There's Always a Role for Cardio

Jake Nalepa

Dublin, Ireland

Strength and Conditioning, Massage Therapy


High-intensity interval training (HIIT) was the number one fitness trend of 2017 (according to the American College of Sports Medicine). Over a year later HIIT seems to be as popular as ever, reducing low-intensity, steady/sustained state training (LISS) to a mere inconvenience. Is HIIT better than LISS? Let’s find out.


What Is HIIT?

HIIT is a training protocol involving repeated bouts of medium to high-intensity work broken up with periods of low-intensity work or complete rest. It is a clever way of substituting regular, disorganized, and purposeless cardio with something less boring.



Numerous studies suggest that HIIT is excellent at developing both aerobic and anaerobic capacity. But when something seems to be too good to be true, it normally is. Calm down, sit back down, and carry on with this article before you go smashing another round of HIIT.


Too Much Isn't Better

The last time I checked, more was simply more, not better. Problem with HIIT is that you keep going harder, digging deeper, and resting less. As impressive as it may seem, your body doesn’t appreciate it as much as you do.


Especially if you’ve already done 3-4 weight sessions that week, and worked 40 hours, and had a fight with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Remember, exercise still equals stress. If you keep adding more stress and under-recovering, even the toughest of you will eventually break.


Does this mean you should avoid HIIT completely? Hell no. Just be smart about it. First of all, even professional athletes wouldn’t use HIIT more than 2-3 times per week so why would you? And let me tell you, professional athletes have teams of people looking after their recovery. Having a protein shake post-workout does not qualify as a recovery tool. Sorry bros!


Second of all, use appropriate rest periods. Working constantly at a very high intensity with minimal rest overstimulates your central nervous system. This can lead to high levels of cortisol as well as a lot of muscle damage.


Anaerobic style HIIT sessions heavily tax the body and can result in long-lasting muscular and neural fatigue. By keeping the working intervals between 30-60 seconds and the work to rest ratio between 1:1 and 1:2, you will tap into both the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems. The body can recover far quicker when it utilizes aerobic pathways.


There's Always a Role for Cardio - Fitness, rest and recovery, HIIT, high intensity interval training, high intensity training, steady state, daily exercise, Low Intensity Training, LISS


What Is LISS?

LISS is about keeping your heart rate at a relatively low level (50-60%) and staying in the aerobic zone, meaning you can easily breathe and utilize all that precious oxygen. Steady state cardio training is generally aerobic training that is low to medium in intensity and longer in duration.


While 30 minutes seems to be the average amount of time for this type of training, other people go for upwards of 60 minutes. This training protocol will help you build and develop aerobic capacity which will not only make you “fitter” but also supports overall recovery. It will help build your aerobic base and will get your body strong enough so you can withstand the more intense modes of cardio.



A very important feature of LISS is that it is not as taxing on your CNS. Aerobic training not only increases overall health markers but also aids in recovery from heavy weight training. An overactive sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode), a pitfall of shitty aerobic development, destroys your performance.


Therefore, steady state cardio can also be useful to add into your workout program if you need an easier day to recover between harder strength workouts or the more intense modes of conditioning.


HIIT and LISS Serve Different Purposes

It is unfair to say that either of the two is better or worse. They are just are different. Both have their own pros and cons. If you train with heavy weights 3-4 times per week, LISS can be a fantastic recovery tool as well as just another way of getting stronger.


If you’re stuck for time or looking to push your body to its limit, 2-3 HIIT sessions per week will do the job.


It’s like comparing Cristiano Ronaldo and Lewis Hamilton. Both are world class at what they do. The only issue is that one plays football, another one is a Formula One driver—two completely different sports, two completely different skill sets.

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