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High Intensity Burst Workouts vs. Low Intensity Steady State – Which is Better?

By Kevin Bryan

With summer fast approaching, many students and adults alike are working towards their goal of having a “summer bod’ ”, which essentially means toning their muscles and revealing their abs. However, in order to reach this target, it is necessary to commit to a consistent workout routine. In the past, people believed that in order to become fit, hours upon hours of daily exercise was required. More recently, research has shown that doing high intensity workouts for shorter periods of time can perform the same task equally well. So, which type of workout is better?

Steady-state cardio is aerobic, which means that it uses oxygen, and mostly burns off fat. On the other hand, high intensity workouts don’t just use oxygen, and also burn carbohydrates as their fuel source. Steady state aerobic exercise is usually done at a heart rate of 120-150, while someone performing high intensity workouts may reach 200 beats per minute. Both methods are beneficial to physical health, because both drop blood pressure and improve metabolism.

Low intensity steady state workouts are often considered the boring types of exercises. They may include walking for an hour or a light bike ride. However, the more frequently someone does aerobic exercises, the stronger their aerobic pathways are. This is beneficial when a high intensity activity is done, since recovery time for the body to reach a neutral state will be quickened. While many people are against longer workouts due to fear of joint problems, according to a study by Monash University in Australia, for “people of normal weight and healthy joints, moderate jogging can actually strengthen knees.” Low intensity workouts are low risk exercises that can be done at all ages, and they can also drive off many diseases. For example, hyperglycemia is reduced for diabetics, and research finds that forty-five minutes of walking results in new brain tissue growth.

High intensity burst workouts are commonly seen in the form of sprinting, swimming, push-ups, pull-ups, and jumping jacks. High intensity workouts are often seen as more accessible to do at any time. Doing sets of pushups or sprinting across the parking lot does not require a gym or special equipment. Another benefit from intense workouts is burning more calories. Because of an afterburn effect called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), more fat and calories are burned compared to low-intensity workouts. While low intensity workouts burn a higher percentage of fat, high intensity workouts can burn more fat and calories in same amount of time because there is more energy being consumed. Burst workouts can improve ability to withstand rigors of other intense training, so less rest is needed for working out at higher intensities.

There is not a clear winner between performing low intensity workouts compared to performing high intensity workouts. While each provides their benefits, they also both have their drawbacks. A solution to this problem would be to have the best of both worlds, by performing both activities. Switching between aerobic and anaerobic exercises every other day, or doing both in one sitting are possibilities. No matter what you decide to do, exercise is the key to having a happy and healthy lifestyle.



  1. https://experiencelife.com/article/steady-state-cardio-vs-high-intensity-interval-training/
  2. https://blog.paleohacks.com/low-intensity-high-intensity-exercise/


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