Steady state cardio vs. HIIT: how much of it do you do?

Now that we've covered both HIIT and steady-state cardio, let's go over the main differences between the two.

The difference between steady-state and HIIT is that a HIIT workout is where the individual exerts their max effort , which can't be sustained for a long time. Whereas steady-state cardio is a low-to-moderate effort that can be maintained for a longer period of time.

During HIIT, your heart rate is close to its max, maybe around 160 bpm, depending on who you are, and sustained for a brief amount of time, maybe 15-30 seconds. 

After that brief, intense bout, you recover for a short period of time and repeat. HIIT is pretty brutal, but the good part is, it's brief and time-effective. It has benefits, as I talked about in the last podcast. But it's not for everyone. If you are new to exercise, have cranky joints, hormone imbalances, etc., HIIT might not be your exercise of choice until you get those things under control. 

Additionally, if you HATE that type of training, I believe that you don't have to force yourself to do it to see great results. Strength training and good nutrition can be enough.

HIIT can have various forms. You can go HAM on a bike, sprints, sled pushes, battle ropes, take my Wednesday Cardio Burst class, etc.

You don't want to do HIIT more than a couple of times per week because you can inhibit your ability to recover from your strength training workouts. I personally like HIIT 1x/week in my Wednesday Cardio Burst class.

I think where people get injured is when they are strength training, lifting weights, and doing too much MISS or HIIT, thereby inhibiting their recovery. It's a recipe for overstraining your body. So they are losing muscle but trying to lift heavier and heavier at the gym, and their body eventually gives in, and they get injured. 

So it's nothing to be afraid of, but it just comes with an understanding that you have to take a stab at it and know that it's normal to adjust to different stages and seasons of your life. 

So now, let's go over a proper framework for how to incorporate both HIIT and steady-state into your routine. I want to provide some background on what has worked best for my body and options for you.

My cardio prescription

Of course, with the understanding that you'll continue to monitor your progress and how you're feeling, and be open to making tweaks to fit your own body. There truly isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. To me, that's the fun part! It is learning about your body and playing with what you can do to make your body the most optimal it can be. 

I'm not anti-cardio, but I do tend to think it's overemphasized and can be easily overdone in a stressed-out, undernourished, sleep-deprived woman. If this sounds like you, my suggestion is to not even worry about cardio. Just strength train, clean up your nutrition, get your joints healthy, and try to sleep well. If you feel like you're "falling apart," getting your cortisol in check by taking out the extra stress of cardio could be precisely what you need for now.

But when you're ready, feeling good, feeling like you have your cortisol and joint health in check, maybe you consider slowly adding in cardio.

In this process, we can't be perfectionists, but instead, be a scientist of your own body. Develop a hypothesis, test the theory, and don't be offended if your hypothesis is wrong. Just find another route and try again.

There is no one size fits all guideline here. Some people can run 3x/week alongside their strength workouts and not turn off their protein synthesis. Some will see muscles weaken and atrophy with running 3x/week. I can't give a perfect suggestion for you, but it will just come down to experimenting with yourself. 

As I said, I like to be conservative with my training, and I don't want to get in the way of my recovery and, therefore, my results. So my body feels best with one 15-minute HIIT type class, one more intermediate and short cardio class with my low-impact cardio burst class on Monday, super-specific and biomechanically driven strength training, and LISS. My LISS cardio is just moderate pace, usually flat walking 3-4x/week for 20-30 minutes/session. At least one of those walks is generally on my recovery day. My recovery days are Saturday and Sunday. I find that this routine gives me the best results and the least amount of joint issues. 

However, I will say that sometimes I feel like I could ramp this up and add another HIIT session, and some weeks I feel like it's too much. It depends on other stressors in your life.

For example, in the past few weeks, we've been moving and lifting lots of boxes. Not only is my body a bit stressed from that, but my environment feels chaotic, which stresses me out a bit. So because my stress (both physically and mentally) is higher than usual, I've had to adjust my workouts a bit. I'm more gentle in my movements; I might not go as hard or use lighter weights or take out some of my LISS. So again, no perfectionism here. We are humans, and it's normal to have to adjust for different seasons in your life. 

If you've been doing my strength workouts for a couple of months and you're feeling good, it might be time to add some cardio. Maybe you add one of my low-impact cardio classes after a Build class or on Thursdays (if you don't take the yoga class). Try that for a couple of weeks and see how it feels. If you're feeling good, maybe you add a second low-impact class (I have many old ones you could do or repeat the same one I teach on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday).

If that feels good: if your joints feel good, you're sleeping well, digesting well, you may want to experiment with adding some HIIT. Try just adding one HIIT class/week for about a month and see how you feel. You could either do my Higher impact cardio burst class on Wednesdays after Burn, called "cardio burst," or you could add a bike interval. 

In your bike interval, warm-up for 5 minutes, then when you're feeling warm, start your intervals. They're going to look a little something like this: 

  • 20 seconds all out. Ramp up the resistance. You should feel fatigued at the end.
  • Rest for 1 minute 
  • Repeat this process five times 
  • Cool down with either a slow pedal or fast forward to the cool-down in one of my cardio videos. 

That will take you about 8 minutes total - which may not seem like a lot, but you will be GASSED afterward. You want to make sure that you aren't doing this the day after leg day. Make sure you have at least one day in between you working your legs (either Monday or Friday's class) and when you do your bike sprint. If you're following my workouts, this may be good to do on Wednesday either on its own or after Burn, which is our Pilates class. Because this will for sure work your legs, and we don't want to get in the way of your leg day recovery. 

Now, is HIIT necessary? No, it isn't! So if you hate it, then you don't have to do it to see results. But it can be a good thing to try if you are ready to ramp up your training a bit. 

Don't be frustrated if you add this in and you start to experience joint issues, fatigue, constant soreness, etc. It just means that you need to take it out and try something different. 

Ok, so what about running? I get this question ALL the time.

Running is probably considered MISS. Although MISS isn't my favorite type of steady-state to pair with strength training, it can be done well.

My suggestion would be to pick the number of runs per week that you want to start with. Prioritize my lower body build class on Monday, upper body build on Tuesday, burn (core) on Wednesday, and full body build & burn on Friday. If you run three times that week, you can run after legs on Monday, after core on Wednesday. Thursday can either be a run or a day off. Then Saturday/Sunday, you either take two recovery days, run on Saturday or Sunday if you didn't on Thursday, or do LISS. 

If you're going to pair cardio with strength training in one session, my suggestion is to do my strength training class first, then do a short session (maybe 20-30 minutes) of cardio. This way, you aren't tiring yourself out by doing your cardio first and inhibiting your ability to perform in your strength training session. 

Try that for a month or so and see how you feel. If you aren't recovering well (constant soreness, tightness, feeling weaker almost, or not seeing strength improvements), take out a run and repeat the process. Keep tapering down and playing around with your schedule until you find one that works well. 

This goes for anyone adding cardio: if you have a busy week and need to prioritize, do the strength workouts and ditch the cardio. Muscles need consistency, and since your strength training routines will also improve your cardiovascular health, as I talked about last week, that should be the priority. 

There are endless combinations of how to incorporate cardio, and as I said, there is no one size fits all. But here is a summary of how to add in cardio if you want to: 

  1. Most of your training time and days should be strength training. Just follow the Evlo Build, Burn, and Build & Burn classes (the Thursday yoga class is optional can be swapped for a cardio day if you want) 
  2. If you want to add in cardio, my suggestion is to start with LISS (walking/hiking/easy biking/easy swimming) for 20-30 minutes 3-4x/week in addition to your strength training sessions. It sounds like a lot, but since my classes are usually only 30 minutes 4-5x/week, your exercise is still less than an hour/day. 
  3. If you feel good with the strength workouts and your LISS, you could try adding one moderate-intensity workout like my low-impact cardio burst class or a HIIT workout. Either on a bike or taking one or two of my cardio classes. 
  4. If you love MISS, try titrating your MISS into your strength routine. I'm talking to you runners here. So maybe start with 3 20-30 minute runs. Notice if you feel heavy, tired, or sore all the time. This might indicate you're not recovering properly and that you need to taper it down to 2 runs/week. I wouldn't recommend doing both MISS and HIIT multiple times/week. Maybe pick either and see how you feel. 
  5. If you are low on time, ditch the cardio and prioritize your strength training! 

So hopefully, this will give you some ideas to play around with and be a scientist of your own body. No one has the answers for your body except you. No frustration or confusion allowed. Just set your routine, don't overthink it, and see what happens. Like I said, how you respond and adapt will depend on how stressful your life is, how well you're eating, and a little bit of genetics and how easily you can metabolize cortisol. And have some fun with it! Learning about your own body isn't a chore; it's a privilege. Be sure to tune in next week as I get into cortisol even more. 

And if you're not in Evlo, it's the time!


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