For most of us trying to lose weight, cardio exercises form the very foundation of our workout regimen. Working out a good sweat is important; whether you do this by hopping on to the treadmill, doing a few laps at the pool or cycling through mountain terrain, it is important that you use cardio exercises to accelerate your heartbeat and burn a few calories. But cardio comes in two forms – HIIT cardio or High Intensity Interval Training, and LISS cardio or Low Intensity Steady State.
So which one is right for you?
Most people have questions about how they can choose a cardio that is right for them. Fact is; you don’t just need to do enough cardio, you also need to do the right cardio. Too much and you might start to lose muscle mass, too little and you will not lose the desired amount of weight.
What plays an important role here is the duration of the cardio, the frequency and the right exercise for you. Remember, if you do too much cardio every week, your body will adapt to that and soon you will hit a weight loss plateau. Once you hit this point, you have only two options – reducing caloric intake or increasing cardio sessions. Many gym goers actually do two sessions of cardio every day simply to keep their weight loss processes going forward but that is not the right approach. Why, you may ask? Simply because excessive cardio results in overtraining, this in turn, results in muscle breakdown. Others will reduce caloric intake and that too will result in muscle breakdown.
The best approach is to start moderately, and to move forward at a pace that best suits your body type and fitness levels.
The Raging Debate:
Now that you know it is best to start slow and move forward at a regular pace, the next question that bothers most of us is, Which Cardio Is The Best? There is a debate amongst pros regarding this question. While many believe that it is best to do low intensity cardio for longer duration, others advocate high intensity cardio for shorter intervals. Which one is better? To find out this answer, let us understand both these approaches a little better to see for ourselves which one has more advantages.
Low Intensity – Long Duration Cardio Exercises:
Many body builders swear by these, and they are often also called the LISS or Low Intensity Steady State exercises. These are performed for 60 minutes or more at a constant pace, and many people have noted that these cardio exercises burn calories from fat. Many researchers have also found that low intensity workouts result in higher fat oxidation. How does that happen?
As you increase the intensity of your exercise, the energy comes more from muscle glycogen and tissues. This is why those who prefer LISS prefer a stepper or a treadmill because this will burn more fat cells as compared to muscle tissue. However, there is a problem. When you exercise, your body goes in catabolic state, where muscle tissue will inevitably be broken down for energy. It may be better to switch from low intensity to moderate intensity and to reduce the duration a little for best results. Many theories have proven than moderate intensity results in the highest percentage of fat oxidation, and researchers believe that 65% Vo2 max is the best level of training.
Low intensity long duration cardio workouts tend to be a little too long in duration. Since you want to lose weight, it is natural to also be on some kind of weight loss diet. This, at some point, results in muscle breakdown because your body is training for far too long a duration and your caloric intake is also reduced. Preserving muscle mass is of prime importance for a healthier body, especially for body builders. For that one needs to limit the amount of time the body is in catabolic state, or you will simply lose on all the muscle you have worked so hard to build.
The Verdict – It is best to do ‘moderate intensity cardio exercises for moderate duration’ for maximum muscle retention and maximum fat loss.
High Intensity – Short Duration Cardio Exercises:
In recent years, high intensity short duration cardio exercises have become more popular to counter affect the negatives of LISS. These HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training exercises involve high intensity exercises done for shorter periods, followed by small periods of rest.
For many experts, the HIIT exercises are not effective cardio exercises because all the energy used for these come from stored muscle glycogen and not from reserved body fat. While that is true, one must remember that fat loss happens through a process that we call ‘Lypolysis’. Now, Lypolysis occurs in the body when energy expended is more than calorie intake. The whole idea behind cardio exercises is to burn more calories than we eat, to create a deficit that results in weight loss. And for this purpose, the HIIT exercises work extremely well.
Fat loss is accelerated when you choose HIIT cardio exercises. Even though the body is primarily using up the carbohydrate stored in muscle tissues, it also results in subcutaneous fat loss. High intensity interval training exercises enhances the lipid utilization even post exercise, which simply means that you continue to lose weight even after your workout session. This happens by accelerating the body’s metabolic rate and boosting metabolism naturally, which is an added advantage.
When HIIT exercises are kept short, they also help preserve muscle tissues from breakdown, and also release more ‘growth hormone’ that might actually help you build lean muscle while you do just your cardio. Doing high intensity cardio for 15 to 20 minutes will release more growth hormones, and these levels will keep increasing long after your cardio session. Also, HIIT exercises elevate testosterone levels in the body for a few hours. However, make sure that the duration of high intensity cardio stays short enough; otherwise all these benefits are lost.
The Verdict – HIIT cardio exercises will increase growth hormone and testosterone levels, which also allowing you to build muscle and prevent muscle breakdown. It enhances fat loss by improved metabolism and is a better way to do your cardio exercises for serious fat loss.
So now comes the final question – which cardio exercise is best for maximum weight loss?
The Final Answer:
While you may think that HIIT has obviously more benefits, you’d be surprised to know that HIIT cardio exercises done every day of the week will reduce their effectiveness. So what is the answer? The answer is a combination of both HIIT and LISS. LISS cardio sessions ensure that you do sufficient cardio to lose weight. And the HIIT cardio sessions add more effectiveness to your workouts.
Both these cardio sessions shed fat through two different processes. HIIT increases lypolysis and LISS burns more fat cells as compared to muscles.
For best results – Do 2 sessions of HIIT per week and 2 to 3 sessions of LISS per week to get the most from your cardio workouts.
Also, check out this article to find out more about 4 mistakes that can sabotage your weight loss process.