HIIT workout

HIIT Workout Vs Steady State Cardio For Fat Loss

When you think about getting lean, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is doing cardio. Here’s when to use a HIIT workout and when not to.

The big question…When to do a HIIT workout vs. steady state cardio?

The type of cardio you should do, depends on the energetic state of your body.

By: IFBB Pro Bodybuilder Ben Pakulski Creator of MI40, MI40x and the Incredible Bulk

Energetic state means:

Are you in a caloric excess, and have high muscle and liver glycogen? Or are your in a caloric deficit and have low muscle and liver glycogen?

Those two states are very different energetic realities within your body, and your training should reflect that in order to fully capitalize on the state and work with your body’s natural chemistry.

Obviously these two states exist on a continuum. You’re neither completely full, nor completely empty, but somewhere in between and your body is full aware of where you are at all times.

If you’re eating a lot, I hope and assume your primary goal is lean muscle gains. Then your intramuscular glycogen stores are high, and primed for work.

This is the prime time to utilize higher volume training and/or high intensity cardio in an intelligent and progressive way.

We know that high intensity cardio is an anaerobic activity, which means it elicits an oxygen deficit and encourages a shift into primarily anaerobic lactate metabolic pathway encouraging carbohydrate to be used as the primary fuel source.

If glycogen would happen to be low while doing HIIT, the body still needs glycogen to perform anaerobic exercise and will find it by breaking down down muscle to meet its requirement.

Obviously this is not an ideal circumstance for someone looking to grow and maintain muscle while losing fat.

This is where a HIIT workout gets a bad rap among bodybuilding enthusiasts, but this is only true when used at the wrong times.

How to fully take advantage of a HIIT Workout

First, make sure you have the appropriate intramuscular energy stores from previous day’s calorie/carb consumption.

Then, based on your known or perceived level of energetic replenishment, choose whether you should be doing a more depleting style HIIT, a short/intense style HIIT, or perhaps sticking with Low Intensity Steady State purely aerobic exercise.

Each of which have potential benefit when used in conjunction with muscle building without the fat and at the appropriate times.

1) Depleting HIIT

HIIT workout

Depleting HIIT is slightly longer duration and looking for massive lactic acid accumulation.

Typically things like sled pushes, sprints, and anything that can be done with maximum effort within the time frame of 30-60 seconds.

This type of training is the “vomit zone” due to rapid increase in lactic acid levels and it will really drain your glycogen stores when done correctly.

It is typically recommended to start around 4-6 intervals with a 4:1 ratio of recovery to work then progress to lower ratios over time.


45 seconds Max Effort work

3 minute Recovery

NOTE: Acknowledge that HIIT done for 45 seconds at max effort should be done with a resistance or effort that allows for near complete exhaustion at 45 seconds and by definition is less intense than an exercise where exhaustion is reached in less time as in the “intense hiit”

2) Intense HIIT

HIIT workout

An intense HIIT workout can be anywhere from 6-30 seconds of absolute max effort work and tends to require heavier loads, greater inclines, etc.

These tend to be less draining energetically while still having really tremendous ability to shift the body into fat burning and improved hormonal environment for fat burning.

These tend to be absolute max effort things like wingates, sled pushes, and hill sprints and are viewed as a very useful tool for increasing nutrient utilization, insulin sensitization, and hormonal profiles without causing a chronic increase in cortisol like is seen with constant Steady state exercise.

These are done with similar rest:recovery ratio, beginning around 4:1 rest to work ratio, but can go as high as 6:1.

NOTE: HIIT is ideally as close to 100% concentric work as possible as this is where lactic acid is produced. Eccentric work should be avoided due to being the cause of muscle damage and increasing the need for recovery.

3) Low intensity “Steady State” Exercise

HIIT workout

Definition: Any exercise done at a low intensity over a long duration that maintains a primary aerobic (oxygen present) state. As soon as respiration rate increases and the body goes into oxygen deficit, an anaerobic (oxygen lacking) environment ensues and the body shifts from burning primarily fat, to more glycogen. This is physically demonstrated by being out of breathe.

Steady state is a very useful tool when in an energetically depleted state.

“Steady State” exercise will shift the bodies energy burning toward more fat as fuel as long as no oxygen deficit is created for an extended period of time.

The overall calorie burning is very low and therefore it is deemed to be a much less useful form of exercise, except when glycogen is very low and muscle preservation is the goal.

Some of the drawbacks of excessive use of low intensity steady state cardio are that there will be little post exercise benefit such as hormonal up-regulation and improved nutrient utilization as is seen with higher intensity exercise.

Doing low intensity cardio while eating an excess of calories seems almost futile and an ineffective time investment. The low level calorie burn won’t have any benefit when in a caloric excess.

Hope that simplifies the thought process for you and if you need some more examples of different interval styles using different equipment and different interval times, please see more at: Best Cardio Intervals for Fat Loss


Do you know which popular exercise will kill your sex drive as a man?

Take a guess below.

A. Weight training

B. Circuit training

C. Jogging

D. Spinning

What’s Next?

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