Interval Training vs Steady State Cardio: What's better for fat loss?

What's the best form of cardio for weight loss? If you've read my blog posts before, you will already know the answer isn't as simple as one or the other.

As a trainer, I get asked a lot of “is this better than that” exercise & nutrition questions.  One of the more common questions is:


“Is interval training better than steady state training?”


Most people I work with want to lose weight and improve their energy levels.  Those are the most common goals.  The question above is more about the weight loss side of their goals.  After all, most people are short on time and so there is a desire to get the best results in the least time possible.  Interval training is marketed as ‘that’ time efficient form of exercise.  

When it comes to the above question, I’ll be talking mainly about the difference in calorie burning between the two forms of exercise for the rest of this email.

But, before I get onto the answer, let’s quickly define what interval and steady state exercise are:

Intervals: think spin classes, boxercise or sprints on the treadmill.  Interval training will have you huffing & puffing, your heart rate will hit the roof and your muscles will be burning.  

Steady state: this is what most people think of when you talk about cardio.  Think longer, slower jogs on the treadmill (although it doesn’t have to be this if you find it boring).  Your heart rate will fall between 130-150bpm and your effort levels will be lower.

Which burns more calories?

Intervals will burn more calories than a steady state session per unit of time.  An hour of hard intervals (like in a spin class) will burn more calories than an hour of steady state exercise.  That’s the short and sweet answer.  End of email…(I joke).

There is more to the picture than that.  If you want to see excellent and sustainable long term results then consistency is a key principle.

What if a hard spin class makes you so sore or you can’t face the mental torture that you can’t workout again for another week?  

The reality is that you could’ve burned the same number of calories doing an easier form of activity; steady state training or even adding more walking to your daily routine.  Yes, the time commitment is bigger.  And they’re not as sexy as high intensity training.  But you could of done those day in, day out.

I’m not anti-interval training.  I’m just trying to paint a true picture about the most important factor in the health and fitness ‘game’ - consistency.  Similar problems could be said of steady state training.  What if you find the thought of running on a treadmill so mind numbing that you only commit to doing it once in a blue moon?

Come on Matt.  What's the best form of training?

So, what’s the best form of training if you are trying to burn more calories through exercise?

My honest answer - do the one that you prefer.  The one that you can do consistently.  The one that you can put more effort into.  That is far more important in terms of the bigger picture.  Intervals can be more time efficient.  But they are physically and mentally more demanding.  Lower intensity exercise requires more of a time commitment can be done more often.

If you are looking for a well rounded plan then try to combine interval and steady state training into your weekly routine.  You’ll work on different areas of your fitness and the variety will help to keep you motivated.

Oh, and add weight training to the mix too :)

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