Cardio is often a hotly discussed topic in the fitness niche. Here are the proven reasons why HIIT is superior to traditional cardio.
People fall into different categories when it comes to opinion over which style of cardio is best. If you’re currently one of those people who slave away on the treadmill for 30 minutes or longer, then you may want to reconsider the way you train.
Without further ado, here are a few ways HIIT beats out old-style cardio.
Reason #1: HIIT Burns More Fat
It’s worth switching over to HIIT for this reason alone. HIIT is simply more effective at targeting fat stores.
This is for the simple reason that it elevates your metabolism for a longer period of time after the workout. This results in more overall calories burned even if you remain mostly sedentary after the exercise.
Even more importantly, a greater percentage of the weight loss comes from body fat. This was proven in this study that compared a 15-week HIIT regimen to a 20-week traditional cardio program.
Subjects in the latter group actually lost 15,000 more calories than the HIIT group. Those that did HIIT, though, lost a greater percentage of body fat.
An East Tennessee State University study revealed similar results, where subjects that performed HIIT for eight weeks saw a 2% reduction in body fat, compared to zero changes for a traditional cardio group.
Weight loss isn’t just about overall calories burned; the percentages matter.
Losing weight doesn’t necessarily improve your physique. In fact, it can make you look even worse if a greater percentage of the weight loss comes from muscle. This explains why marathon runners often look gaunt with the skinny-fat build.
Reason #2: HIIT Preserves Muscle
One of the biggest drawbacks of steady-state cardio is the eventual muscle loss.
You will lose some body fat with traditional aerobics, but a bit of muscle will be collateral damage. This can especially be disheartening for men who are trying to lose fat following months of a rigorous bulk-up phase.
Losing muscle that was built on the back of pain, sweat, and dedication can be soul-crushing.
This is precisely why cardio should comprise of HIIT. When combined with resistance training and supplementation with a BCAA product, you will hold onto muscle while burning away at your body’s fat stores.
When you do traditional cardio, your body inevitably targets muscle for fuel. This results in the breakdown of protein into amino acids that can be used for energy during steady-state endurance training.
This was demonstrated in a study that compared a weight-training-only group with a traditional cardio-only group. While the latter lost more weight overall, their waistlines actually expanded!
Yes, the group that did traditional aerobics only ended up with a bigger midsection. Why did this happen? The group lost muscle as a result of the steady-state aerobics and lack of resistance training.
Less muscle = a slower metabolism.
Another problem with cardio done the old fashion way is that it deteriorates muscle tissue, reduces the muscle’s ability to absorb glucose after training, and also results in lower testosterone levels.
HIIT, on the other hand, has been shown to do the opposite by elevating growth hormones, as shown in this study.
Reason #3: HIIT Improves Endurance
Those who train for performance rather than aesthetics may be more inclined to stick with traditional cardio, believing that this way of training is more suitable for improving lung capacity and long-endurance performance.
There is no question that regular cardio helps improve overall conditioning; that is undisputable. However, HIIT also improves stamina, so it’s definitely not just for people looking to lose body fat while preserving muscle.
A Plos One study revealed that cardio done for short bursts at high intensity (similar to done in HIIT) elevates mitochondria in the blood, thus improving body and brain function.
If you must do regular cardio for improving endurance for a given sport or other athletic activity, then consider mixing up the training now and then by incorporating HIIT. It’s a great way to keep the workout fresh.
This study, in fact, demonstrates that HIIT improves endurance performance among athletes who have reached a plateau training the conventional way.
Most trainers actually have beginners start out with traditional aerobics since it’s less demanding. Once they become physically conditioned, the trainers add high-interval training to the regimen.
HIIT is also beneficial in the endurance department especially if you use exercises that specifically target a certain muscle group frequently used for your given sport.
If you’re a wrestler or jiu-jitsu practitioner, for instance, then an exercise like the burpee or high vertical jump can be incorporated into HIIT. These movements develop explosive strength, which is needed when executing or defending a takedown.
Reason #4: HIIT Is Less Time Consuming
Traditional cardio is usually done for 30-45 minutes, while HIIT lasts about 15-20 minutes. That’s a 10 to 30 minute difference.
Sure, that may not seem like a whole lot, but for those juggling a full work schedule and family commitments, those few extra minutes really go a long way. Shorter workouts also keep you more motivated and helps prevent boredom from kicking in.
In this study, over half of participants surveyed indicated that they preferred HIIT over more traditional training modalities. This is likely because HIIT often involves multiple exercises, as opposed to regular cardio that involves a single activity done over the entire 30-45 minute duration.
So, not only is HIIT less time consuming, but it’s also more likely to keep you motivated. This is a big factor because if you’re lacking motivation, you’ll be more inclined to skip training sessions. This also explains why most fitness-related New Year’s resolutions ultimately fail.
A shorter workout is also beneficial if you perform cardio immediately following strength training. Aside from first thing in the morning, immediately after weight training is the only other optimal window for getting in your cardio.
Reason #5: HIIT Decreases Appetite
In the marathon community, there is a phenomenon known as “runger.” This is the feeling of increased hunger after or even during running. Runger has also been known to occur several hours after workout or even the day after.
While the condition is often reported among long-distance athletes, recreational runners who do regular cardio have also reported the same experience of an insatiable appetite and a need to immediately raid the fridge following a training session.
With HIIT, however, there’s evidence to believe that the opposite is true. Studies have shown that a HIIT workout suppresses the production of ghrelin, a hormone known for stimulating hunger.
HIIT also reduces cortisol, which is known for increasing appetite and especially a craving for carbs.
Remember, fat loss isn’t achievable without a calorie deficit. If you cave into your cravings, then you may have very well nullified the work you just put into your training session.
Since HIIT reduces hunger, you’ll be less inclined to reward yourself with that slice of cheesecake or double-fudge ice cream.
Reason #6: HIIT Is Better for the Heart
If long-distance running is good for you, then marathon runners would be the shining examples of men and women in peak health. However, this is far from the case.
Here is the (inconvenient) truth: marathon runners have a disproportionately high rate of heart muscle scarring.
This was what was found in a study where it was discovered that half of the members of the 100 Marathon Club (exclusive to those who completed 100 or more marathons) showed signs of the condition.
Other studies also showed that endurance athletes had a weakened immune system, excess cortisol levels, and excess inflammation.
Granted, these studies were conducted on athletes who trained for hours on end and kept at it for many years. There's no concrete evidence that traditional cardio done for 30-45 minutes three to four times a week will scar your heart.
It does, however, raise eyebrows about the validity of steady-state aerobics.
HIIT, on the other hand, has been studied extensively, and the effects on heart health have long been documented. For one, studies show that it reduces metabolic syndrome, a condition defined by high LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels. All of these symptoms drastically elevate your risk for heart disease.
What’s more, studies have also showed that HIIT training is more effective than traditional cardio in reversing the effects of coronary artery disease.
On a side note...despite the studies, you still need to consult with your doctor before beginning a HIIT program, or any other workout routine for that matter, if you have a preexisting heart condition. Don’t just dive into a HIIT regimen thinking that it will magically cure you of your ailment.
Reason #7: HIIT Is Kinder on the Joints
If you jog for your cardio exercise, that’s 30-45 minutes of non-stop pounding on the knees. After doing that for many years, you may begin to experience lower joint pain that forces you into the sidelines.
Even alternatives like cycling is known to create knee pain and can lead to a condition known as knee bursitis, which leaves the bone and ligaments in the joint vulnerable to friction.
Now, this isn’t to say that HIIT is an injury-proof workout. Due to the high-pace movement, you are prone to injury if you’re a beginner and your body is not use to the motion. However, once you’re fully eased into the workout, you’re less likely to injure yourself from the overuse of a muscle or joint.
This is due to the fact that HIIT sessions are shorter. Since HIIT involves different exercises, you are also less likely to subject the joints to a repetitive movement over and over.
On a side note, you’re just as vulnerable to joint pain from a sedentary lifestyle. There is a condition colloquially known as “office knee.” It’s basically the sedentary person’s version of runner’s knee.
This shows that being a couch potato doesn’t protect you from joint aches. The best prevention is a proven exercise technique like HIIT.
Reason #8: HIIT Increases Strength
When it comes to muscle preservation and growth, you have to add strength training to your plan; there is no way around it. To stimulate growth, though, you have to train to absolute failure. To reach failure, you have to be on your absolute A-game.
This is yet another reason traditional cardio may not be best. This study from the University of Tampa showed that cardio, when done concurrently with resistance training, reduced strength output by about 50%.
HIIT, though, increases strength and athletic output, as demonstrated in this study. Exercises done with high intensity and brief rest periods increased overall maximal oxygen intake (VO2 max).
Reason #9: HIIT Boosts Brain Power
Studies show that cardio of any type improves cognitive function. That, right there, tells you that any form of physical activity does the brain good and is a heck of a lot better than sitting on the couch all day.
Certain workouts, however, boosts mental function more efficiently. A Brazilian study tested subjects’ memories following either HIIT or steady-state cardio. The results revealed that the HIIT group demonstrated better short-term memory recall and selective attention.
Research also shows that exercise increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This is a protein vital for promoting the growth and maturation of neurons.
BDNF production is believed to be proportional to the intensity of the exercise. More intensity equals more BDNF. High BDNF levels are also associated with better moods and sparking creativity.
HIIT Has No Equal
Traditional cardio certainly has its place. It’s certainly helpful for beginners who need to get their body used to physical activity before turning up the intensity.
Beyond that, HIIT is better in just about every aspect. If it’s results you want, then stick with a method that has scores of scientific backing.
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You’ll have a complete blueprint of how to approach this time-and-tested workout for accelerated fat loss. Many people eschew HIIT and stick with traditional cardio because it’s less agonizing.
However, you have to be willing to go balls-to-the-wall if you truly desire for a better body!