A lot of research shows great benefits can come from shorter workouts (~25-35 minutes total) with alternating periods of high intensity and recovery. So should we stop doing “traditional” runs, bike rides, swims and other cardio sessions, and just do high-intensity interval training (HITT)?
Based on my own experience, a review of what experts are saying, and some simple logic about “why we exercise,” I think the answer is to seek the best of both worlds here.
Incorporate some HIIT benefits into your routine, man. But do also retain some longer, moderate cardio workouts. Here’s why, and some tips for getting started.
BENEFITS OF HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL WORKOUTS
The benefits of running for 30+ minutes, or doing the equivalent on a bike or in the pool, are pretty well understood. But since HIIT benefits are a more-recently-emerging science, let’s briefly review the logic of “why HITT.”
- HITT offers a higher “fitness gained for time spent” ratio than longer, moderate workouts.
- If intervals include strength moves, you get strength and cardio work at the same time. Great if you’re crunched for time, or want to add a “mini” strength session to a traditional cardio workout that can thus be shortened a little without sacrificing overall cardio time.
- For weight loss, HITT burns similar calories in less workout time. It then has a metabolic “afterburn” effect that keeps burning calories for longer post-workout.
Use your time more-efficiently, mix cardio and strength, and burn more calories. These are some major benefits, brother. So if you’re not doing it already, try some HITT activities (see “take action” below for pointers).
IMPLICATIONS FOR LONGER, MODERATE-INTENSITY WORKOUTS
So should we all stop doing >30-minute, continuous-effort runs, long weekend bike rides, or modest-effort, “just get a sweat” cardio-machine sessions?
I don’t think so, for four reasons.
- Longer, moderate cardio workouts are a real mind-and-soul cleanse (especially outdoor ones). Tune out the world, go into a zone, and by the end feel mentally, not just physically, refreshed.
- A lot of us just *like* running and cycling. Reason #1 here is part of why, but they’re also the chance to take in nice scenery and exercise in a social way with others. And doing exercise you like is the best way to stay motivated.
- One thing longer, moderate cardio is definitely better for: getting in shape to do longer, moderate cardio things! So if running races and triathlons are motivational and fun for you, then you need to train for the events by doing the underlying activities.
- Finally, we all need days that are lower-key and lower-effort to counter-balance intense things. This is especially true for 40+ OlderBeasts. These lower-key days help keep fitness momentum while still allowing some recovery for muscles and our overall energy-delivery system. There’s also a certain mental and overall systemic stress that comes along with high-intensity physical work, and these lower-key days help us dissipate that.
OK, so where does this leave us?
If you’re just starting off or re-starting a workout routine, I suggest you incorporate both HITT and longer/moderate workouts into it from the get-go.
For guys who are already runners, cyclists, and long/slow types of cardio machine users, I suggest you explore interval training, and fold it into your routine. Even if it requires reducing “pure” cardio in order to have time, dude. You’ll be glad you did.
Useful things to read about all this:
- Washington Post article on advantages and trade-offs of these different workout types
- Article advocating a blend of approaches
- Short “slideshow” with 10 “greatest hits” interval workouts
- Profile of a HITT-oriented fitness studio with instructor-led sessions: OlderBeast’s Orange Theory Fitness review.
“Everyday, it’s a-gettin’ faster. Everyone said, “Go ahead and ask her.” (Buddy Holly & The Crickets, Everyday – click-to-listen)
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