T Nation

Comparing Cardio Workouts


Ive been training for 18 years, have an exercise science degree, several certifications and have worked in the fitness field off and on since 1997. With everything I've learned over the years, sometimes reading too much confuses even me and I start second guessing even though I know what works for me. I know results vary depending on gender, age, body type, genetics, etc, but I would like to get your opinion on this.

Which burns more calories/fat: long sustained cardio (45-60 min) at a steady low-moderate pace or 20 minute HIIT training? Personally, I hate cardio so I haven't performed long sessions that much haha, but have gotten great results with HIIT. Give me your opinions!!


i think that is a trick question.

you will burn a higher percentage of calories from fat stores with the long slow cardio. but think of it this way. would you rather have 50% of $100 or 30% of $200? the $100 is like long slow cardio, less total calories but higher percentage from fat. while the HIIT is more like the $200 example.

IMO you also need to take into account the metabolic response afterwards. you can continue to increase your metabolic needs much higher and for longer periods with HIIT then with long slow cardio. so if you are looking for a greater caloric burn HIIT wins out.

but there is more than a caloric burn with those 2 types of cardio. as you are well aware there is difference between the physiological adaption. i believe both have their place and both should be done for fitness reasons.

and i will throw this in there as you have a science background:
HIIT builds fitness faster. 30 min @ 60% vs 10x4 @ 90% w/ 2 min rest. Aerobic capacity increased by 13%, fat burning capacity up by 36%, and key aerobic enzymes increased by 25%
-Journal Applied Physilogy, 102: 1439-1447, 2007

High intensity weight training boosts blood sugar control. Strength training increases fat metabolism by stimulating beta-adrenic receptors รข?? cell structures that make adrenaline and increase metabolism and fat use. Improves blood sugar metabolism. Univ. of Montana, led by Andy Miller showed that high intensity/low volume weight training promoted better blood sugar regulation than low intensity/high volume work.
-Journal Strength Conditioning Research, 21: 330-335, 2007


Depends on your diet.

Read Shelby's article on fat loss.


That was a great response soon eye and I agree both should be used. I do like that the HIIT keeps metabolism up longer not to mention again, I hate long slow boring cardio.
@JFG my diet is 6 meals a day (altho TC disagrees now) and I eat carbs only pre and post workout. Well, my shakes have a small amount of carbs but very little. I eat every 2 to 3 hours with chicken, eggs, shakes, tuna, fruit, rice, oatmeal and veggies being the foods I eat. I drink all shakes with water as well!


The other, less scientific consideration is that the best workout is the one that you actually do.

If you are of the temperment that gets bored doing long slow cardio, HIIT will burn more fat because you are more likely to do it more consistently over a longer period of time.


Definetely!!!! 20 min sounds good to me Hahha!


you can't go wrong with HIT, we were developed thorough millions of years to that kind of stuff.


wait a minute....

you got all those degrees and certifications and you dont know the answer to that age old question????

hate to be a client of yours...



At least he is man enough to admit he gets confused at times with all this information overload. I'd much rather have a trainer who admits he doesn't know everything and is constantly learning as opposed to being a know-it-all.

Edit: if you really are 55, as your HUB says, I would think you would have a bit more maturity and humility, but then, the internet, just like drugs, liquor and bad times, often reveals people for who they truly are...


I appreciate that whitehurst and spk, it's clear u didnt finish elementary much less have a degree cause u can't even read. I never said I didn't know the answer, I said I wanted opinions. By the way, ur seriously gonna mouth off and don't even have a picture. Oh wait i forgot, u didn't learn how to download in school cause they don't teach that in elementary. This site shud be about helping people with questions not hiding behind the computer and poppin off. I hate to stoop down to ur level, but Imma grown ass man dawg so Imma say something when dicks like u chime in with nonsense!


erm... I personally think hitt all the way, due to it advantages on metabolic rate and the effect it has on insulin sesnitvity also on the effect it has on the minortichia. I would not write off liss, which is brilliant for post workout, or morning cardio when there is is a alot of fatty acids floating about.

Saying all of this I am trying hitt every day for the next month, no weight training due to injury, but hey what the hell if it improves my bodys ability to use nutrients when I start weight training again, be able to eat more with less risk of body fat.

Just outta of curosity, what hitt training u use, I could use some new ones.


I use the one Chad Waterbury has in his Huge in a Hurry book. 20 min with 15 sec sprints followed by 45 sec recovery.


I don't have a degree in fitness but you can't perform an exercise for 20 minutes and call it HIIT.
As I recall, HITT workouts lasts for about 4 minutes - 20 seconds full blast, 10 seconds rest/cruise, repeat until done, then stagger off somewhere and feel grateful that your still alive.

I don't do HITT very often anymore because I'm an ecotmorph whose trying to add mass but my favorites are (using above 20 sec on, 10 sec off):

  • Sprinting (walk in between sprints)
  • Erg Rowing (with puke bucket nearby)
  • Battling ropes (don't die here)
  • Stationary Bike (ugh, but best for beginners)

I think Prowler work could be quite effective too, but I've never tried it.
The thing to remember is that you can hit different body parts if you put your mind to it.

Dont just focus on one exercise for HITT.

Enjoy - Ick

Edit: Looks like I confused Tabata and HITT, so my apologies there.


What you are describing is the Tabata protocol. This is a popular subset of HIIT which is no doubt awesome, but it's not the only game in town. Many HIIT programs are based around 20-30min. sessions composed of varying work/rest intervals.

This article outlines a few different options.



Cardio is typically boring, so even if the cardio workout burns a lot of calories, it doesn't mean someone will actually do it for long. Instead of trying to figure out the most effective cardio, think about what cardio you will actually do for more than a week.

For me, the only cardio that doesn't leave me completely bored is: hiking, martial arts, and Zumba. Yeah, I do Zumba only because it doesn't bore the crap out of me, not because I think it's super effective.

Of course, there are also some sports that are pretty high intensity such as basketball, tennis, and squash. But I don't see many buff tennis and squash players.

But, then, it comes back to your goals. Why are you working out in the first place?

For example, I love hiking, so my workouts are around how I can make my hikes as enjoyable as possible. I don't want to finish a hike out of breath. I want to enjoy the scenery and explore. Likewise, I don't want to be huffing and puffing half way through a martial arts class either, nor do I want to pull any muscles, so I have stretching goals as well.

I hope this helps.