It is a type of training where you put maximum effort into the exercise you are performing for a short period of time and then rest or recover at low effort for another (usually longer) period of time and keep repeating this sequence. For example, on a recumbent bike you would increase resistance and perform a sprint for 30 seconds and then lower resistance and speed to moderate for 1 minute. You would keep repeating this for a given amount of time, an example is shown at the end of this article.
What is Steady State Training or SST?
Steady state training is where you exercise at the same pace and effort for a longer period of time. For example, going for a jog for 60 minutes and keeping the pace the same the whole way through.
HIIT Vs SST
Most people will know that when you go to the gym and use a cardio machine it will tell you what your optimal fat burning zone is, that is the heart rate you should try stay at while exercising in order to maximise fat loss (usually 60-70% of your max BPM).
It is true that this zone will focus more on using fat as a form of energy rather than carbohydrate stores while you exercise but that is not the whole story, there are some other important factors that make HIIT more superior to SST.
1) After-burn Effect
One of the most important things about HIIT is the after-burn effect where your body’s metabolic rate is increased post exercise for up to 30 hours. This after-burn effect means that even though you have stopped exercising, your body will continue to burn calories at a higher rate than normal for up to 30 hours, and more importantly, mostly calories from fat. This after-burn effect is far greater when you perform HIIT in comparison to SST. A study on HIIT vs SST on women was carried out in New South Wales and found that a significant decrease in body fat only took place in groups who performed HIIT and also noted that there was significant decreases in fat in the legs and trunk in the HIIT groups. Another important thing that the study showed was how the women who performed the HIIT had reduced their resistance to insulin, a key factor when trying to lose fat.
2) Muscle Preservation
Performing SST for long periods while trying to build muscle will have a negative effect on your body’s ability to build muscle and gain strength. By lowering the amount of time spent doing cardio (by opting to perform HIIT) you help to preserve your existing muscle mass and also stop hindering the growth of additional muscle mass. What this means for women is that you can incorporate HIIT sessions into your weekly routine to maximise fat loss without negatively affecting your body shape which your muscle mass defines. For men it means you can incorporate these HIIT sessions into your weekly routine but your strength and muscle hypertrophy will not be hindered in the way that long periods of SST will.
3) Time Efficient
Why get on a treadmill and walk 60 mins when you can do 4-6 sprints and lose more fat? A study by the University of Western Ontario proved that doing 4-6 30 second sprints 3 times per week was more effective at decreasing fat mass than performing 30-60 mins of incline treadmill walking 3 times per week.
SST can be extremely boring – HIIT it is a lot more enjoyable and there are lots of different ways to perform HIIT. For example, you can do sprints, boxing, use a bike in the gym, use a bike on the road, do heavy rope training etc. All you need to do is remember the concept: perform short periods at high intensity of an exercise followed by a rest/recovery period, (e.g. 30 second sprints, 1-2 mins walking).
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