Training, 02. December 2018

HIIT vs. steady state cardio

Interval training vs. steady state cardio

Low Intensity Steady State (LISS), or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), what’s better for fat loss?

Many people today propagate HIIT as the perfect strategy for fat loss, so today we are concerned with whether this is really the case or whether endurance training is the better choice in the classic sense.

What is the difference between the two types of training methods?

Short explanation: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) means a mixture of short, crisp and intense intervals (often 10-45 seconds) and intervals of moderate intensity. An example of this could be a short 15 minute sprint workout with 10 seconds sprint and 60 seconds slow jogging. Also cycling, stepper, body weight exercises, etc. are suitable for this purpose

Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) means nothing more than endurance training in the classic style with moderate intensity and steady pace (often 30-60 minutes).

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Good old steady state burns more fat – really?

It used to be said that LISS would be the better choice as more fat is used as a preferred source of energy during the workout. This is absolutely correct, however, for the fat loss itself, only secondarily important. What really matters is which source of energy is used in the remaining hours of the day. In addition, many women prefer this form of endurance training and indeed use fat as a preferred source of energy during exercise. Unfortunately, this fat often comes from the muscle cells, the so-called “intramuscular triglycerides” and not from the legs, belly, or hips.


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Is the afterburning effect of HIIT overrated?

For this reason, more and more HIIT has been propagated in recent years. One of the main arguments in favor of this type of training is that not only fat and calories are burned during exercise, but also AFTER the training session. The reason for this is the so-called “afterburning effect”, also called EPOC (excess postexercise oxygen consumption). Here, after the training session, more oxygen is used, which boosts fat burning.

In my opinion, this afterburning effect is completely overrated. This is shown in a study from 2006 (1), when it was measured how many calories were actually burned via the EPOC. Subjects were asked to exercise 80 minutes (very long for HIIT) with about 70% of VO2 Max (about 80% of maximum heart rate). The afterburning effect was still measurable up to 7 hours after training, but only 80 calories were burned in addition to the 700-800 calories during the training session.

If you look at it from a practical point of view, it is rather unrealistic that 80 minutes HIIT is practiced, oftentimes the workouts take only about 20-40 minutes. In plain words, the EPOC will burn only between 20-40 calories, which is a drop in the ocean compared to the actual training session. A meta-analysis from 2017 (2) reiterates these findings and points out that EPOC has virtually no effect on additional weight loss.



HIIT saves time!

However, looking at the training itself, it quickly becomes clear that HIIT is definitely ahead in terms of efficiency. The main reason for this is that you can burn more calories in less time than with classic LISS training. 30 minutes HIIT partially correspond to 60 minutes LISS.

The psychology behind HIIT also plays a role in my view, as many people feel they are “exhausted” afterwards, which helps to feel good after the workout. On the other hand, from my experience there are also people who find this condition rather less pleasant and therefore prefer the classic LISS.


HIIT is not for everybody.

However, one thing to be aware of, is the fact that HIIT is really often a very intense workout that can be very stressful especially on our nervous system. So if you have a job that demands a lot from you, low sleep and generally suboptimal recovery phases, HIIT may not always be your best bet. These people must be calculated exactly how well they can recover from the respective units, what else they have incorporated for sporting activities, etc. Especially with women, I am always more cautious with HIIT, since the hormonal aspect also plays a very important role.


All in all, it can be said that it is above all the personal preference that decides what type of endurance training you prefer. With HIIT you have the following advantages and disadvantages:


  • time Efficient
  • varied
  • Can suppress hunger
  • EPOC (albeit moderate)


  • tough effect on the nervous system
  • potentially problematic for women
  • more regeneration is needed
  • increased risk of injury

LISS offers the following advantages and disadvantages:


  • feasible for everyone
  • It can be done while watching TV, reading etc.
  • requires little regeneration


  • can be monotonous
  • time consuming

Every person is unique and tastes are different. My appeal goes so far as to say that HIIT is definitely the more effective and diversified option, but it should be treated with caution by certain people. Especially in times when people have problems anyway, with too high, or too low cortisol levels, the training must complement the respective hormonal profile optimally. If this is not the case, you run the risk of not doing your body and progress a favor.

Your coach Markus