Everyone always wants the silver bullet for cardio. Everyone also has their opinions on which one is best. The reality is, all forms are good; it's just a matter of how to implement them. You don’t want to be doing as much HIIT as LISS for example. NEAT on the other hand, is better spread throughout the day.
For this article, I want to focus on the three types of cardio I find my clients have the most success with. Remember, incorporating ALL of them is the most ideal.
HIIT is a form of cardio where you’ll do 20-30 second bouts of all out effort, followed by 30-60 second rest. It repeats 5-6 times and then you cool down. Most sessions are 15-30 minutes long.
HIIT is great to add 2-3 times a week. I love it for when I am tight on time and need to maximize calorie burn. With HIIT, you can burn as many calories in the 15-30 minutes as you would in a 30-60 minute steady state cardio session. It also has the benefit of the EPOC effect. The 3-4 hours after you train, your body is still burning calories trying to catch up to the high intensity demands you placed on it. Also, it’s great for the person who just likes to get after it. Regular cardio can get so monotonous and boring. HIIT can be done quickly, and as a circuit, using weights, or whatever you can come up with. It can be as boring or as fun as you’d like.
2. Low Intensity Steady State
LISS is a slower form of cardio where you run at a just above a conversational pace, for 30-40 minutes. This can be done anywhere from a couple times a week, to every day (just depends on your goals). That’s because it isn’t very taxing on your heart as HIIT can be. It also isn’t as high impact on our joints or cortisol levels.
So ideally, you’d want a mix of HIIT and LISS throughout your work to get the best of both worlds. Our bodies can only take so much HIIT, so throwing in LISS allows the extra caloric expenditure without putting too much work on your system. It’s also great for getting better at longer endurance activities, and increasing your oxygen utilization and aerobic capacity.
For those trying to lose body fat and minimize muscle loss, LISS is the predominant form of cardio as it helps preserve the muscle from it’s lower intensity as well.
3. Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
NEAT is basically all the activity you do that you aren’t aware of. When you’re just walking your dog, fidgeting, or moving to and from places. You are only in the gym 1-2 hours of a day. That leaves 12-13 hours of extra time you could be “sneaking” in extra calorie burn.
I actually prefer this as the very first choice of cardio, as it is the most realistic to implement for clients. Whether it’s taking your dog out for a walk, or just parking your car further away, any good habit is about being able to blend it in with your daily life. Research has shown spreading out your calorie expenditure is more beneficial than doing it all at once.
Fitness needs to be an overall lifestyle change. When clients learn to focus on NEAT (usually through steps per day), it shifts their mindset. It gives them a reason to want to get up and move if there is a goal attached.
I’ll use this for individuals who absolutely hate going to the gym for cardio. Particularly for really busy mom’s, doctors, etc. It is much easier for them to get their steps woven into their busy days rather than having to set aside extra time in the gym. Let’s not forget it saved them that dread of a drive after work to the gym just to do cardio.
If fat loss is your goal, I recommend starting at 10,000 steps (or 2,000 steps higher than your average). Depending on how long your fat loss phase is, add 1,000 steps every week or two. Once you hit a point that it’s just too unrealistic to get all steps in just from daily activity, THEN you can supplement with cardio at the gym. Use LISS and HIIT as alternative tools to supplement whatever of the 10,000 steps you aren’t able to get. Mix them around as you like, just make sure not to do more than 2-3 HIIT sessions.