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Which is best, HIIT or LISS cardio; Which cardio machine is best?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Daily Blog


Yesterday was a cardio-only day. I knew I was going to have a very busy afternoon, so I decided to do 45-minutes of fasted LISS (Low Intensity, Steady State) cardio on my recumbent bike. I did 11.2 miles and my average heart rate was 144 BPM.

I always see posts on the forum asking questions about cardio. The two questions I see the most are “Which type of cardio is best, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or LISS?” and “Which machine is best for cardio?” Today I’m going to give my opinions on both of those subjects.

Let me start off by saying that of the big three fat loss “tenets” (diet, weight training and cardio) I feel cardio is by far the least important. You can get absolutely ripped to shreds without ever stepping on a treadmill or riding a bike. This is a fact. If you hate cardio, you don’t have to do it to lose fat. That said, cardio is very beneficial in a lot of ways, and it does help you burn calories (but not as many as you may think). For example, my 45-minute LISS cardio session yesterday burned off somewhere in the neighborhood of 250-300 calories. When you consider that to lose a pound of fat you must burn about 3,500 calories more than you take in, 300 calories is not all that much.

HIIT cardio sessions are much shorter than LISS sessions (a typical HIIT cardio workout is usually between 12-20 minutes), and the actual number of calories burned during a HIIT cardio session is even lower than a typical LISS cardio workout. So, what makes HIIT effective? It is the “afterburn” effect. HIIT cardio raises your metabolism for quite some time after completing your workout (some studies have suggested as long as 2 days!) During this window you will continue to burn calories at an increased rate.

So, which is “better”? My opinion is that both types of cardio are effective, and an ideal cutting plan will incorporate HIIT and LISS cardio. As most of you know, our bodies are really good at adapting to the things we do over and over again. Altering your cardio workouts is a great way to keep your body from adapting to what you’re doing. You’ll burn even more calories as a result.

One note on HIIT cardio: while LISS cardio is low enough in intensity to be done in a fasted state without too much worry about muscle loss, the same is not true of HIIT. If I recall correctly, some books like Body For Life recommend HIIT in a fasted state, but in my experience this can result in muscle loss. Remember that HIIT cardio is all about the afterburn effect, so making sure you have at least one meal under your belt before your workout will help prevent muscle loss (but not too close to your workout time – you don’t want to puke!) Also, having a meal or two in you before HIIT will help provide you with enough energy to really push the Intensity intervals as hard as you can; those Intensity intervals are the key to raising your metabolism.

Now, which machine is “best” for cardio? The answer is simple: the one you’ll actually use. It doesn’t matter if you like a recumbent bike (my choice), a treadmill, a stair stepper – whatever. The machine is a means to an end. The goal is to get your heart rate to a certain level. Do you think your heart cares if you’re running, stepping or pedaling? Of course not. And if you think “I really hate running, but it gives my legs such a good workout!”, then you need to go find a squat rack.

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