What’s the Best Kind of Cardio?

Should you do High Intesnity Interval Training (HIIT) or more continuous, longer cardio periods for optimal cardiovascular fitness? Turns out, there's a way to get the best of both worlds and get fit fast. Check out the secret.

Ben Greenfield
2-minute read

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to maximize your cardiovascular fitness in a short period of time.

And a recent study just came out that once again backed up the fact that a single session of HIIT exercise lasting around 10 minutes (including the warm-up!), performed 3 times per week for 6 weeks, was sufficient to significantly improve maximal aerobic capacity.

In this study, one group of participants exercised on a stationary bicycle with 4 intervals of 30 seconds hard pedaling, with each interval followed by 4 minutes of very easy biking. Another group simply did 4 minutes of hard continuous pedaling.

The results? Compared to the interval training cyclists, the continuous exercise cyclists didn't experience the same type of muscle adaptation. In particular, they didn't experience a large increase in the number of their cell’s mitochondria (aka, the energy producing powerhouses of our cells). But the continuous training group did experience a greater increase in maximum oxygen capacity and performance!

So you may be scratching your head now about which type of cardio to do: HIIT for muscle adaptations or a more continuous, steady pace for overall performance? The answer is neither!

You see, another study from last year shows that you can have the best of both worlds. This study shows that 4 minutes of total training time per day, at 4 days per week using cycle training of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off (the classic Tabata set I talk about here) results in both improvements in muscle mitochondria and also in oxygen uptake and overall performance!

So the key is to do high intensity intervals, but use shorter rest periods.

Do you have more questions about the best kind of cardio to do? Leave your thoughts and join the conversation over at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.