High intensity interval training (HIIT) vs steady state cardio – What’s best?!


High intensity interval training has been growing in popularity in recent years. HIIT sessions involve rounds of intense work and rest and generally last from 20 – 40 minutes. Steady state cardio on the other hand is sustained effort between 45-60 minutes. HIIT’s popularity has grown mainly due to the great results achieved in shorter periods of time. So does steady state cardio or HIIT gives better results? And which type pf exercise is better for you?

Know your goal

First of all you must know what your exercise goal is.  Once you know your goal, you can make a more informed decision as to which type of exercise to choose. Do you want to lose weight? Get fit? Increase your muscle tone and strength? Or a combination of all of these results?

Steady state cardio

Steady state cardio is commonly used in novice trainers and endurance athletes. It has you working at low intensity (less than 85% of your max). The 3 main benefits are benefits include:

  1. Build a good aerobic base
  2. Build endurance
  3. Introduction back into exercise after an injury

Therefore, if your goal is to run a half marathon, build your endurance or return from an injury, then steady state cardio is good for you. Common methods include jogging, swimming, rowing and cycling.


HIIT on the other will have you working hard! Between 90-100% of your maximal effort. The major benefits of this style of training are:

  1. Keeps your heart rate high, maximising the time spent in the fat burning zone, which leads to a greater fat burning effect
  2. After burn – the fat burning effect continues after you have completed your session (for up to 24 hours)
  3. Increased strength
  4. Faster improvement in your fitness

HIIT is perfect for people who have limited time to train and have limited access to equipment as it only requires a minimum of 20 minutes for an effective session. A true 20 minute HIIT session (where you do go all out!) can burn as many calories as an hour on the treadmill.

It is important to understand that if you have not trained for a while, you should gradually build into full HIIT sessions. The high intensity of HIIT does mean there is a greater risk of injury through poor technique as a result of fatigue. However by using the correct technique and building up slowly (ie start with shorter sessions) you can avoid injury and achieve great results.


HIIT is an extremely effective way to help reach your health and fitness goals in reduced time making it attractive to those leading busy lifestyle.  However, more than 4 sessions a week can place heavy stress on your nervous system, muscles and joints and can be detrimental to your health. We generally advise our clients to aim for 2-3 HIIT sessions a week combined with strength training, depending on their goals. Slow steady cardio can also assist with weight loss but has limited strengthening and toning benefits. Whichever you choose make sure it is the one that will help you reach your goals.