60 Minutes of Steady Cardio vs. 20 Minutes of Intervals

Alternate sprinting with steady jogging to improve fitness.

Alternate sprinting with steady jogging to improve fitness.

Whether you want to lose weight, increase your endurance or just add some variety to your workouts, interval training will give you better results more quickly than a steady cardio workout. It’s not just a busy person’s excuse to spend less time in the gym. You burn more fat and gain more cardiovascular fitness with 15 to 20 minutes of interval training than you do with 60 minutes of steady-state cardio.

Interval Training

Interval training just means you add short bursts of intense activity into a less-intense aerobic workout. The most effective interval training is called high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. For example, you might alternate one minute of sprinting with two minutes of walking or jogging. There are lots of different programs, but the point is to go all out for short bursts and then follow it with active rest periods.

Improve Cardiovascular Fitness

You hear it all the time -- cardiovascular fitness is important for preventing heart disease and increasing your overall endurance. But what is cardiovascular fitness? It’s a measure of how efficient your body is at transporting oxygen to your muscles and using that oxygen for fuel. HIIT has a bigger impact on cardiovascular fitness than steady cardio. In a study published in the July 2013 issue of "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise," researchers from Japan showed that 13 minutes of HIIT improved cardiovascular fitness significantly more than 40 minutes of steady aerobic training.

Burn More Calories

When it comes to losing weight, you get a bigger bang for your buck with interval training. That’s because your body keeps on working long after you’ve hit the showers and called it a day. During bursts of intense activity, your muscles use up the oxygen available for generating energy, and they compensate by burning fat. The effects can last up to 24 hours after a high-intensity interval session.

Build Up to It

The intensity of interval training can be hard on your body, so it’s not something you want to jump into quickly. Start by adding one high-intensity interval into your normal routine, and build up from there. If you’re new to exercise, begin with moderate walking, jogging or biking until you’re comfortable with 30 minutes of steady cardio. Then you can begin introducing intervals. As with all exercise programs, you should check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you.

 

About the Author

A former science writer for the Smithsonian Institution, Kimbra Cutlip is a writer and children's book author whose articles have appeared in numerous national publications. A certified group fitness instructor and emergency medical technician, she worked for five years as scientific diving officer and dive instructor for the Smithsonian Institution and was a board member of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences. She co-owns a remodeling company specializing in energy-efficient sustainable building and solar hot water systems. She holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in magazine journalism and anthropology.

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