What is the best way to run?

Steady- State Cardio (SSC) Vs. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Running advice sydney

Running advice sydney

With the return of summer, more and more people are putting on their running shoes and venturing out into the warm air to enjoy the sun. Us Sports Physiotherapists often get the question: “Which is the best way to run, steady-state cardio or high intensity interval training?”

Before we look at that question, we need to look at how they differ.

SSC means that you run at a steady, challenging but manag

eable pace (60 to 70 percent of maximal capacity) for 20 mins or more, aiming for a heart rate of 120 to 150 beats per minutes (bpm).

On the other hand, HIIT workouts are more complex through running/sprinting as hard as you can (90 to 100 percent of maximal capacity) for a brief, set time period, then backing off for a rest interval. The cycle is repeated four times or more.

SSC is aerobic, as it requires oxygen and is fuelled mostly by stored fat. However, HIIT is anaerobic and does not exclusively rely on oxygen, and is fuelled mostly by stored carbohydrates.

What are the benefits and disadvantages of SSC?

The vast majority of physical functions from digestion to breathing to everyday movements like walking, standing and sleeping are powered by the aerobic system. The aerobic energy pathways are the limiting factor to anything we do. Even activities that are anaerobic, depends on the aerobic system to help restore the body to a neutral state. In other words, build a better aerobic engine, and you will get better at everything else.

From an anatomy point of view, the SSC also causes a unique adaptation in the heart to allow it to pump more oxygen rich blood with each contraction over the time. This triggers your heart rate to drop substantially, both at rest and exercise.

A lower heart rate is not just an indication of a health and high-functioning cardiovascular system. It is also indicative of high “parasympathetic tone” in the nervous system which enhances the ability to relax, focus and recover from stress.

So many people these days suffer from stress, which means they struggle to relax and wind down and significantly impact daily life. This can be seen in HIIT as the body is placed under increases stress with these workouts; whereas, SSC provides a more ‘chilled out’ workout.

However, there are disadvantages to SSC activity. Beyond a low baseline level, you won’t build much strength, power, muscle, or burn a substantial amount of fat. SSC can also be risky, as the more a single movement pattern is performed, the load is increased to that particular area of the body, and the more likely the chance of injury.

The hype and short comings of HIIT

HIIT is more time-effective than SSC if you are trying to lose fat.

HIIT develops the aerobic and anaerobic system unevenly; you might end up being anaerobically fit but aerobically weak. This means that you may be fast and strong, but you gas out after just few minutes and your resting heart rate will remain high.

Also The HIIT can stimulate a near-constant flight or fight response from your autonomic nervous system, resulting in anxiety like symptoms, such as, racing heart, sweaty palms, difficulty sleeping, and unable to focus.

HIIT places a lot of strain on your body in a short amount of time and as a result, it is a recipe for aches and pains in the short term, stalled progress and burnout in the medium term, and injury in the long term.


So what’s the best for your workout?

MarathonNutritionComp__1331825891_9816[1]The answer is…. It depends!

Before you can decide on what type of cardio is best, you need a goal. The workout program needs to reflect a balance of improving what you are not good at and further advance at what you are good at.

All Beginners should emphasize SSC first as aerobic fitness is the foundation in daily life and sporting activities. A program should consist of at least two sessions of SSC running weekly, and then build up to 30 to 45 mins of endurance, for two to three months.

For regular or experienced people, a simple test can be taken. If your resting heart rate is below 60bpm, feel free to experiment with HIIT. If it is above 65bpm, you need to drop other cardio activities and focus on SSC running like the beginners.

Once your aerobic system is up to scratch, reduce the SSC and switch to HIIT. However, make sure your resting heart rate stays below 65bpm, otherwise return to SSC and limit HIIT.

In general, because of the toll the HIIT can take on your body; avoid doing it regularly for more than three months in a row.

A few months prior to a wedding or event where you want to look your best, sub in HIIT for SSC, and after the event, back off on the HIIT and return to SSC for two or three more months. Alternate these training methods for two or three month throughout the year.

If competing or playing sports, your pick should be based on your sport. For example if marathon running is your activity of choice, then you should emphasize on SSC, but at the end of your competitive season, you should switch to HIIT for a short period.

For a low-key workout that reduces your stress level and improves recovery while delivering general health and an efficient aerobic engine, old fashioned SSC running is tough to beat.

To sum up, the truth is that both SSC and HIIT are effective in their own ways. The best way to run isn’t an all or nothing approach. It should be a blend of both SSC and HIIT that’s tailored to your body and goals.