Balancing Steady State Aerobics With Interval Training

October 10, 2007

I have been guilty in the past of not giving steady state aerobics any respect. I am a big believer in high intensity interval training because it is extremely effective at burning body fat. I LOVE high intensity interval training.

It is quick and gets results, but obviously steady state aerobics have great advantages as well. In this article I will talk about combining the two to maximize fat loss.

Steady State Aerobics
[“Drop That Zero and Get With the Hero!”…Quote from Vanilla Ice in the movie “Cool As Ice”. I am embarrassed that I know that…LOL!]

A Quick Background on Steady State Aerobics

Throughout the 70’s and 80’s steady state cardio was THE way to burn body fat. Everybody was pushing the idea of spending a long period of time on a cardio machine at a walking pace, to reach a target heart rate that supposedly used “fat for fuel”. This did work for people who put in the time and who ate strictly. It was particularly effective for bodybuilders, since they would burn more calories walking due to their high lean body mass.

Steady State Aerobics Worked, But Had Flaws

The problem with steady state cardio was that people began to think that they could walk at a snail’s pace and get great results. I remember going into a gym in the late 80’s and NOBODY was running or cycling at a fast rate…everyone was walking…they were all shooting for that recommended “fat burning zone”. Steady state cardio needs to be performed at a higher level for maximum results. This will be discussed later.

High Intensity Interval Training Goes Mainstream in the 90’s

I remember picking up an issue of Muscle Media 2000 in the early 90’s and it explained high intensity interval training. This was a form of training where you would go “all out” for 30-90 seconds alternated with one to two minutes of active or passive resting.

I started doing this immediately in my gym and people kind of gave me strange looks. The thing is that it worked extremely well. Within 2 years, I actually saw people putting in effort in the cardio area and getting great results.

Some of the Flaws With High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

If you don’t push hard and past the pain barrier you won’t get good results with interval training. The funny thing about many cardio machines is that they have warnings that tell you to stop if you feel signs of exhaustion or fatigue…well you need to IGNORE those warnings if you want an effective HIIT workout…that is exactly what you are shooting for! Also…it has been shown in studies that performing HIIT more than 2-3 times a week is a bad idea. I’ve been guilty of doing this type of workout 4-5 times per week, but I’m now down to 2 times per week. Note: Many people suggest doing this for no more than 8 weeks before taking a few weeks off, to make sure you don’t wind up chronically overtrained.

Some People Should Actually Avoid Interval Training

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but high intensity interval training isn’t for everyone. If you are not going to push hard enough then you won’t get good results with HIIT. Steady state aerobics performed properly has helped thousands of people get lean. It has to be done with a little more intensity than what you see in a lot of gyms, but it does work well. Thousands of people have lost body fat without ever doing interval training. That being said, I still believe HIIT mixed with steady state cardio is the quickest way to reach your fat loss goals.

How to Balance the Two Types of Cardio

It has been shown that steady state aerobics can be performed daily with no adverse effects. It has been shown that high intensity interval training can be done up to 2-3 times per week…with breaks. The best way to combine these two types of cardio is largely based upon your fitness goals. I’m doing 2 days of HIIT along with 2-3 days of steady state cardio each week. If HIIT isn’t your thing you could just do 4-5 days of steady state cardio each week. If you are short on time and only workout 3 times per week, then maybe you would do HIIT and no steady state cardio throughout the week. An athlete trying to get in peak condition would possibly introduce intervals 6 weeks out from a competition, etc…there is obviously a lot of room for flexibility when combining these two types of workouts.

A Few Other Comments Regarding the Two Types of Cardio

It has been suggested to give your body a break and not perform HIIT year round. Personally I’m doing 2 months on and 1 month off. On the off month I simply do steady state 4-5 days per week. Beginners should do 4 weeks steady state cardio before introducing HIIT. The steady state cardio intensity should be at “jogging” speed. So something along the lines of 3 miles in 30 minutes if you were running…this varies of course depending upon your condition. You would also want to run a bit quicker as you get in better shape.

Note: Here is a post on a good HIIT workout that I do on a regular basis: An Aerobic Workout Program That Forces Your Body to Burn Fat

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Andreas October 10, 2007 at 5:07 pm

Ever tried Tabata? It takes “push hard and past the pain barrier” to another level. Read http://www.t-nation.com/readArticle.do?id=490160

Gators October 10, 2007 at 5:16 pm

Great post and I think the title sums it up…’Balance’. i have a friend who goes 110% hard out and won’t touch an ounce of fat in his diet and trains every day but then hits the wall and binges on bad food and won’t train because he’s mentally drained also. just like in work, you need to take a day off here and there or take a holiday..life’s all about balance, everything in moderation. i guess same goes for HIIT although i definitely favour it as like you said, it saves time and it works, i like to feel like i’ve put my body through something tough. i try and eat/train well during the week but enjoy a beer and good times on the wknd…Balance!

Jennifer October 10, 2007 at 5:56 pm

I have an office job where I am pretty much locked into my seat for most of the day between the hours of 9-12 and 1-5 (with an hour off for lunch).

I try to get outside for a walk during my lunch hour, and I am consistantly going to the gym for around an hour per day, combining HIIT, Steady State cardio and weight exercises for toning up.

My question is: as long as I watch what I eat and stick to exercising for at least an hour per day, can I get away with sitting the majority of the day? I want to get really fit, but there is just no way around sitting at a desk for what I do. Should I spend some time exercising in the morning before work and after work to make up for the sedentary days I lead during the work week?

Mark October 10, 2007 at 9:25 pm

great post as always. I have a problem in that my joints complain a bit too much from too much high intensity work, but high intensity clearly works really well. I used to get great results from it. Although sometimes I found it increased my appetite too much, perhaps to the point of diminishing the overall effect (ie, actually gaining some weight from overcompensating with too much eating).

admin October 10, 2007 at 11:05 pm

Mark,

Yeah…I am bad at eating small portions…that is why I like to eat just one big meal at the end of the day. Once I eat, I like to keep eating until I’m full. I’m not so extreme that I won’t eat anything else earlier in the day…I just try to keep those 1-2 meals extremely small, so I get to have one bigger meal when I’m hungry after I workout. It certainly isn’t the only approach that works, but works for me.

Rusty

yavor October 11, 2007 at 4:34 am

Went for a jog this morning. Managed to rome for some 10 minutes. Damn, running in the mornings sucks 🙂

TNAFitness.com October 11, 2007 at 10:15 am

Rusty, you’re just telling guys to do steady state aerobics so you won’t have any competition at the beach because they’ll all be skinny fat and you’ll have six pack abs. I know your games!

I just did a post that incorporates steady state aerobics and high intensity interval training yesterday. That’s creepy man!

PS – Vanilla Ice had a movie?

Gregg

admin October 11, 2007 at 5:24 pm

Gregg,

I can’t believe I’m doing this, but here is a 3 minute summary of the movie.

Note: Watch at your own risk…you will never get these 3 minutes back! It is SOOOOO Terrible it Hurts!

Rusty

TNAFitness.com October 12, 2007 at 3:50 pm

LOL! That was brutal, man! You owe me at least 9 minutes for that!

Gregg

admin October 12, 2007 at 8:19 pm

You know you enjoyed that Gregg! Damn he had some big hair!

Rusty

john October 16, 2007 at 7:58 am

ahahaha Amazing stuff…very entertaining. Im sick at home with the flu this week…crappy nyc weather. That cheered me up.

Alethea October 18, 2007 at 2:38 am

Hey Rusty,

In the comments of a more recent post (the one with the Rocky video…haha) you said to concentrate more on cardio if I wanna lean up more. How many minutes should the cardio session be? I unfortunately fall into the trap of “if I’m doing an hour of cardio, I don’t train as hard.”

2nd question, is it possible that I’m not getting any toned lovin in my triceps cause I still have to decrease the body fat?

Thanks for all the great posts! =)

admin October 18, 2007 at 3:07 am

Alethea,

Do your weight training before cardio…that way you can train hard before you hit cardio.

As far as triceps go…it could be that you need to lose more body fat. Also…I started to get much better tone in my triceps when I did all of my pressing movements at a much slower rate. Take shoulder presses for instance, take 2-3 seconds to lower the weight on each rep instead of pumping out the reps. This way your tricep has to work harder because you can’t use momentum.

I see a lot of people throwing the weight up on bench presses as well. Take 2-3 seconds down and maybe 2 seconds up…you will notice a difference.

Rusty

Remon van der Pol October 26, 2007 at 1:20 am

Hey Rusty,

Thank you for making this site! I’m also not very fond of growing into a big, bulky bodybuilder. I would like to ask you a question about my cardio/HIIT routine.

Two weeks ago I started doing cardio (bicycle @ 72% 78% HR) three times a week for 30 minutes. This week I started with HIIT training (3x/week). Boy o boy! It’s really makes you wanna die when you’re finished!
I quickly found out that I can barely pull of 3 sets of 30 secs running and 30 secs quick-walking. So, I want to change it to start with 10 secs of running and 60 secs of quick-walking. The problem is that I have no idea of how to build upon this routine so that it eventually will be at a 1:2 ratio again. I could increase the sets from 4 to 15 in 8 weeks, while sticking to the 10 secs run and 60 secs quick-walk routine. This way I could start working on longer run periods after those 8 weeks. I could of course also increase the sets AND the running time per week, so that I am at 30s run and 60s rest ratio by the end of 8 weeks. Another option would be to don’t increase the sets after 5 sets, and only work on improving my running time during the first 8 weeks. After that I could start throwing in an extra set or two per week untill I am at about 15 sets… The problem is that I just can’t make up my mind, so some advice woul be very welcome!

Also, one more thing: you say that you have to take a break after a certain time (two months?) of HIIT, to let your body recover a bit. But do you have to start all over again after that resting period, like you were doing HIIT for the first time again? I certainly hope not because that would seem a bit pointless to me. Please share your thoughts on this one as well. 🙂

I know it’s a very long post, but I really NEEDED to ask! Thanks a lot in advance and best of luck with your website!

– Remon van der Pol
The Netherlands

Remon van der Pol October 26, 2007 at 1:24 am

Sorry, I made an error in my previous post:

“I quickly found out that I can barely pull of 3 sets of 30 secs running and 30 secs quick-walking.”

I mean: 30 secs of running and 60 secs of quick-walking

Jennifer October 30, 2007 at 3:34 pm

What do you think about Rowing machines? I used one in the gym and it felt like a really good workout all around, balancing upper and lower body. I wonder if it would create a nicely defined (but not overly muscular) body?

admin October 30, 2007 at 9:53 pm

Jennifer,

Rowing machines are great. Not that many people do them because they are tough! They will define your back, shoulders, biceps, hips, butt, hamstrings, etc.

highly recommended!

Rusty

Ron December 27, 2007 at 11:58 pm

I’m having a touch of trouble understanding the whole HIIT thing…

“…go “all out” for 30-90 seconds alternated with one to two minutes of active or passive resting.”

Ok…so does this mean I can just stand still for a minute or two, then hop back on the treadmill and haul ass for about a minute?

Also, say, for example, I was doing 1 min. of going “all out” and then 2 minutes of walking (or speed walking). How long should I do this? How do I know if I’m going fast enough? I’d hate to get thrown from a treadmill.

To sum up…What’s a good, detailed, HIIT workout routine?

Ron December 28, 2007 at 12:17 am

Oh, and when you return to going all out…do you gradually increase the speed? Or do you pick a speed and stick with it?

In other words, do you for instance, start at 6 and then in the second interval, increase to 6.5 and the next one increase to 7.0 and so on? Or do you just decide to run at 10 each time and stick with that?

admin December 28, 2007 at 12:31 am

Ron,

Great questions. I do have a post which addresses this…

HIIT Workout

You basically go back to the same baseline in between sprints. Here is the exact treadmill workout I do.

Set incline to 1.5
Set speed to 3.8
After one minute go to 7.0
Back to 3.8 for one minute
Then to 7.5 for one minute
Back to 3.8 for one minute
Then to 8.0 for one minute
.
.
.
Work up to level 11 for one minute, at this point I will just increase the speed by .2 instead of .5…so I go to 11.2 -to- 3.8 -to- 11.4 -to- 11.6 -to- 3.8 -to- 11.8 -to- 12.0.

After this, I jump off the treadmill and go to either the exercise bike, elliptical, or stair-master for 10-20 minutes at a steady state. More often than not I go for just 10 minutes on level 10-12 depending upon the machine…steady state aerobics.

I just did this workout tonight and my skin is hot and I’m still breathing a bit harder than normal and I finished one hour ago.

Note: When you are learning the treadmill, you don’t want to go all out. Maybe just go up to level 10 or 10.5 until you feel really comfortable. Do a 3-5 one minute sets of level 10 without increasing the speed. At some point you will be able to run on a treadmill with your eyes closed…this is when you can really push hard.

Hope that helps!

Rusty

Matt March 18, 2008 at 4:36 pm

Rusty,

hey man sorry to be commenting so much latley, I guess I’ve really gotten into this stuff and I want PERFECTION(and still enjoy life of course). So i have many questions. Okay here it goes; So I got up before work and before breakfast, went to a convience store, bought some back coffee then headed to the gym to do HIIT for 25 min. From what I’ve read here I understand the fat burning effects of the carb depleted state and thermogenic effects of the calorie-less black coffee. I ate a bowl of oatmeal with flaxseeds this morning when i got home so I do have energy for a second cardio session sometime today if I choose. I’m debating doing a steady state cardio session after work tonight through a park nearby my workplace(I live in a quiet old german town in south texas that falls asleep at 9, its awsome to run in at night!). I’ve really noticed a a drop in my bodyfat from doing these morining sessions the past couple of weeks, my question is; do you think steady state cardio at night will make any noticable progress at all? Or since I already did moring pre-breakfast HIIT I pretty much burned all the fat I can for today????
I appreciate it,
Matt

admin March 19, 2008 at 2:23 am

Matt,

Doing the cardio at night will help you get quicker results for sure, but you may want to save that for when you reach a fat loss sticking point. If you do it now and reach a fat loss sticking point…then you have less options. Does that make sense?

Rusty

Note: You are absolutely going to reach perfection with this type of dedication.

Matt H. March 19, 2008 at 11:53 am

Rusty,

Hey thanks Rusty thats really reallly good to hear. Cause honestly, I never really thought I’d EVER have abs. And now for the first time it actually looks like it could be comming together.

Matt

mitch March 24, 2008 at 7:59 am

this may be random and the wrong place to post this i was doing HIIT for about a month and found i got a really sore lower back could it be connected ?

also Cold as ice looks amazing

admin March 24, 2008 at 10:22 am

Mitch,

I am not sure if that is the cause of your lower back trouble. I have never had this issue. It could be…just make sure you are careful.

Read this three part post and see if you are making any of these mistakes:

Conquering Low Back Pain

Rusty

PS: Cold as Ice rules!

Moti July 1, 2008 at 12:27 pm

Hey Rusty,

Hope you had a nice vacation.

I know the treadmill is the best machine out there but I am worried about high impact cardio killing my knees and hips since I have flat feet.What are the best low impact cardio exercises out there to burn fat and uncover the abs?…elliptical,bike?

Please Help…Thanks bro.

admin July 3, 2008 at 3:20 am

Moti,

I really think the exercise bike is the best low impact cardio. The regular bicycle style where you sit up is better than the one where you lay back.

Rusty

Odin July 22, 2008 at 8:10 pm

Is it mostly cardio that gives that more defined look? Would mass training + HIT + Steady cardio provide definition/strength+few size gains? Because right now I’m worried that at 5″‘7 135lbs 15%bf I’m going to be too thin if try toning up.

Michael August 4, 2008 at 11:22 pm

Rusty,

I’m curious as to your thoughts on some of the folks we all see performing cardio with long pants and sweatshirts. Intuitively what they are trying to do makes sense, but is there really a benefit to throwing on your Rocky sweats before hitting the treadmill, other than the small added weight of the additional apparel?

Also, my understanding as to how one may obtain the best results from HIIT is to change one’s routine such that the body does not adapt (either increase duration, speed, or incline). To what extent have you found this to be true?

Lastly, how attentive should I be to my heart rate? I am 25 (almost 26), 6’3″, 195lbs., unknown BF%. My current routine is 15 one minute intervals, rest @ 3.5mph and work @ 7mph. Usually for the last interval I’ll crank it up to 8mph. I then rest for ~5 mins and get back on for 20 mins @ 3.5mph. I never stop sweating! I perform my routine with little or no attention paid to my HR and I feel fine (exhausted, but fine). My worry is that my HR may rise above the oft-spoke-of “fat burning zone” or “target heart rate.” My goal is to lose most of the fat around my belly and chest area. Knowing full well I can’t spot reduce, I’m still not seeing the results I expected. I’m worried my HR going too high may be the culprit.

Thanks Rusty (and sorry for such a lengthy post)!

-Michael

admin August 5, 2008 at 1:49 am

Odin,

You would be surprised what happens when you get really lean. You may actually end up looking bigger in man ways. If you want to gain mass, then do the HIIT without the steady state cardio afterward.

Michael,

There isn’t a benefit to throwing on the sweats unless you are a boxer or wrestler who needs to make weight and needs to drop as much water as possible. Your routine sounds fine the way it is…just keep at it and the results will come.

Rusty

Jake August 2, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Hey Rusty,
Over the past few months I’ve combined what I’ve learnt on your page as well as Craig Balantyne’s to amazing results. I’ve always had a very athletic build but have finally melted that last little bit of lingering body fat. With your plank workout and the renegade rows have extremely ripped abs and obliques as well as a rock solid core. I have added awesome definition to my arms and chest, I was just wondering what some good exercises would be to get super cut triceps, back and chest. I don’t want size just awesome definition.

Thanks for all the useful information.

Edwin January 9, 2010 at 7:20 pm

hey rusty ive been doing intense interval training followed by steady state cardio and it works great, i usually do it twice a week in the morning while im in a fasted state. My question is i want to get in even better shape for an event coming up , im thinking of doing cardio 6 days a week and cleaning up my diet, should i do intervals everyday or every other day and steady sate cardio the days i dont do intervals for an 1 hour

Jake November 9, 2010 at 5:51 am

an amazing feat of strength

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tx3qtW3hIY

The Mancini @ Fitness Repository March 3, 2011 at 4:27 am

Hey Rusty,

I know this is an old post however it is still relevant (how could it not be).

I’m a bit against common steady state cardio because of its inherent boringness (it’s a word!) and the fact that the curve of diminishing returns is way against it – meaning that you might get some benefit from doing steady state cardio (like jogging) but the body will adapt to that very fast and then that jogging becomes more or less pointless.

And not to go into lengths regarding the fact that doing HIIT gives you the benefits of a long ass steady state cardio and on top of that some other cool stuff like the HGH and also a sound testosterone boost. And without the corrosive effects that a long jog would give you (busted joints and back).

Keep the good articles coming, you the man!

The Mancini

pete April 13, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Due to a variety of injuries, HIIT is tougher for me than steady state aerobics. That doesn’t mean when I’m throwing on all my gear(ultra ankle and knee brace), that I’m not muttering under my breath about the 45 minutes of boredom that is about to ensue.

At this point in life(50’s), I’ll take what I can get and just augment it with weights. I think it’s just as much for my mental as it is my physical well being.

Mark's Fat Burning Food and Fitness Blog April 23, 2011 at 5:14 am

Rusty,

Good one on the benefits and drawbacks of both types of training.

I agree that you want to definitely not overdo the high intensity stuff, simply because a lot of intensity requires a lot of recovery, too !;-)

I just wrote this post on one of my Top Athletes and an insane MMA Interval Circuit he goes through and I just GOT to show it off, I hope you don’t mind if I post the link here?

workouts-for-mma-to-lose-fat-quickly

Otherwise please just don’t approve the comment and totally no offense!

Thanks,

Mark

Geoff April 30, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Hey Rusty,

Great post as always! Love all your info on this blog, definitely has an underground non mainstream feel which I totally dig. Anyways i was just wondering as far as when just do the steady state cardio only for a month or so do you do it first thing in the morning fasted? And if so do you still maintain your muscle mass and legs even though your not sprinting during those 4-6 weeks?

Thanks a lot!

Fiona October 4, 2011 at 4:53 am

What is your opinion on doing intervals for 20-30 mins on a machine, say bike or cross-trainer, and then 20mins of steady with a 10min cool down, 3-4 times a week. Is this a good method of training? It would usually be followed by a weight training session. (female -28yrs)

Tony Rovere January 17, 2012 at 6:42 pm

My favorite interval training may surprise you…kettlebell swings. No other exercise will build explosive power while at the same time giving you the best cardio exercise you can imagine.

The way I do it is to go all out for 60 seconds…then take a 30 second break and continue for 60 seconds…but you can choose to vary this.

The amazing thing is that it is FAR better than working out on the treadmill.

abhishek July 29, 2012 at 8:18 am

rusty,i seriously need help….i am doing lateral raises but i am feeling it in my traps,i dont want to develop traps as i already have narrow shoulders,but i really wanna grow my side delt so i can get wider,please please please help me,how to get out of this mess,i am a beginner…please help me rusty! 🙁

Emily December 11, 2013 at 8:47 pm

just found this blog….seems to make some sense! what made you change your mind about steady state cardio? have you personally worked with anyone that got results?

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