Interval training is all the rage right now. It hasn’t quite achieved crossfit levels of fanboy-dom, but it’s close.
It’s definitely trendy to scoff at steady state cardio these days. It’s usually personal trainers or gym newbies who take the strongest opinion about cardio; they laugh at the people running steadily on the treadmill for 30 minutes, call them stupid, and say they’re wasting their time.
For them, it’s all about interval training. To listen to some personal trainers these days, you’d think that step-mills made you fat; it’s interval training that really burns the pounds off.
While the ridicule and dismissal of steady state cardio is – obviously – stupid itself, there is some truth in what they’re saying.
Some recent studies suggest that interval training might indeed be an incredibly effective method for burning body fat.
In fact, some studies even go as far as to suggest that it is better – or rather more efficient – at burning body fat than steady state cardio.
Let’s take a look at some of the studies being cited to promote interval training and see what conclusions we can actually draw from them. In the end, we’ll tell you whether or not you could honestly say interval training is “better” than steady state cardio.
Interval Training & Fat Loss
There is some really solid evidence showing that interval training is a highly effective and efficient way of burning body fat.
Most studies have looked at High Intensity Interval Training, which is what we mean when we say ‘interval training’; low intensity interval training would be completely pointless!
This clinical study looked at the feasibility of HIIT as a training method in a community fitness centre (as opposed to in the lab). The study turned up a lot of interesting results relating to athletic performance, as well as the efficacy of different kinds of HIIT. However, for us, the interesting finding was this one: “5 × 1 [minute]-HIIT significantly improved waist circumference”.
Much more convincing than a single study is this comprehensive literature review, published in 2011 in the Journal of Obesity. It is well worth taking the time to read the paper in full. However, if you don’t have time, here are some of the key excerpts:
“With regard to abdominal fat, Trapp et al.  found that 15 weeks of HIIE led to significantly reduced abdominal fat (.15 kg) in untrained young women, whereas Dunn  found that 12 weeks of HIIE led to a.12 kg decrease in abdominal fat. As women in these studies possessed relatively low abdominal fat levels, it is possible that the greater abdominal fat of men may demonstrate greater reductions after HIIE.“
“Mourier et al.  found a 48% reduction in visceral fat, measured by MRI, compared to an 18% decrease in subcutaneous fat following an exercise regimen consisting of steady state exercise two days per week and HIIE one day a week for 8 weeks in type 2 diabetic men and women.”
Those are some pretty compelling findings.
Not only does HIIT seem to be effective at reducing abdominal subcutaneous fat, but it seems to dramatically reduce visceral fat too. This is the fact that surrounds your internal organs, and it is by far the most problematic kind of fat in terms of health and longevity.
Clearly, HIIT burns body fat very effectively.
It also unquestionably takes a lot less time than steady state cardio.
Most of the studies referenced in that literature review focused on HIIT regimens that see participants doing 30 second all-out sprints followed by 3 minutes of relative rest, repeated for 3-6 cycles. This amounts to about 12-15 minutes of training; barely a warm-up for people who do a lot of steady state cardio.
Participants were doing HIIT 2-6 times per week. So they were doing anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 and a half hours of training per week. This was sufficient to see dramatic reductions in body fat (both sub-q and visceral).
If you’re hard-pressed for time, then HIIT is just what the doctor ordered.
But what if you’re not pressed for time?
If you’re just concerned about end-results, then you’re probably just looking for a straight up answer to the question: which is better for fat loss? Steady state cardio or interval training?
We’ll cover that in an article of its own, coming soon! We’ll update this page with a link as soon as it’s published.