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Is It Better To Walk Your Way To Weight Loss And Not Run? High VS Low Intensity Training...

By Sam Whitaker

29-year-old Sam Whitaker is a Fitness & Nutrition Consultant and Co-Founder & Director of Body Target Ltd. Over the past 5-6 years, he has been self-educating on all things health and fitness… Read more.

Over the last few years, the idea of interval training has become more and more popular in many fitness circles, even straying into the mainstream! The more traditional steady state cardio is taking a bit of a back seat.

Some even go as far to say that steady state is useless and that you should only do intervals.
So which is best? What should you be doing to get the best results? Let’s start by just defining some terms.

HIIT - or high intensity interval training - can be any form of physical activity that alternates between periods of high intensity and lower intensity or rest.

If you think about it, weight training is a form of HIIT. But when people look to perform a HIIT session, it's usually by performing standard cardio exercises (running, cycling, rowing etc.) in an interval fashion.

And this is what I'll refer to throughout.

Healthy Nutrition

The Tabata protocol (named after Dr Izumi Tabata) is a popular form of HIIT. Specifically, you perform 20 secs max effort with 10 secs rest, which is repeated 8 times for a total of 4 minutes.

On the surface, it doesn't sound too bad, but it's brutally effective. The 20 secs max effort feels like 60 secs and the 10 secs rest feels like 2… But least it's over in 4 minutes!

LISS - low intensity steady state – isn’t as laid back as it sounds…The “steady state” part just refers to the fact you’re exercising at the same intensity throughout. The low intensity aspect just means that the exercise is fairly easy - think walking or slow cycling.

Just to throw something else into the mix, there is also MISS, which isn't really referred to that much, but stands for moderate intensity steady state. This covers things like running, cycling, rowing etc. Basically anything done at a consistent intensity, but gets your heart rate higher than just walking.

So with all of that out the way, let’s look at the pros & cons of each.

HIIT – Pros

- Time efficiency

For me, this is the single biggest advantage of HIIT. One of the most common reasons (excuses) for not exercising is lack of time. HIIT pretty much takes this excuse off the table. I find it hard to believe that anyone can't find 15-20 minutes somewhere in their schedule to fit in a HIIT session.

HIIT Pros

- More calories burned per time invested

This is largely down to the higher EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) HIIT generates. That basically means your body continues to burn more calories after you've finished, which doesn't occur after steady state exercise.

- Improved endurance performance

HIIT can improve your stamina over longer distances/durations without having to put the hours in.

- Keeps exercise interesting

If just the idea of plodding away on the treadmill for an hour makes you want to cry, performing 20 minutes of sprints instead can be more 'fun'.

I say 'fun' because sprints are hard, but what I mean is that because of the constant change in intensity, the variation, can help keep it more interesting.

HIIT – Cons

- Unsuitable for newbies

Newbies simply won't be fit enough to be able to perform exercise at a high enough intensity, and feel the benefits associated with HIIT. They probably won't be willing to anyway.

- HIIT is tough, really tough!

HIIT can really hurt and is a very tough way to exercise. The burning sensation caused by lactic acid build up associated with performing HIIT is simply too uncomfortable for some people to handle. Therefore, people who aren't willing to push themselves as hard as they need to won't gain the benefits.

HIIT Cons

- Limited frequency

Due to the high stress HIIT sessions place on the body, you're going to be limited to performing HIIT only 2-3 times a week max before you run into non-functional over reaching (sometimes referred to as overtraining). If anyone claims to be performing HIIT more than 2-3 times/week, along with their weight training sessions, they're either not going hard enough on the intervals, or are in danger of burning themselves out.

- Can negatively impact weight training performance

As most forms of HIIT are leg dominant, performing too much HIIT can affect your legs ability to recover, which could negatively affect your lower body weight training sessions.

Performance in the weight room is of upmost importance, both when looking to gain muscle AND when trying to lose body fat.

LISS – Pros

- Anyone can do it

Due to the lower intensity and easier difficulty, anyone can do LISS. It doesn't require any sort of fitness level really, so it's perfect for newbies.

- Can be done more frequently

Because LISS doesn't really take it out of you all that much, it can be done daily (or even twice daily) if desired.

Healthy Nutrition

- Higher overall calorie burn

Because it can be done more frequently, the total calorie burn over the course of a week will likely be much higher than you're able to get from HIIT. This is just because you're able to do more of it.

- Easy to recover from

As long as you keep the intensity low enough, LISS doesn't really take much to recover from. This has the bonus of not really affecting your weight training sessions.

LISS – Cons

- It's more time consuming

To burn a decent amount of calories, the average person would need to spend quite a long time doing LISS. Up to 60 mins or more several times a week would likely be needed to get any sort of noticeable effect. Some people will find difficult to fit in their schedule, along with their weight training sessions.

- It can be boring

LISS Cons

If you're prefer to exercise indoors, or are unable to for whatever reason, spending 60 mins walking on a treadmill can be really boring!

- It may lead to overuse injuries

If you stick to a single type of activity for all your LISS sessions, you run the risk of developing overuse injuries.

There's a commonly proposed benefit to LISS that I haven't mentioned, as I don't really see it as a benefit in the real world.

LISS – Cons

The idea of this zone is your body uses a higher % of fat for fuel during lower intensity exercise.

Now, this is largely correct, but also pretty meaningless when it comes to actual body fat loss in the real world.

Just because you use a higher % of fat for fuel during LISS, this doesn't mean you'll burn more fat overall.

Let me put it into numbers to give a better idea. (Please note, this is a simplified example for demonstration purposes only)

Jane did 45 mins of walking in the fat burning zone and burned 250kcal. Of which 60% was from fat. Meaning 150 kcal from fat was burned.

Healthy Nutrition

Jack did 30 mins of cycling above the fat burning zone, and burned 500kcal. Only 40% was from fat.

But due to the higher number of total kcal burned, 200kcal of fat was burned.

So, even though exercising at a higher intensity meant that a lower % of calories came from fat, Jack still burnt off more fat because the total calories burned was higher.

Just as a side note, it's not always a good idea to look just at calories burned during exercise. Total calorie expenditure over the course of the day or week also needs to be considered. This is another reason why ‘the fat burning zone’ isn’t really something to worry about.

So, should you perform HIIT or LISS?

Well, that really depends on your situation, fitness levels, goals etc.

If you're a complete newbie, HIIT just isn't appropriate. The higher risk of injury, extreme discomfort and the inability to really push yourself makes it something to avoid. Postpone HIIT until you're past the newbie phase.

Should you perfrom

HIIT is a good option for people who struggle to find time for exercising, enjoy the challenge or just simply want a bit of variety in their training.

LISS is the best option for newbies or people just not willing to push themselves hard enough, but it’s not really suitable for people who struggle to find time to exercise.

HIIT is kind of the cool kid on the block these days, with people claiming that you NEED to do HIIT to get ripped. But that's just simply not the case.

Is there an inherent weight loss advantage of doing HIIT over LISS?

No, I very much doubt it. But if HIIT makes it easier to fit exercise into your schedule and allows you to be more consistent, then it’s the right training for you.

Treadmill

But if you're unwilling or unable to really push yourself as hard as you need to, HIIT is a waste of time.

Also, I know people like a simple answer that one is better than the other, but there's no reason why you can't utilise both HIIT & LISS.

You could do HIIT 2-3 days a week and LISS on the other days if you are really looking to ramp up your fat loss.

But just remember not to let it compromise your weight room performance.

Take home points

  • HIIT is inappropriate for beginners
  • If you're short on time HIIT a good option
  • Don't let HIIT compromise your weight room performance
  • LISS is good for newbies
  • LISS is easy to recover from, so won't impact your weight training sessions
  • You can do both, you don't have to only do one or the other
  • One isn't better than the other. It depends on the individual and their situation
John Clark

About Sam

29-year-old Sam Whitaker is a Fitness & Nutrition Consultant and Co-Founder & Director of Body Target Ltd.

Over the past 5-6 years, he has been self-educating on all things health and fitness by reading textbooks, online articles and books by people such as Lyle McDonald and Alan Aragon. He has also just started The SBS Academy - an evidence based online training and nutrition course.

You can find out more about Sam by checking out his Facebook and Twitter feeds, or Body Target’sFacebook and Twitter.

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