April 05, 2017

As you design your workout program, you are going to come to a crossroad at some point and wonder which cardio method you should be doing for maximum results.

Chances are, you’ve heard of the two main types:

  • High Intensity Interval Training
  • Low Intensity Steady State Training

Which of these is best for you? And when is the best time of day to perform each? Let’s go over a few of the key facts you need to know.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT is constantly being talked about in the mainstream fitness world as the best cardio method to lose fat. For this cardio, you’ll alternate between very intense bouts of exercise with active rest periods, repeating this 5-10 times to make up a 15-20 minute sprint session.

It’s true – this form of cardio, when done properly, can work great for burning fat. It burns a high number of calories while you do it and also revs your metabolic rate so you burn calories far after the workout is finished.

On top of that, because it is so intense, it’s also going to increase your overall fitness level more than that of a lower intensity cardio session.

Finally, it tends to help preserve lean muscle mass better than endurance type of training because more of the fast twitch powerful muscle fibers are being used to carry out the sprint.

The drawbacks?

It’s intense. For someone on a very low calorie, low carb diet, performing this type of cardio may be challenging. It will utilize only glucose as a fuel source so you’ll need carbs present in order to complete it properly. For this reason, it is not a cardio method to do on an empty stomach.

Furthermore, if you try and stack too many sessions of HIIT with too many intense weight lifting workouts, performance will be compromised on one of the workout types.

HIIT tends to be best done by those who have a good level of fitness already, by those who are eating sufficient carbohydrates in their diet plan, and by those who have good recovery abilities and are balancing it with their strength workouts.

Do this form of cardio either after your weight lifting workouts or in a separate session altogether after eating at least one meal in the hours prior.  Be sure to consider using our BCAA Lean Energy™ product to help you get through these sessions. With 110 mg of natural energizes, it’ll help you give your best performance.

Low Intensity Steady State Training (LISS)

Next we have low intensity steady state training, also referred to as LISS. This is the more commonly thought of form of cardio and the one that most people dread: 30 minutes on a treadmill, bike or elliptical at one pace. You’ll work at around 50-70% of your maximum heart rate for this variation of cardio, so won’t be pushing yourself too incredibly hard. For this reason, the body can also utilize stored fat as a fuel source so it is one variation that you can do on an empty stomach. It’s the form of cardio most often done before eating breakfast first thing in the day, however it can be done at just about any time of the day. The only exception right before lifting. Avoid it at this time.

The benefits of this cardio variety? First, it isn’t overly taxing on your body. It’s something you can do most days of the week without too much worry about overtraining.

Second, it’s good for beginners. As you can go at a more moderate pace, this is great for those who are building up their fitness level.

Finally, it doesn’t interfere with your weight lifting performance all that much. Unless you are doing hours and hours per week or doing it before you are lifting, you shouldn’t see much of a decline in how much you can lift.

This said, note that if you do too much of this type of cardio, muscle mass loss may occur. Take a look at a marathon runner for instance. This is the epitome of low intensity steady state training and most marathoners do not have much lean muscle mass to show. This is a big reason why. For extra assurance against this, try adding our  BCAA Lean Energy product before you do your session. With 5 grams of high quality branched chain amino acids, this will help preserve your lean muscle tissue. 

Second, you can be more prone to overuse injuries when doing this form of cardio as well if you aren’t careful. It’s important to change up your mode of cardio every so often to avoid this.

Finally, while you will burn a good number of calories while you do the cardio session, the calorie burning stops when you do. So you won’t get much of a metabolic ‘boost’ so to speak like you will with HIIT.

So there you have the two types of cardio methods along with the pros and cons of each. Both types of cardio can find a place in your overall workout routine so don’t think it has to be one or the other. Decide for yourself what is best for you based on your goals, your lifting schedule, and your nutrition protocol.

-Shannon Clark

Shannon Clark holds a degree in Exercise Science, is a certified personal trainer, and has been working in the fitness and nutrition field for the last 15 years. She's written for countless online websites and print magazines including Oxygen Magazine, Muscle & Fitness Hers, Bodybuilding.com and T-Nation.com. When she's not in the gym, she loves trying out new healthy recipes (and desserts!) in the kitchen as well as reading up on the latest trends in the fitness industry.