After my recent article on how to increase your metabolism, there has been a fair bit of talk over which form of cardio is better. It isn’t so straightforward. Both forms have their advantages, and disadvantages. I can’t stress enough how much this industry jumps on fads and how important it is to keep an open mind when you are reading and discussing concepts.
It is generally accepted now that high intensity exercise will burn more calories and aid fat loss, and therefore is the right form to choose. It is true that training above your ‘fat burning zone’ will yield better results in that respect. But it’s not that simple, and in many cases, low intensity exercise will and should be prescribed to people.
When Should I Do What?
High intensity cardio work will burn more calories and is more effective in weight loss. However it’s not always appropriate. Not everyone has the goal to burn the ultimate amount of calories. Though I will generally prescribe high intensity work over low intensity due to it’s greater calorie burning potential and time efficiency, a lot of programs will use a mixture of both, or will be dependent on the goals of the exerciser.
Reasons high intensity exercise is prescribed:
- Weight Loss is the main goal- High Intensity cardio work will burn more calories and therefore is a better choice of exercise for people wanting to lose weight. However, severely unconditioned people will generally need to do some low intensity work to begin. High intensity does not mean high impact, and nearly everyone can do some form of it.
- Performance Goals- If you have performance goals that are to do with speed or power, high intensity cardio work is more likely to help supplement them. You will get both an anaerobic and aerobic stimulus.
- Time Efficient- If you have very little time to workout, high intensity cardio is the way to go. You have to do less time for the same amount of calories burnt.
Reasons low intensity exercise is prescribed:
- People who are very out of shape- If you are a beginner and haven’t exercised at all before or are extremely out of shape, then it is probably better to get some low intensity work into you right at the start. However in saying that, high intensity does not necessarily mean high impact, and therefore some forms of high intensity work are still safe for beginners. For example, if you are working on the bike, for 10 minutes spinning at 100 plus RPM for 30 seconds, not on such a high level, and then spinning 70 plus RPM for 1.5 minutes, this is not really high impact and is still suitable ‘high intensity’ work for a beginner.
- Body Builders or Strength Athletes- Often these kinds of athletes don’t want any interference in their training at all. They will often simply go for long slow walks to burn some extra body fat without changing their muscle types or interfering with their strength and power stimulus.
- Specific Goals- If you specific goal is to run a marathon, then you will want to be doing some long low intensity work! Same deal if you are going on a hiking trip and want to build up a good base, some of this work will be used.
- Recovery- If you are stuffed and feeling like you need a recovery session, low intensity work is the best kind to get the muscles slowly moving again, regenerate and get the blood flowing.
It is important to note that in most cases a little bit of both is needed. You can’t always perform high intensity work, and will often find that a low intensity session is good every now and then.
Focus on your goals and your fitness levels when choosing the right cardio for you. What is right for one person may not be right for another. Very few things in the fitness industry are truly correct and concrete.