Sunday, 22 September 2013

Beginners guide to Cardio

Often the most difficult thing to exercise is forming a routine. They say it takes 3 weeks to develop a habit and in order to ensure that you follow through with this the best bet would be to partner up with someone who has already been exercising for a while. This way you have not only a person who can show you the ropes but also someone that will keep you motivated to keep going and working out.

Cardio is physical exercise of relatively low intensity that depends primarily on the aerobic energy-generating process.

So when one thinks of cardio, one pictures a Low Intensity Steady State exercise or LISS for short. However cardio can also be conducted in a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

LISS Training involves one continuous period of low intensity training at around 60%-70% of your maximum heart rate, for example a one hour low intensity run. The break down however is that your body becomes very adaptive to LISS training, in that plateaus are reached quickly where little fat loss is able to occur. Research has shown, where people do hours and hours of LISS cardio and they should be losing kgs of weight and this does not occur. The reason for this is the body's metabolism adapts to the low intensity training and essentially only burns calories during the cardio work out. In essence you can achieve the same amount of calorie loss through LISS training by restricting your diet and subtracting the calorific value of food. Additionally to this LISS training is more catabolic (muscle wasting) to your system, in that, muscle is sacrificed and broken down during the work out session.

HIIT Training involves periods of high intensity training, raising your heart rate and training at around 90% of your maximum heart rate, with successive periods of low-moderate intensity training. Examples of this would be a 1 minute sprint coupled with a 3 minute light jog or walk, as to bring the heart-rate back down to normal. HIIT training is meant to hurt and put you into the uncomfortable zone where you gasp for air and sweat buckets, and if you are feeling that, then you are doing HIIT training right. We mentioned that LISS training is more catabolic towards muscle in the body than HIIT. So HIIT training is probably the only cardio method for people to preserve or gain muscle mass, and this is clearly shown in a comparison between endurance runners and olympic sprinters.

Marathon runner vs Sprinter: LISS vs HIIT

One of the main differences between LISS and HIIT training is the factor of the adjustment of metabolism. In LISS training as mentioned earlier, the body adapts to low intensity training. In the case of HITT training however, studies have shown that the metabolism is raised, which results in a calorie burn post workout.

All of this is not to say that LISS should be chosen over HIIT, the best option would be a combination of both. I have added a few research studies below with an in-depth analysis of HIIT and LISS training, which thoroughly explain the differences between the two and the advantages or disadvantages of either.

Links to articles citing the advantages of HIIT over LISS:

Cardio For Fat Loss: High Intensity Interval Training Cardio Vs Low Intensity Steady State Cardio

Fit with HIIT: Science Is Dropping The Hammer On Endless Bouts Of Steady-State Cardio.


  1. Great blog! Your explanations of the science of fitness are informative and relatable. Would love to hear some personal accounts of fitness strategies that you've experienced to be highly effective.

  2. Interesting read. Shedding some light on some personal experiences will definitely make it easier to relate to...