The two most common types of cardio workouts in the modern gym environment are steady-state training and interval training.
Both methods have their pros and cons, so let’s take a closer look at each to determine which option is best suited to you.
What it is: Any type of cardiovascular training (running, cycling, x-trainer, swimming and more) in which a stable intensity is maintained over time. Typically, a steady-state session would last between 20 and 60 minutes. A key indicator is a (relatively) steady heart rate, which would often sit within the 140 to 160 beats per minute range.
Pros: Able to be maintained for longer periods of time; less demanding on muscles and joints; less technically challenging; more suitable for trainers with limited exercise history.
Cons: Can be boring or monotonous; too much repetition of one mode of steady-state training can lead to overuse injuries; generally less efficient per minute of training at burning calories.
Who it is suitable for: Steady-state training is most suitable for people who are a) new to exercise, b) significantly overweight, c) have limited exercise history, d) are carrying or recovering from an injury. In essence, it is a safer and less intense alternative to interval training. Steady-state training offers consistent calorie burning and works your heart through a limited range, making it a good option for weight loss.
What it is: Any activity that pairs bouts of higher intensity with bouts of lower intensity. Typically shorter in duration than steady-state training, interval training will see your heart rate spike and drop during the alternating periods of high and low intensity. Standard interval sessions could be: six rounds of 30 seconds at high intensity and 60 seconds at low intensity.
Pros: Greater fat loss and cardiovascular fitness gains per minute of training; greater range of heart rate exercise (leading to broader fitness results); time efficient.
Cons: Typically not appropriate for beginners or those with injury; requires greater attention to rest and recovery (can be performed less frequently); greater risk of injury.
Who it is suitable for: Interval training is best suited to mid-level and advanced trainers who are not carrying injury and who are happy to be pushed beyond their comfort zone. It is significantly more demanding than steady-state training in almost every aspect.
If you are happy to work very hard and are not feeling at risk of injury, a strong case can be made for doing interval training. Per minute of training, you will generate greater cardiovascular fitness and burn more calories. If you are returning to training or are not yet confident of pushing to high intensity, steady-state training still offers plenty of value and can generate significant calorie burn.
Speak to a Mind+Body trainer for more information on how to plan your cardio sessions.
If you’re especially interested in interval training at Mind & body, read about our classes that use this approach: