unfit (from a cardiovascular viewpoint) and new to fitness, or want to preserve muscle glycogen for weightlifting and resistance training.

Some typical forms of steady-state cardio include jogging, cycling, swimming, a cross-trainer, and a brisk walk. The key with steady-state cardio is duration. It’s only beneficial for fat loss when done over an extended period of time (40 to 60 minutes, and 4 to 5 times per week).

Pros of Steady-State Cardio

There are numerous pros to steady-state cardio. And it’s a great fit for people trying to lose some excess body fat.

Some of the pros of steady-state cardio include:

  • Low-impact cardio is easy on your joints.
  • It’s not as taxing on the cardiovascular system so beginners or relatively unfit individuals can still engage in this type of cardio at their own pace.
  • Great for metabolizing fat cells and burning excess body fat.
  • Does not fatigue your muscle groups, so works well with lifting weights.
  • Easy to recover from so will not impact other training sessions throughout the week.

Cons of Steady-State Cardio

While there are not many cons when it comes to steady-state cardio, there are a few to keep in mind:

  • It’s not efficient, especially for busy people. HIIT, on the other hand, burns more calories in less time than steady state.
  • It can be boring for some people. However, some like it as a way to clear their mind and have an escape from busy, modern life.

What Is HIIT

Simple HIIT Workouts

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a popular form of cardio that burns equal calories in a shorter time frame than traditional steady-state cardio. 

HIIT cardio involves short-duration bursts of high-intensity exercise, followed by a slightly longer period of rest or reduced activity. As an example, you sprint for 20 seconds on a treadmill at close to max effort, and then jog or rest completely for 1 to 2 minutes. This is a single round, and you repeat this over 10 to 30 minutes.

HIIT sessions last from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the type of session. Unlike steady-state, the aim is to raise your heart rate to higher levels. A good target for HIIT workouts is 80% of your MHR.

Types of HIIT cardio include sprinting, spin class, treadmill workouts, rowing, Tabata, bodyweight and circuit-based training. (1)

These are just a few of the more popular forms of HIIT, however most cardio fits into a HIIT-style session.

Click to see a complete range of HIIT workouts, from treadmill to indoors to outside. And many people make high-intensity workouts very complicated, but they can be very simple as well. Here is an example of a very simple 10-minute HIIT Treadmill workout.

Pros of HIIT Cardio

The pros of HIIT are quite well-documented. Additionally, HIIT delivers the optimum training effect over a given period of time. Below are some of the main benefits:

  • HIIT continues to burn calories and body fat after the workout due to the metabolic effect of high-intensity cardio.
  • Very time efficient which is ideal for busy people. Depending on the form of HIIT cardio you choose, a 15 to 20 minute HIIT session can burn just as many calories as a 45 to 50 minute LISS session.
  • Improves cardiovascular endurance and also works muscle groups building muscular strength and endurance.

Cons of HIIT Cardio

There are a few more cons when it comes to HIIT but only because it’s a demanding form of cardio and therefore not well suited to everyone. Some of these cons include:

  • HIIT is not for everyone! Always check with your personal physician prior to attempting HIIT workouts. This exercise is very intense, and can be dangerous and unhealthy if you’re not first cleared by your personal physician. (2)
  • HIIT will fatigue the muscles making your resistance sessions less effective.
  • Not suitable for beginners, anyone with injuries, heavily overweight, or very unfit individuals.
  • More difficult to recover from, so it might impact other training sessions throughout the week.

Steady-State Cardio vs HIIT

When it comes to the question of steady-state cardio vs HIIT, the answer really depends on you! 

First, it will depend on your personal fitness goals.

If your goal is for maximum fat loss on a busy schedule, HIIT is going to be the best option. However, if your goal is fat loss but you are a beginner or are overweight, then steady-state is going to be the best option.

Next, it depends on your workout preference. In order to stick to a program, you need to enjoy it to an extent. Or at a minimum, you can’t hate it! If so, it simply will not be sustainable for the long haul

Other factors include joint health and fitness levels. Additionally, availability of equipment (if you are looking into specific cardio equipment check out for in-depth guides) and availability of exercise classes are another consideration. 

Also consider how much time you have to train each day/week, and whether or not you need to recover from cardio sessions quickly. These factors will weigh into your decision for sure.

Final Thoughts

As long as people search for the “perfect” fat loss or cardiovascular regime, there will always be a debate of steady-state cardio vs HIIT. The truth, however, is that both have their place, and it’s a personal decision based on each person’s fitness goals.

For most people, the greatest benefit is combining the two types of cardio on a daily or weekly basis to reap the full benefits. One is really not better than the other, and they both have their place. 

Click to return to cardio workouts.

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David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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  1. Peel, C. (2022, April 18). The ultimate list of different types of HIIT workouts. ClassPass Blog.
  2. Harvey-Jenner, C. (2018, March 27). Why HIIT workouts don’t actually work for most people. Cosmopolitan.

Click to see our medical disclosure.