Want to start an online fitness flame war? Well, there is no shortage of ways to do it. An increasingly intense one in recent years is the great cardio debate: HIIT or LISS? Choose your fat-burning fighter!
Here's the thing: An exhaustive meta-study concluded in 2017 that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and low-intensity steady state (LISS) are pretty much equally effective over the long term. But… not all of us are interested in the long term! If you're looking to lose fat faster, here's what you need to know to pick the right cardio for you.
How Cardio Intensity Affects Fat Burning
Cardio done at a moderate intensity, defined as 50-75 percent of maximal heart rate (MHR), appears to burn more actual fat in the moment (as you sit there on the bike and watch each agonizing second go by and the "calories burned" number creep up), but does not seem to have a greater effect on fat loss long term.
Exercising at a higher percentage of MHR (75 percent or more), like in Jim Stoppani's "Ultimate HIIT Cardio Workout Program," appears to burn more in the way of total calories, which could add up to greater fat loss in the shorter term.
To calculate your max heart rate, subtract your age from 220, then multiply the result by the percentage you wish to work in. For example, if you are 40 years old and want to perform cardio at 75 percent of your MHR, subtract 40 from 220, then multiply by it by 0.75 to get 149 as your target heart rate (THR).
Losing fat is one thing, losing it in a short timeline is another! That's when a fat burner is your friend.
Moderate-Intensity Cardio for Fat Loss
Let's get deep into your decision-making process. Some people look at the prospect of cycling or running for 45-60 minutes 3-5 times a week and say, "hard pass." The reason could simply be that they're not listening to a good enough podcast, of course. But maybe they're also undervaluing the benefits of steady-state cardio.
Lower-to-Moderate-Intensity Cardio Benefits
- Less impact on the joints
- Easier to perform for a greater number of people
- Can be performed regularly for months or years
- Can be used as active recovery
- Doesn't negatively impact strength workouts
Bodybuilder and transformation expert Kris Gethin likes moderate-intensity cardio so much, he does it twice a day, every day, like clockwork. It's helped him stay both lean and muscular while still being able to finish a full Iron-distance triathlon.
One other benefit: You have lots of choices. Biking, walking, hiking, jumping rope, swimming… the list goes on.
High-Intensity Cardio for Fat Loss
On the other hand, Team HIIT has some big points in its favor. A big one: It can be fun! One of our most popular workout programs, FYR: Hannah Eden's 30-Day Fitness Plan, is a high-intensity cardio-based approach that our community returns to over and over again.
High-Intensity Cardio Benefits
- Burns more total calories
- Can help increase your metabolic rate during and after training
- Improves endurance, strength, and athletic performance
- Can build muscle
- Some people find it to be more fun than old-school "cardio"
A potential downside to high-intensity cardio is that done right, it's so intense—hence the name—that not everybody can stick with it. Sure, you can be done with your workout in 4 minutes using Tabata training, or 30 minutes following a Hannah Eden FYR workout, but can you keep it up 3-5 times a week for months and months, without your other workouts suffering? If so, well, you're a beast.
One other point in favor of HIIT: You can mix it with your strength training! As elite strength coach Josh Bryant explains, you have many options—everything from lifting Tabatas to barbell complexes to strongman circuits.
Faster Fat Loss: What's the Verdict?
Despite what some high-intensity zealots say, low-intensity aerobic exercise is definitely not worthless! It's just less time efficient. Yet to burn the largest degree of body fat in the shortest amount of time, higher intensity aerobics seem to be the superior method.
If you're looking to burn fat fast, here are a few time-tested approaches:
- Start off with a couple of weeks of LISS and strength workouts to build up your conditioning. Then, after 2-4 weeks, switch to a more HIIT-focused approach to really dial in your physique. That's the approach in the popular program 30 Days Out: Craig Capurso's Extreme Cut Program. Then, after you meet your deadline or finish your program, switch back to steady-state cardio to recharge your batteries and maintain your physique!
- Perform brief bursts of cardio during the "rest" periods of your weight workouts. This approach, called "cardioacceleration," is the backbone of Jim Stoppani's popular Shortcut to Shred workout program.
- Combine weights and cardio by following the video workouts in FYR or FYR 2.0: Hannah Eden's 8-Week Muscle-Building Fat-Loss Plan. Get addicted to her high-energy approach, and fat won't stand a chance.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.