Interval training vs steady state- which one is best?

Interval training vs steady state cardio






The Internet is both wonderful and dangerous all at the same time.


While it has made information readily available to anyone, anywhere with just a few key strokes it is also responsible for spreading misinformation and half truths.


The problem is very evident when it comes to information about building muscle and losing fat.


It is difficult if not impossible to do any kind of search online these days without seeing an advertisement for the next miracle “solution” to your body fat problem.


One of the best ways to get a person to click one of these ads is to make a statement that is the complete opposite of what is considered to be the norm or common sense.


For example, one ad I have seen quite often promises fat loss in only minutes per day.


According to the website, people have been going about exercise all wrong and have been “overtraining” by performing long duration  “steady state” cardio workouts of more than 30 minutes.


The guru on this site states that the answer is to perform high intensity intervals consisting of short, 10 minute bursts of energy performed 3 times per week. According to him these intervals will cause fat to melt off the body while preserving lean tissue in the process.


In other words- do less and get more.


Sounds interesting indeed. The only problem is that for most of the population this approach simply doesn’t work.


The problem with most cardio workouts


Over the past few years steady state cardio has taken a lot of heat. Some folks have gone so far to say that not only is long duration, steady state cardio ineffective but it can also make you fatter!


What a pile of bull%$&8!


The problem is that somewhere along the way steady state cardio became the de facto method to losing weight. Doctors everywhere began prescribing treadmills to their patients as a method of burning calories and improving cardiovascular health.


However, most people began performing cardio at an intensity level that is just slightly greater than sleeping and therefore experienced less than stellar results!


The issue isn’t whether or not steady state cardio is effective for burning calories (which it is)- the problem is that most people perform it at too low of an intensity to produce any appreciable results.


As with all things there are pros and cons with both steady state and interval cardio. Let’s examine both:


Steady state cardio: Pros

- Great for beginners. Requires a low level of skill and is very safe and easy on the joints.

- Can be performed often with no risk of overtraining.

- Can be performed for an extended period of time and therefore has the potential to burn more calories during the exercise session.


Steady state cardio: Cons

- Can lead to overuse injuries if the same activity is frequently performed.

- Does not burn very many calories if performed at a very low intensity over a short period of time.

- Some types of steady state cardio (such as running) can cause muscle loss if performed frequently for an extended period.

- Can be VERY boring.


Interval training: Pros

- Very time efficient. An interval cardio workout may only take 10- 20 minutes.

- May stimulate the release of more fat burning hormones.

- Has a greater EPOC effect (excess post exercise oxygen consumption) and this MAY result in a greater number of calories burned.


Interval training: Cons

- Requires a higher level of skill and therefore has a greater risk of injury.

- In order to make intervals effective you have to push yourself to your lactate threshold…and this just   plain sucks. You are not going to like this feeling one bit but it is necessary to get the most from your intervals.

- Not suitable for beginners.

- Should not be performed everyday as can lead to overtraining.


Choose what is right for YOU

I have used both types of cardio extensively with my clients and myself. Here is what I have learned:

Don’t rely solely on one method- always change things up. I recommend that you do not perform the same type of cardio two workouts in a row. If you did steady state on Monday then perform intervals on Tuesday etc.

Do not perform either form of cardio BEFORE your weight training workout- always do it after (if doing both during the same workout).

Do not perform intervals the day after a heavy leg day. Intervals are a serious leg work out so allow for a day or two for your legs to recover (steady state is fine though).

If fat loss is your goal, shoot for 2-3 extra cardio sessions per week (in addition to your resistance training work). This is almost always enough to get you as lean as you want.

If muscle building is your goal allow for extra rest days by performing your cardio on the same days as your weight training.

You have to work hard for either method to work. There is no magic here. Only hard work will produce results- anything less and you are simply fooling yourself (and not getting any results).


There is one last thing I want to talk about and that is combining both intervals and steady state into the same cardio workout. This is something I enjoy doing as it incorporates the best of both worlds. Here is how it works:

- Begin by warming up for 2-5 minutes using a fast walk or light run.

- Next, set your desired speed and incline on the treadmill (straddle the treadmill while doing this).

- You must set this so that it requires a near maximal effort on your part.

- Begin your interval training by sprinting hard for 15-20 seconds followed by 15-20 seconds rest.

- You can run longer if you like but keep the work-rest ratio at 1:1. The goal here is to generate lots of lactic acid. Be prepared because it does not feel that great. Perform 6-10 bouts of intervals.

- Follow this immediately with 20 minutes of steady state cardio (like a fast walk).


I have found this to be a very effective way to perform cardio for fat loss and it isn’t boring! Here is a video I shot showing you how it is done:





This post was written by

Bruce – who has written posts on Cutting edge muscle building and fat loss secrets.
bruce krahn is a best-selling author, writer, researcher, personal trainer and professional speaker. he has coached people for two decades both in person and online. he created this site to be an honest source of useful, practical information you can use to improve your health, build muscle, lose fat and get the lean body look.

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bruce krahn is a best-selling author, writer, researcher, personal trainer and professional speaker. he has coached people for two decades both in person and online. he created this site to be an honest source of useful, practical information you can use to improve your health, build muscle, lose fat and get the lean body look.

6 Responses to “Interval training vs steady state- which one is best?”

  1. Robin says:

    Hi Bruce! Thanks for your videos including this one on interval training vs steady state. They are always very informative and often dispel some myths out there. Now I’m going to try it right now as I want to burn some fat. =D

  2. Eileen says:

    Hi Bruce, Great video! Long walks aren’t all that great – shorter faster ones are more effective is what you are saying, right?

  3. Eileen says:

    Hi Bruce, Short fast walks are more effective than long leisurely strolls – right?

    • admin says:

      Hi Eileen
      The activity that burns the most calories wins. If the short fast walk burns more calories then yes. Long strolls tend to be more therapeutic than anything else (and this is a great thing just not optimal when it comes to changing body composition).

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