T Nation

Steady State Cardio?

I realize that most coaches on this site prefer some sort of HIIT training for optimal weight loss.

I have a professor who believes that for the average person, steady state cardio is better. His reasoning behind this is that your average joe looking to lose weight is not going to be willing to exercise at the intensity level required for HIIT and will be much more likely to drop out.

I am curious what those of you who work as trainers have found to be true. What have you all found to be the most effective means of weight loss for your clients?

(I understand diet plays a huge role and would be interested in what you find works best there as well, however in the question above I am referring to the most effective exercise style. Also any peer reviewed articles you could direct me toward comparing the different types of training styles would be great.)

In my experience it’s harder to get trainees to TRY higher intensity cardio but once they try it they find it more enjoyable than repetitive and time-consuming steady-state work.

Go to any playground and watch 5-year olds chasing each other around, sprinting full tilt with all they’ve got! Kids NEVER willingly jog for any length of time except in gym class. Sprinting is FUN!

Weight control wise sprinting works better than steady-state work because it helps BUILD muscle, whereas steady-state cardio does the opposite. Check out the physiques of sprinters vs. marathoners. Sprinters are muscular; the long-distance guys look emaciated because long-distance running is CATABOLIC. This has been proven.

More lean tissue means more calories burned at rest, hence, greater weight loss. Sprint-workouts cause another metabolic kick through EPOC, which is minimal with steady-state cardio. Higher intensity wins on both fronts.

Not to mention sprinting is more fun and less time consuming.

I say there’s no contest. If joint pain is an issue, you can try high-intensity swimming or biking.

So most of your subjects would rather have a briefer more intense workout than a long lower intensity one. Now I know lower intensity cardio uses more fat as fuel, whereas more intense exercise relies primarily on carbs for fuel. However it does take about a total of 35 miles to burn a pound of fat.

This seems really inefficient for weight loss, aside from the fact that is stimulates more cortisol production and possibly results in a fast to slow twitch fiber transition… But you are saying since the body will have a much higher EPOC after the HIIT and this helps clients drop the weight faster.

So is there any way to optimise the use of fat stores during this recovery process?

Everyone is correct, however in the right circumstances. HIIT is extremely effective for athletes and weightloss as well as maintaining cardiovascular fitness whilst not hindering muscle growth (though a walk never hurt anyone).

However I will make this one caveat, when dealing with sedentary and overweight individuals the risks associated with heart attacks and strokes I believe are far to high. It this instance I would reccomend at least a four week period of a solid diet, with a gradual steady state cardio build up, along with a solid stretching routine, and a high rep anatomical adaption phase for weights training.

Thanks to those who have responded. It has helped some but im still not entirely clear on the issue. In this one article i was reading (Comparison of energy expenditure elevations after submaximal and supramaximal running. Link: http://jap.physiology.org/cgi/content/full/82/2/661) They came to the following conclusion.

“Notwithstanding the higher EPEE [excess postexercise energy expenditure] for supramaximal interval running compared with submaximal continuous running, the major contribution of both to weight loss is therefore via the energy expended during the actual exercise. The 135-kJ greater EPEE for the interval treatment is of little physiological significance to the energy balance of athletes because this amount of energy is equivalent to the kilojoules in only 75 ml of orange juice. However, when exercise for weight loss is utilized, the EPEE would have a cumulative effect when the exercise is undertaken regularly. Although the EPEE resultant from supramaximal running in this study would be associated with a greater cumulative effect, the exercise intensity and duration involved would be beyond the capabilities of nonathletes. It has also been reported that exercise programs utilizing intensities >85% O2 max are associated with significant increases in dropout rates and injuries (22).”

So does anyone know of any other studies that have addressed this issue more recently? Most of the ones that I have found seem to agree that while EPOC is elevated after more HIIT type training, the total effect is negligible and usually only as a result of exercise levels above and beyond that which your average gym goer could perform. Another study performed a little earlier concluded that “even after a 35-km run, which is well beyond the capacities of sedentary persons, the contribution of the postexercise increase in metabolism to weight loss is relatively minor when compared with the net energy expenditure during the run.” However most coaches seem to prefer HIIT overall so I am still curious to know why it works better and under what parameters it seems to be beneficial or should be avoided.

No ideas/articles anyone has or knows of?

I have to do steady state cardio for my sport (nordic skiing) so we run 3-6 miles a day 4x a week. Sometimes we sprint instead though.

long distance runner: http://www.T-Nation.com/img/photos/06-070-feature/image015.jpg

sprinter:
http://www.nccu.edu/campus/athletics/jstfpr03.jpg

[quote]dynamicfitness wrote

Weight control wise sprinting works better than steady-state work because it helps BUILD muscle, whereas steady-state cardio does the opposite. Check out the physiques of sprinters vs. marathoners. Sprinters are muscular; the long-distance guys look emaciated because long-distance running is CATABOLIC. This has been proven.
[/quote]
I will agree that jogging is catabolic. I’m not totally high intesity cardio for bodybuilding, but sprinting is just too much for most people IMO. I think it wears on the joints and CNS and detracts from weight training. If you’re training legs hard twice a week you need all the recovery you can get. Not to mention the fact that most people will end up hurting themselves trying to sprint. If you want high intesity cardio, I think rowing machines, stepmills, swimming, and dragging sleds are MUCH better options.

Also, I’m getting tired of the whole “sprinters are muscular so we should all sprint and we will look like them” bullshit. Could it be that these guys are superior athletes to begin with? A lot of guys on my high
school football team ate Doritoes and a Coke for lunch, never lifted very hard, but were the biggest and fastest guys on the team. I’m willing to bet that this is the story on most high school and many college programs throughout the country.

More lean tissue means more calories burned at rest, hence, greater weight loss. Sprint-workouts cause another metabolic kick through EPOC, which is minimal with steady-state cardio. Higher intensity wins on both fronts.

No arguments. Again I think that sprints are too much to recover from and will hinder the progress of the typical bodybuilder (bodybuilder meaning a non-athlete training to improve physical appearance).

If the average Joe isn’t willing to do the hard work, then they can expect average results.

I have patella issues in my left knee, so sprinting is something I do only occasionally. Some seem to talk as if sprinting were the only form of HIIT, and it isn’t. I have successfully incorporated it in my fat loss programs using a stationary bike, a rowing machine or an eliptical trainer.

The original Tabata protocol was designed for a stationary bike, not for front squats, remember that.

I’ve had the steady cardio vs HIIT debate on another board, and it all came down to this: HIIT is more effective, yet also harder, so most people would rather take the easy way out (steady state cardio) and get inferior results.

Of course, we’re all assuming the individual practicing HIIT is fit enough to do so and won’t keel over and die.

I appreciate the input but it would be nice to see some studies done on the difference between the two. Anyone know of any? As far as the sprinter vs. marathon runner goes, yes the sprinter appears better than the long distance runner.

I do think however, that this is due more to the fact that they both train specifically for their sport. A Long distance runner doesn’t want excess bodyweight. The extra pounds of muscle on their upper body that “go along for the ride” as it were, do not benefit them in any way. I have a few of the cross country team in class and while they don’t posses the physique I desire, they def. have low body fat levels. Just my thoughts on the subject.

Alwyn Cosgrove cited a study earlier this week on this very topic. Just go to alwnycosgrove.com, click on the blog, and scroll down to TUESDAY MARCH 6th. Further info is available on his blog from OCTOBER 19th of 2006. Forgive my computer illiterate inability to post the link here…

As you’ll see, the results of the study are pretty interesting: 20 minute interval sessions over 15 weeks caused fat loss; steady state cardio for 40 minutes bouts over the same 15-week period caused fat GAIN (!).

For people concerned with possible injuries from the high-intensity work, note that the sprint group built up from a workout length of just FIVE MINUTES. They subsequently built up to a workout of just HALF the length of the steady state group, and still beat them handily in fat loss.

More on the topic of possible injury: as others have stated on this thread, you’ve got to build up to the higher intensities, and all-out running may not be a safe choice for some clients. But I still think that trainers need to find safe and effective ways to increase intensity, even for deconditioned folks–be it by having them do swimming intervals or walking briskly up hills. If you’re not presenting the client with a challenging stimulus which will cause adaptation (muscle gain, fat loss, better cv functioning), then what function are you serving as a trainer?

Finally, steady state cardio is catabolic in part because the body is trying to make the activity more efficient. Smaller muscles mean the blood has less far to travel to deliver oxygen to the muscles. “Greater capillary density” is the smarty-pants way of describing this effect, and it’s a proven result of this type of exercise (I read about it in the ESSENTIALS OF STRENGTH TRAINING AND CONDITIONING textbook, for you citation hounds).

This suggests that, although genetics certainly play a role in who’s good at what track event, the activity itself clearly contributes to the less-muscular look of the long-distance types.

I’m not positive whether sprinting itself builds muscle, but it’s hard to dismiss the jacked look of most of the guys toeing the line at the 100-meter dash. It also makes intuitive sense that sprinting would help bulk you up, given its similarity in work/rest ratio, effort level, and intensity to weight training, the most anabolic activity of all.

Forgive the lengthy post; I find this stuff geekishly fascinating…

[quote]dynamicfitness wrote:

I agree it is very fascinating. Thanks for that link to the study posted by alwyn cosgrove, extremely interesting. I will try to find it in its entirety and read it. I agree with you that the activity does contribute to their look. The point I was trying to make was that comparing a jacked sprinter to an emaciated (in contrast) long distance runner seems to me to be comparing differences in muscle mass rather more than a body fat level comparison. As far as sprinting contributing to their high levels of muscle mass I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t. Like you stated it is performed under parameters close to that of weight lifting and heavily involves fast twitch muscle fibers as well as slow. In order to produce more power the muscle will hypertrophy. As far as the very developed deltoids usually displayed by sprinters goes I’m not sure. But i would assume the constant stress put on them when the sprinters foot strikes the ground has something to do with it. As well as the fact that most of them perform some sort of weight training exercise. On the flip side an endurance runner will have little stimulation (in comparison) of the fast twitch fibers. Since he already has a base strength level sufficient to perform his sport all physiological adaptations will be geared toward improving VO2 max, raising lactic threshold and improving the oxidative energy systems efficiency. This in addition to the fact that excess weight is counterproductive would explain the lack of hypertrophy.

[quote]smorr wrote:

I agree it is very fascinating. Thanks for that link to the study posted by alwyn cosgrove, extremely interesting. I will try to find it in its entirety and read it. I agree with you that the activity does contribute to their look. The point I was trying to make was that comparing a jacked sprinter to an emaciated (in contrast) long distance runner seems to me to be comparing differences in muscle mass rather more than a body fat level comparison. As far as sprinting contributing to their high levels of muscle mass I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t. Like you stated it is performed under parameters close to that of weight lifting and heavily involves fast twitch muscle fibers as well as slow. In order to produce more power the muscle will hypertrophy. As far as the very developed deltoids usually displayed by sprinters goes I’m not sure. But i would assume the constant stress put on them when the sprinters foot strikes the ground has something to do with it. As well as the fact that most of them perform some sort of weight training exercise. On the flip side an endurance runner will have little stimulation (in comparison) of the fast twitch fibers. Since he already has a base strength level sufficient to perform his sport all physiological adaptations will be geared toward improving VO2 max, raising lactic threshold and improving the oxidative energy systems efficiency. This in addition to the fact that excess weight is counterproductive would explain the lack of hypertrophy. [/quote]

I think you’ll find that elite marathon runners have higher body fat % than elite sprinters. This is because of the muscle the sprinters have. If you look at the whole picture and not an individual training session it makes perfect sense to train like a sprinter to have the lower body fat.

If we only had 60 minutes to live and had to choose the best way to lose maximum fat before we die, then steady aerobics will win…but then you die.

Let’s spice this up a little.

While I appreciate the studies mentioned in this post I can tell you from experience that slow steady state cardio (SSSC) is not the devil you make it out to be. Has anyone here actually experienced the fat gain caused by SSSC, as I seem to miss it for some reason? HIIT may well burn more calories than SSSC meaning that consuming the same amount of calories would lead to possible fat gain. But let’s face it, anyone with common sense should be able to work out whether they need to drop calories if they are trying to lose fat.

Let’s take the marathon runner vs. sprinter analogy to it’s logical conclusion shall we?

Q) What is both more muscular and leaner than a sprinter?

A) A bodybuilder.

Q) What type of cardio seems to be favoured by bodybuilders when preparing for a contest?

A) SSSC, a common example is incline walking on a treadmill.

Q) Do bodybuilders seem to achieve results from their SSSC?

A) Yes.

Q) Is it therefore possible that SSSC is an effective way to lose fat when combined with a good diet?

A) Yes.

Now I’m certainly not anti HITT (it’s the form of cardio I’m using now that I’m bulking) but I realise that both forms of cardio are merely tools. It seems that people are being so successful with their training these days that they can completely disregard entire training strategies.

[quote]IQ wrote:
Let’s spice this up a little.

While I appreciate the studies mentioned in this post I can tell you from experience that slow steady state cardio (SSSC) is not the devil you make it out to be. Has anyone here actually experienced the fat gain caused by SSSC, as I seem to miss it for some reason? HIIT may well burn more calories than SSSC meaning that consuming the same amount of calories would lead to possible fat gain. But let’s face it, anyone with common sense should be able to work out whether they need to drop calories if they are trying to lose fat.

Let’s take the marathon runner vs. sprinter analogy to it’s logical conclusion shall we?

Q) What is both more muscular and leaner than a sprinter?

A) A bodybuilder.

Q) What type of cardio seems to be favoured by bodybuilders when preparing for a contest?

A) SSSC, a common example is incline walking on a treadmill.

Q) Do bodybuilders seem to achieve results from their SSSC?

A) Yes.

Q) Is it therefore possible that SSSC is an effective way to lose fat when combined with a good diet?

A) Yes.

Now I’m certainly not anti HITT (it’s the form of cardio I’m using now that I’m bulking) but I realise that both forms of cardio are merely tools. It seems that people are being so successful with their training these days that they can completely disregard entire training strategies.[/quote]

Check out the study; both the HIIT and the SSSC groups started from scratch; no one switched from one to the other, so the fat gain in the SSSC group was not caused by a change in caloric output.

As a sometime Olympic-dist. triathlete, I’ve done a lot of SSSC in the past and I don’t “make it out to be the devil;” I just believe that for the purposes of the average trainee you get far more bang for your buck working at higher intensities…that goes for cardio AND weights, naturally.

Bodybuilders will use SSSC to amp up caloric burn during cutting phases in an effort to shed fat while not overstressing muscles that are getting pounded daily with high-volume weight workouts. I admire these people but most folks have neither that kind of time nor those kinds of physique goals.

The most common reason people give for not exercising is lack of time. Assuming we’re not talking about someone who is very deconditioned or injured, why should a trainee spend a SECOND of what time they have doing a form of exercise whose benefits can be acheived in significantly less time at higher intensities?

[quote]dynamicfitness wrote:
Check out the study; both the HIIT and the SSSC groups started from scratch; no one switched from one to the other, so the fat gain in the SSSC group was not caused by a change in caloric output.

As a sometime Olympic-dist. triathlete, I’ve done a lot of SSSC in the past and I don’t “make it out to be the devil;” I just believe that for the purposes of the average trainee you get far more bang for your buck working at higher intensities…that goes for cardio AND weights, naturally.

Bodybuilders will use SSSC to amp up caloric burn during cutting phases in an effort to shed fat while not overstressing muscles that are getting pounded daily with high-volume weight workouts. I admire these people but most folks have neither that kind of time nor those kinds of physique goals.

The most common reason people give for not exercising is lack of time. Assuming we’re not talking about someone who is very deconditioned or injured, why should a trainee spend a SECOND of what time they have doing a form of exercise whose benefits can be acheived in significantly less time at higher intensities?

[/quote]

I must admit that I’m playing devil’s advocate a little here and I will read the study when I get a minute.

I agree with the bang for your buck argument which is why I do intervals now but I switch to SSSC for the same reason as the bodybuilders do. Admittedly I’m not training twice every day as they might but I’m not taking steroids either.

If I’m actively trying to lose fat I will be in a calorie deficit and trying my best to limit muscle loss, for this purpose I prefer SSSC. There is more than one way to accomplish most tasks, I just can’t understand why some seem to be so single minded.

The bodybuilder analogy is true. However, just like another poster mentioned about sprinters, they are amazing athletes and are naturally blessed with a superior body. Now these are sprinters we are talking about.

Switching gears, we are talking about people that are in the top 1% of humans in regard to their muscle mass and symmetry, hardly the average person, and yes sssc does work for these genetic freaks but that is hardly applicable to the general population.

As stated before people that have more muscle mass you will burn alot more calories just as part of their BMR. I think using bodybuilders as an example is even less appropriate than using sprinters, because these people have an inordinately high amount of muscle mass, making what they do for energy expenditure a moot point.

And research is skimpy in this area if Im not mistaken. Almost all research on this topic uses some form of RER and proves the point that more fat and overall calories are burnt during steady state cardio. Some do monitor metabolism and have showed a much higher EPOC with interval training.

The most interesting study I found talked about something not adding up when measuring expired gases during interval training and the change in body composition. The article mentioned that perhaps some mechanism of lactate fermentation was not reflected in expired gases or something like that… very interesting…

My ex girlfriend used to train lots of weights with me and got into very good shape. She then took up triathlons, ditched all the weights and doubled the amount of time she spent exercisesg…running, swimming, riding. She did some interval work, but mainly steady state.

A few months into it she noticed her bodyfat level was up. Nothing changed in her diet. Maybe she didnt gain fat, but she lost muscle thus increasing her fat%.

Not exactly what were talking about but interesting anyways.

[quote]IQ wrote:
dynamicfitness wrote:
Check out the study; both the HIIT and the SSSC groups started from scratch; no one switched from one to the other, so the fat gain in the SSSC group was not caused by a change in caloric output.

As a sometime Olympic-dist. triathlete, I’ve done a lot of SSSC in the past and I don’t “make it out to be the devil;” I just believe that for the purposes of the average trainee you get far more bang for your buck working at higher intensities…that goes for cardio AND weights, naturally.

Bodybuilders will use SSSC to amp up caloric burn during cutting phases in an effort to shed fat while not overstressing muscles that are getting pounded daily with high-volume weight workouts. I admire these people but most folks have neither that kind of time nor those kinds of physique goals.

The most common reason people give for not exercising is lack of time. Assuming we’re not talking about someone who is very deconditioned or injured, why should a trainee spend a SECOND of what time they have doing a form of exercise whose benefits can be acheived in significantly less time at higher intensities?

I must admit that I’m playing devil’s advocate a little here and I will read the study when I get a minute.

I agree with the bang for your buck argument which is why I do intervals now but I switch to SSSC for the same reason as the bodybuilders do. Admittedly I’m not training twice every day as they might but I’m not taking steroids either.

If I’m actively trying to lose fat I will be in a calorie deficit and trying my best to limit muscle loss, for this purpose I prefer SSSC. There is more than one way to accomplish most tasks, I just can’t understand why some seem to be so single minded.[/quote]

You’re right in that both methods can be effective. The question is what do you consider steady state cardio? HIIT is very effective, probably the most effective. SSSC can be effective, but if not done properly can burn up too much muscle, that’s the real problem. The reason that marathoners have terrible physiques is that long distance running is their primary form of exercise, if not only form. If you want to have a some muscle and low bodyfat, then your first step is to build the muscle neccessary to have a metabolism that burns fat. Thus, your weight training must always be your main form of exercise. Then, either HIIT or SSSC will help burn fat, but the key is to not lose your muscle in the process. SSSC that is simply walking, non-panting cardio done frequently will not have the adverse muscle burning effects. Long distance running, burns too much muscle, thats what it comes down to. Either do your cardio in very high intensity, or very low intensity. Not in between, which is what most people consider steady state cardio. For more about this, look up Lonnie Lowery’s “100 workouts to ripped city”.