Cardio: Slow and Steady or Fast and Furious?

Regardless of all the different classes and workouts out there, there are basically two types of categories that cardio exercise falls into and arguments abound on which is best.  I feel, why not add both into your exercise regimen?  The truth is both types have their benefits and variety helps keep you motivated, encouraged, and challenged.

Slow and Steady: 

This type is also known as Continuous Training or Long Slow Distance Training (LSD). It’s low intensity, long duration, steady-state cardio. It involves training at the same intensity for an extended period of time, usually 30 – 60 minutes, without any periods of rest.

Example: Taking a long jog on the treadmill at 4.0 mph would be an example of this style of training.

Other examples: bicycle riding, long walks, steady jogging, or swimming

Benefits:

  • Energy burned here is mainly from fat
  • It’s safe and easy to pick-up, which makes it a great option for all fitness levels.  
  • Great for all ages
  • Doesn’t take any special equipment
  • Builds aerobic fitness
  • Builds endurance
  • Good for the heart and respiratory system

TIP:

  • An intensity of 2-3 (RPE) or 60-70% (THR) is great for beginners, athletes recovering form injury, those who haven’t worked out for awhile, or if you’re just feeling pooped! 
  • More advanced exercisers who want to use this method, just make sure your intensity is at higher level, but yet one you can maintain for a longer period of time.
  • For more on intensity levels, see here

Disadvantages:

  • The repetition and maintenance of levels of activity become boring over time
  • Requires longer workout times
  • While the Slow and Steady Method helps build aerobic fitness, it does very little for anaerobic, so athletes who need to train for activities that require sprints, or quick bursts of speed, do not benefit much form this type of cardio exercise

Interval Training:

You may have heard of the many names of workouts that use Interval Training, including High-Low, HIIT or Tabata Training.  

This type is where you alternate between periods of high intensity and low intensity cardio. The periods can be as long or short as you want with total workout time between 20-40 mins.  Although some studies show you can benefit from just 10 mins of interval training.

Example: For beginners: Walking on a treadmill at an intensity of (2-3) RPE or 60-70% of exercise intensity for 2 mins. then increasing your intensity (called your challenge period) for 30 seconds at a (4-5) RPE or 70-80% intensity. This is done by increasing your speed, your stride, or the incline.

Then you’d recover at your starting intensity for another 2 mins. You’d keep repeating this pattern for a designated period of time.

For more advanced and elite training, you’d want to hit a RPE of (7+) or 80-90% intensity during your challenge period.

Other examples: Sprinting, jumping, heavy weightlifting, calisthenics

Benefits:

  • Burns energy from carbs (glucose)
  • Allows for “after-burn.” That is the burning of fat and calories for hours after you exercise!
  • strengthens bones
  • builds muscle
  • Increases ability to pick up and change speeds quickly
  • Builds aerobic and anaerobic fitness
  • Builds power and stamina
  • “Surprises” the body which encourages weight loss (this is especially beneficial if you’ve hit a weight loss plateau)
  • Means less time in the gym! You don’t need to spend as much time exercising to get the same results

TIP:

  • Make sure your starting intensity is one you are capable of performing and are able to build upon.  Maybe use your Slow and Steady intensity as your starting intensity here.
  • For more advanced work out:  Make each challenge period incrementally more intense than the last. Make sure you are fully recovered before your next challenge (which might mean a longer recovery period). 
  • VERY IMPORTANT:  At the end of  your interval work out, make sure you cool down until your HR returns to normal. Never just stop. Return to whatever your activity and intensity you were when you started.  Also finish up with some deeper stretching of the working muscles and you will have had a great work out!

Disadvantages: Typically for those working at higher intensities

  • Can take a serious physical toll on the body. It is very easy to overtrain and stress the body while interval training, and this can result in pulled or torn muscles, joint problems, heat exhaustion and dehydration.
  • Overtraining symptoms include fatigue, recurring illnesses like colds, insomnia, a lack of appetite and increases in heart rates even while resting.

Best of Both Worlds


I include both types of training in my workout regimen adding in Interval Training 1-2 x a week between my Slow and Steady days. This allows my body to recover. I will also use Interval Training when short on time but I still want a great workout, or when I just want a challenge.

And on those days when I might be sore or lack the energy for working out, instead of missing a day, I’ll hop on the treadmill for 40-50 mins for a Slow and Steady workout enjoying a good book or my favorite podcasts.

This way I’m both resting and working my body at the same time while finally being able to finish that book!

Either way you choose, may your calories burn!!

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