Saturday, June 27, 2015
Intense interval workouts vs. slow and steady

By DANIEL REYNEN Citizen Columnist

When talking about cardio programs, there are two groups of people. Those who practice steady state cardio and those that do intervals. 

Steady state cardio is where you run at a constant speed for a set period of time. Interval training, also known as high intensity interval training (HIIT) is where you run or move for short bursts at a very fast pace, mixed in with slow periods where you recover.

Both sides believe their approach is superior. So I was intrigued when a friend forwarded me an article written by Andrew Heffernan that claimed, “Discover why a blend of both high- and low-intensity exercise is the best system of cardiovascular training.”

A blend of both programs? It certainly sounds like a smart approach. I’ve found combining the techniques from various practices very beneficial for my clients trying to build muscle. Then I read the article.

Rather than highlighting new medical information, Mr. Heffernan used the article as a way to express his opinion. An opinion wholly unsupported by the facts.

One example in the article is a tweet that the writer posted. It says; “The best system of cardiovascular training probably isn’t the all-or-nothing approach. Rather, it’s a blend of both higher and lower-intensity cardiovascular training that’s tailored to your body and your goals.”

It’s a great quote, but who said it? What research is being referenced? Where is the proof? Oh wait... it was a tweet. There is no proof and the article doesn’t offer anything to back it up.

In making the case for steady state cardio, Mr. Heffernan quotes a personal trainer and gym owner who says, “So many people these days are stressed out, on the go, can’t relax, can’t shut down, ...and then they go to the gym and stress their bodies more with high-intensity workouts. But what they need is more steady-state, chill-you-out workouts.”

Perhaps Mr. Heffernan is missing the point of exercising in a gym. Most people go to improve cardio capacity, drop fat and build muscle. If you’re looking for a place to unwind or “chill out” you should consider meditation, quite walks or some alone time in a private place.

Then Mr. Heffernan says something very interesting. While trying to defend steady state cardio, he says, “Critics of steady-state cardio exercise are right about a few things. It isn’t a cure-all. Beyond a low baseline level, you won’t build much strength, power, or muscle. And contrary to what many people believe, you won’t burn an appreciable amount of fat, either.”

So remind me, why exactly are people doing steady state cardio? Because people who do intervals or HIIT using a heart rate monitor burn significantly more fat than steady state cardio AND they build muscle. That’s a fact Mr. Heffernan admitted when he said, “One 1994 study at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, found HIIT was nine times more effective for losing fat than steady-state cardio.”

Over the years since I first started writing about it, there have been dozens of solid studies that show heart rate based interval training is better for nearly every group of people it was tested on.

Studies looked at: Patients recovering from heart failure, overweight children trying to reduce their cardiovascular risk factors, reversing the risks of metabolic syndrome, increasing insulin sensitivity (for diabetics), people with hypertension, patients recovering from coronary artery bypass surgery, athletes trying to improve their endurance capacity and people over the age of 65 trying to get back in shape.

In every case, heart rate based interval training was at least twice as effective at burning fat, while increasing cardio function and building muscle.

The key to making interval training work, is to ignore fixed or pre-set intervals. Instead, interval length and intensity should vary based on individual heart rate and fitness level. As you change, so should the interval program.

Don’t waste your time combining steady state and intervals. Stick with what’s clinically proven to work better. Heart rate based interval training.

Caution: Before beginning any exercise program check with your doctor first. For a free consultation with a WeBeFit trainer,

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