The Great Cardio Debate — Part 4: Bringing It All Together

So now that we’ve explored to two sides of cardio, it’s time to bring this cardio debate full circle and talk about what we’ve learned. I know you’re all dying to know whether you should be spending your time doing HIIT or steady state cardio, right? But why pick just one when you can have both? Why wouldn’t you want the best of both worlds?

At a minimum, I hope you’ve learned that:

  • Although many people tend to stand very firmly on one side or the other of the HIIT/steady state cardio argument, the reality is that they really do compliment each other perfectly. Each type has pros and cons but where one falls short, the other excels.
  • Cardio training shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing, one-size-fits-all sort of thing. By blending both HIIT and steady state cardio, you’re more likely to reach your goals and find a program that is tailored to your body and lifestyle while allowing adequate time for recovery.
  • Be mindful of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Each type of cardio is able to achieve certain things. Things will really start to come together for you when you take a good long look at your goals and incorporate the workouts that are actually able to help you achieve those goals into your routine.

In light of all this, we can safely conclude that, for the vast majority of people, a combination of both is a recipe for success. So now for the million dollar question…what combination is right for me, Coach? Without knowing you a bit better, I can’t really answer that which might sound like a cop-out but it’s true. Sure, I could throw something together or give you a prescription that is designed for overall health and fitness which would do the job in the short-term but I’d rather give you a roadmap so that you’re set for life. Here’s what you should consider:

  1. Your current fitness level: If you are just starting out or returning to a regular workout routine, you should focus more on steady state cardio. Remember that aerobic fitness is the foundation for so many activities, in sport and life, so it’s important to start there. I’ve picked up a good rule of thumb that I use with my clients and athletes- if you’re an experienced exerciser whose resting heart rate is below 60 beats per minute, go ahead and give HIIT a try; if not, stick with steady state until your resting heart rate gets lower.
  2. Your current fitness goals: My previous posts on both types of cardio should have, at a minimum, communicated the point that each serves a purpose. That’s important because you won’t accomplish your goals if you are not doing the workouts that’ll get you there. Know your goals first then incorporate the workouts that serve you best.
  3. Your strengths and weaknesses: Ideally, your workouts should be geared to make you good at things you don’t do so well while making you better at those things you already do well. Don’t just skip over the cardio training that you aren’t as good at. If you’re a HIIT Master, layer some steady state training in on your lighter-activity days. If you’re a Steady State Beast, add a couple of HIIT sessions each week for a month. The only way to progress is to seek improvement where we are less than stellar.
  4. Your likes and dislikes: Unless you are a professional athlete who gets paid a boatload of money to do one thing REALLY well, stick with what you enjoy. That is not to say you shouldn’t try new things and I’m not suggesting that your fitness routine will always give you the warm and fuzzies, but I’ve found that there are two universal truths in cardio: (1) if you hate it, you won’t do it; and (2) any form of cardio is better for you than no cardio at all.

In case you are wondering WWCAD? (What Would Coach Alison Do?), I do whatever I like that helps me reach my goals. And my advice to you is to do the same. For me, that means usually a little of both but the combination depends on my goals at the time and I tend to go with HIIT-heavy and steady state-heavy “training blocks” based on my goals throughout the year. For example, when I’m training for a running event, I usually do significantly more steady state cardio than HIIT. When I’m training for an obstacle race, I do more HIIT than steady state. When I’m training for nothing, I do whatever the heck I feel like doing when I roll out of bed in the morning. When I’m feeling sluggish after a hard HIIT or strength workout and need more recovery time, there is nothing better than grabbing a buddy and going for a nice easy run to shake out the legs and get that life-elixir (aka blood) pumping.

So there you have it folks. The highly-anticipated, perhaps somewhat anti-climactic, conclusion to The Great Cardio Debate. Sorry, to anyone who was hoping for a definitive, black and white, answer- if only it were that simple. And brace yourselves because it’s about to get a whole lot more interesting as we move into strength training over the next few weeks…what’s that you say?? You don’t do strength training? You don’t like strength training? Then you SIMPLY CANNOT miss next month’s posts as I sift through all the nonsense (there is a lot out there), translate the technical mumbo-jumbo (yawn) and debunk the myths (there are so many) to present the reasons why you’d be crazy not to rethink your anti-strength training position.