HIIT Cardio Workouts: The Truth Behind Cardio Training - Kali Coaching
HIIT Cardio Workouts

Cardiovascular training is a hotly debated topic, mostly because there are multiple sides to the cardiovascular system. Complex as it is, however, I'm going to break it down into a few sections and show you the best way to incorporate cardiovascular training (long cardio runs, HIIT cardio workouts or just strength training) into your fitness regimen.

Whether you're a marathon runner, a HIIT advocate 'til you die (probably of profuse vomiting), or someone who only gets cardio workouts from lifting weights, there will be something in this article for you. 

I promise.

What is the Cardiovascular System?

The cardiovascular system consists of the heart and blood vessels, which circulate blood throughout the body. It works in synergy with the lymphatic system, which comprises lymph, lymph nodes, and lymph vessels and returns filtered plasma to the bloodstream.

Why does this matter?

With cardiovascular disease labeled the #1 cause of death in the world, it's important to understand the systems it affects, especially because up to 90% of cardiovascular disease is preventable! Try to wrap your brain around that: the world's leading cause of death is totally avoidable!

Now that we've covered what the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems are, let's move on to the different types of cardiovascular training.

3 Types of Cardiovascular Training

1) Steady-State Cardio (SSC)

This is a more traditional style of training. It's the “I'll go for a run” or “I'll use the elliptical for 60 minutes” approach, and it's still common today. You may have heard these people nicknamed “cardio bunnies”. For a long time, this has been considered the best way to burn fat and get cardiovascular benefits. It's also the most recommended by doctors for beginners since anyone can safely perform these cardiovascular training exercises.

But steady-state cardiovascular training also gets a lot of hate (sources: 1, 2, 3). Some see it as a waste of time, while others believe there are faster and better ways to hit their goals.

The emergence of high-intensity interval training (HIIT cardio workouts) have caused people to shy away from long, slow runs in favor of this faster, more intense style of hiit cardio workouts. But don't be so quick to dismiss all these benefits of steady-state cardio:

  1. Unlike HIIT cardio workouts, SSC allows you to oxidize fat cells in your body at up to 65% of your VO2 max. (source)
  2. It increases your VO2 max and your ability to work at a higher percentage of your VO2 max. (source)
  3. SSC produces cellular adaptations that remove lactate from your blood faster, so it only accumulates at higher intensities. (source)
  4. Any exercise over two minutes uses the aerobic energy system, which is primarily built through steady-state cardio. (source)
  5. Moderate exercise facilitates recovery from strenuous physical activity more than inactive recovery. (source)
  6. SSC has been linked to increased​​​​ dihydrotestosterone and sex hormone-binding globulin in men. (source)

2) High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT Cardio Workouts)

The “new kid on the block”, HIIT cardio workouts have been around since the 70s but became super popular around 2010. A lot of people consider it the be-all and end-all of fitness. This style of training involves different types of workouts, such as sprint intervals, Tabata workouts, and circuit training.

HIIT cardio workouts involve going "all out" during your work intervals. This means shorter intervals at 85 to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate. Recovery intervals usually last as long as, or longer than, work intervals to allow your body to fully recover for the next interval. This workout can involve cardiovascular training machines (like an elliptical or bike), bodyweight, or weightlifting. A 1:3 work/rest ratio is recommended for HIIT cardio workouts intervals.

With its rise in popularity, a lot of research has emerged in favor of HIIT:

  1. HIIT cardio workouts increases the growth hormone and maintains it 10x higher for up to one hour after exercise. (source)
  2. HIIT cardio workouts have been proven to increase VO2 peak, whole body fat oxidation, and aerobic capacity in actively training women. (source)
  3. It saves time and volume. Studies have shown that the same results of traditional endurance training over two weeks can be achieved with HIIT cardio workouts in 8 fewer hours and with 90% less volume. (source)
  4. HIIT cardio workouts are proven to increase muscle oxidation and double endurance capacity in active cyclists. (source)
  5. For athletes who are already training, improvements in endurance performance can only be achieved through high-intensity interval training. (source)
  6. A common misconception is that an elevation in metabolism—known as "excess post-exercise oxygen consumption"—is responsible for the positive effects of HIIT cardio workouts, but this only accounts for 6-15% of net oxygen consumption. Most energy expenditure and its effect on body mass comes from highly intense cardiovascular training exercise, which most non-athletic people can't handle. (source)

3) Strength Training

Do you know a woman (or man) who's into lifting weights? We all know this one's my favorite. (For any questions about strength, I recommend you to check out my articles: Part I/ Part II. This post focuses specifically on the cardiovascular benefits of strength training.)

We all know that guy who says, “If I want cardio, I'll just lift weights faster.” And he makes a good point. There's no doubt that strength training has positive effects on your overall health, same as SSC and HIIT.

Here's some science to outline the cardio benefits of strength training:

  1. It significantly reduces blood pressure, increases VO2 peak by 10.6%, and drops body fat by .6%. (source)
  2. It reduces body mass, visceral fat, and LDL cholesterol and improves insulin sensitivity, even without a proper diet. (source)
  3. It increases fiber size, capillary density, maximum working capacity, VO2 max, and serum lipid profiles in older people, with intramuscular, cardiovascular, and metabolic changes similar to younger people. (source)
  4. Studies have found that overweight people who strength train have metabolic/cardiovascular risk profiles similar to normal-weight, fit individuals. (source)
  5. After only eight weeks of strength training, you can increase your VO2 max and reduce your risk of coronary artery disease. (source)
  6. This one isn't about cardiovascular training, but I have to mention this study that claims strength training workouts for women improves lipid profiles and body fat percentages in healthy women. Start lifting weights now, ladies! (source)

The Paradox of Choice

I know I've only listed the benefits of steady-state cardiovascular training, high-intensity interval training, and strength training. Call me optimistic, but I don't like bringing up the negative effects of too much running or the risks of weightlifting. I'd rather focus on eliminating the problem of choice. We try to determine which type of training is best and end up talking trash to people who favor a different one.

Realize there is no advantage to choosing SSC or HIIT cardio workouts, so stop the madness. You shouldn't fight about it with yourself or others. If there's one thing I’m learning more the older I get, it's the importance of balance for a healthy life.

The biggest problem with this argument is that HIIT and strength training primarily affect the anaerobic energy system whereas steady-state cardiovascular training primarily affects the aerobic energy system.

To understand why this is important, you need to know how your muscle metabolism responds when either of these systems is disturbed.

We've learned that strength training and sprint training help your aerobic energy system, but it's important to realize how fast the aerobic energy system kicks in when doing anaerobic activities like sprinting (between 15 and 30 seconds).

I hope you're starting to realize how important steady-state cardiovascular training is to your health. Sprinting, weightlifting, and any sort of competition all involve both energy systems, so it's best to train both!

The Perfect Trinity

That's right, you know where I'm going with this. Here's the solution to the problem:

Strength Training + Steady-State Cardio + High-Intensity Interval Training = The Perfect Trinity

Everyone's answer to choices in fitness is “It depends,” and it's true in this case too. There are also people who believe you can't get stronger, faster, and better by combining all three.

The great thing is that studies support “concurrent training” by showing the benefits of combining anaerobic and aerobic training. The University of Michigan concluded that combining strength training (anaerobic exercises) with aerobic exercises (cardiovascular training) maximizes energy and fat-burning efficiency.

Those of you who know me are probably tripping out because you know how much I hate running. However, a study from 2012 shows that concurrent training decreases hypertrophy and strength for runners, but not cyclists.

So my feelings about running are still the same. Why run when there are better alternatives? But the same can be said about back-to-back strength training and HIIT cardio workouts. Focusing on the anaerobic system causes your body to take longer to recover and increases your risk of injury or overtraining. If you're guilty of this, I would highly recommend mixing up your training because no study supports a single type of training as superior to the rest.

On a side note, this article was by far the most eye-opening for me. I learned a lot from my research, and I hope you did too. It takes a lot to challenge our beliefs, but taking the time to learn the truth allows us to refine our understanding of ourselves and our lifestyles.

So don't be afraid to experiment in your life, fitness, and hobbies. If you only run, try lifting weights too. If you're focusing on strength training or HIIT, try "recovering" for a week by using a bike for 40 minutes a day. By facing new challenges in your fitness, you can become a much healthier and happier person!

Do you practice cardiovascular training exercises? Which ones are your favorites? How have they improved your health? Share your experience in the comments below, and be sure to share this article with your friends!

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About the Author Jay Kali

Jay Kali AKA, The Strength Architect is the founder of Kali Coaching. He holds certifications as a Specialist in Strength and Conditioning, Certified Fitness Trainer, Online Trainers Academy Graduate, Training For Warriors Level 2 Graduate and is a 300-Certified Yoga Teacher in Power Yoga. He is also an Amazon Bestselling Author in four different categories and has made it his mission to help women create long lasting, healthy lifestyles in just 8 weeks!

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