HIT vs Steady State

By Douglas Pieterse, Co-Founder & Head Personal Trainer
"It may be simple but not always easy"

Going to the gym will always be a different experience depending on who you are. Some people love it and feel excited about going, while others feel apprehension and borderline nervousness about what to expect. I think that these different attitudes relate to the pain you are expecting to endure - and whether you are going to enjoy that pain or not.


While pain is not exactly an aphrodisiac for me, I know that there has to be a certain amount of discomfort to push my body to change from its current state. This is effectively how training works, taking the body from homeostasis to struggle mode, which leads to adaptation and then, if you don't challenge it again, back to homeostasis. This is why it's so important to consistently challenge your body with progressive programming. So, what is the best way to get results from training and what types of training will you most likely adhere to over a long term basis?


To answer, let’s take a closer look at High Intensity Training (HIT). I have grouped strength and weight training with HIT and compared it to steady state cardio (you know, something that needs more exertion than walking your dog or scratching your bum) for fat loss and health markers.


The good:


There is no difference between HIT and SSC when it comes to fat loss. The mechanism that tends to make a difference is which exercise causes the most calorie expenditure. 8 minutes of HIT is not the same as 1 hour of running no matter how sweaty or out of breath you get, so keep that in mind and don’t be delusional in thinking that you can cram all  your training into a 10 minute session and still get the same results. 


HIT has been shown to have favourable effects on triglycerides, total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, glucose and insulin. These benefits are seen more with high intensity as opposed to low intensity workouts because this style of training promotes more muscle growth, which in turn promotes more glucose uptake via insulin dependent pathways. This can often give HIT more of an edge over SSC.


In terms of the total time you'll spend gasping for breath, time efficiency is better with HIT because you'll burn through your energy a lot faster. Hardly revolutionary I know, but I thought I'd mention it for those of you who have not yet had your morning coffee.


Finally, HIT helps you to build muscle and can often lead to having a higher pain-tolerance threshold. 

Effectively eat less calories than you burn and you will experience some fat loss, this goes for HIT, SSC even potentially washing your giraffe & zebra.


It has also shown to have favourable effects on triglycerides, total cholesterol, LDL, HDL , glucose and insulin sensitivity-as the body has less adipose tissue (fat) these markers get better. Refer to why being such a fat ass may affect my training blog from last week. 


Not as intimidating and often doesn’t take a long time to learn the technique, Olympic lifting for example takes years to master whereas I can have you riding on the assault bike on your first session and be able to illicit the result I want. 


If you are a big pineapple but you would like to be a smaller pineapple then SSC will be great, especially if muscle retention or growth is not a factor for you.


Who is it for?


I'd recommend HIT for those go-crazy, die hard folks that bathe in pain and glory and actually enjoy the nauseating workouts and post workout muscle soreness. These guys are there to get things done no matter the self-sacrifice that comes with it. If this sounds like you and you're also looking to add some muscle, then you're definitely on the right track.

Those people that are able to endure boredom better and don’t care for the high energy and hype that may come with HIT


Watch out:


Quite often, HIT requires more mental drive to perform and becoming too competitive may take you away from your training goals. When pushing the body at a performance rate then you can expect to incur injuries a little more often. You can’t drive a race car and expect the same wear and tear as your mom's Honda.


There also seems to be confusion as to exactly what HIT is. In case you missed it, the middle letter stands for intensity, and some of you really struggle to get the intensity up. It's easy to end up in steady state cardio while adding in breaks - but then it's not exactly steady state cardio is it?

With Steady State Cardio you may see a lot more wear and tear on the joints as the movements can be quite repetitive. Running for example can wreak havoc on your hips and ankles just by the sheer volume. It is also pretty easy to plateau with this style of training if you are not adding progression to it. If you are doing the same volume at the same pace then your result returns will slowly diminish. Ask Einstein if you don’t believe me. This type of training is also very time consuming, so take your iPad with you.


The best alternative to HIT training will be Medium Intensity or Steady State Cardio and the best alternative to Steady State Cardio will be running away as fast as you can from a hungry pride of lions. 


If you are on the fence about which type of training suits you best then it may be worth adding in both depending on your capabilities and seeing what you enjoy the most. Personal preference and goal-orientated training play a large role in determining what is best for you.  

The Verdict:

If muscle growth or retention is one of your goals then consider incorporating high intensity into your training. You don't always have to sprint on a treadmill like a lunatic, but you can include doing weights. If your priority is focused more on fat loss but you're not concerned with much else, then steady state cardio can get you there. Whatever you choose, both steady state and HIT require a good diet to get the results you want. Keeping it up is key to seeing results: it all comes back to starting with goals that are relevant to you.

What others say: 

“I prefer HIT. You can't compete doing steady state

Joey BamBam Lee