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HIIT vs. Cardio

HIIT and Cardio are both exercises, and they both have their advantages and disadvantages. HIIT (High-intensity intermittent training) exercise, which is also referred to as sprint interval training (SIT), is a form of intense cardiovascular exercise done during a short time until exhaustion is reached.

HIIT involves various forms of anaerobic exercises, and it is quite intense, energy-sapping, and exhaustive. However, there isn’t a conventional HIIT session duration. It could last for as long as 30 minutes, or it could vary based on the participant’s level of fitness. 

On the contrary, Cardio exercise, which is also known as aerobic exercise, is a workout activity that speeds up your heart rate, causing the fast pump and circulation of blood. This ensures oxygen reaches all parts of your body, and it also maintains the health of your lungs and heart with less intensity when compared with HIIT.

As defined above, these two forms of workout are quite different in approach, but they have some things in common. HIIT and Cardio exercises are both done to achieve optimal health and body fitness.

Cardio is simply a steady-state training which involves activities such as going for a walk, hitting the treadmill, and the likes. These activities are quite moderate-intensive, and as such, it ensures you don’t reach total exhaustion. 

As opposed to Cardio, HIIT is highly intensive given its workout activities. It involves full-body strength and other strenuous exercises such as sprinting, stationary biking, burpees, doing kettlebell swings, squatting and doing overhead presses, and so on. These rigorous exercises are done for a specific time interval until your muscles tire out, and fatigue sets in. 

Also, HIIT exercises ensure your heart rate increases to a maximum of 95%, and it exerts you to an extreme breaking point. More so, each workout interval is followed by a period of recovery, which could be shorter, longer, or the same duration with the time it took to complete the session.


  • THE AEROBIC AND ANAEROBIC FEATURE: To start with, Cardio exercises are aerobic. That is, it is fuelled mostly by oxygen and stored fat. By contrast, HIIT is anaerobic. HIIT workout sessions don’t rely totally on oxygen. Rather, it is fuelled by stored carbohydrates in the body.
  • ENERGY EXERTION: As earlier mentioned, HIIT exerts more energy given how intense its activities can be. Your muscles get weak, heart rate maximally increases, and you are stretched to a breaking point. On the other hand, Cardio is not as energy-sapping as HIIT. Whenever you finish a HIIT session, you are exhausted, but when you round up a Cardio exercise, you still have some retained energy within you.


THE HEART: HIIT and Cardio both affect the heart rate, and they energize and keep the heart in check. This ensures the cardiovascular system is always active and on the go.

FITNESS: Both HIIT and Cardio workout sessions help in achieving optimal health and body fitness even if they work by different approaches. Of course, the sole purpose of getting involved in any form of exercise is to be healthy in the end.

Well, here are some facts on the strengths and weaknesses of Cardio and HIIT.

Which aids weight loss faster?

When it comes to HIIT and Cardio for faster weight loss, there is a clear winner. If you are looking to burn calories faster, HIIT might be just what you need. The biggest reason for this is the anaerobic form of exercise you get to do. It helps you shed unwanted pounds than Cardio both during and after exercising.

This phenomenon is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or the after-burn effect. However, this doesn’t mean you get to burn more calories without any extra work. But research shows that for a few hours post-workout, you can burn more than 240 extra calories.

Moreover, if you seek to get the best results from your HIIT exercise, ensure to take workout sessions early in the day. If you are the type that works out towards the end of the day, try and do it at least eight hours before bedtime due to the after-burn effect.

Which is preferable when it comes to mental and physical health?

When it comes to your physical and mental health, Cardio is a lot better especially when just starting.

For those that are easily distracted and may find it boring, HIIT may be a better option.

Besides, the routine can also be switched up even more than a typical Cardio routine, which is limited.

Cardio has a way of countering boredom in a few different ways. It helps with building determination, reducing stress, and attaining mental clarity. Moreover, it also has a lot of therapeutic abilities and benefits.

HIIT is very much capable of putting more stress on you both physically and mentally due to the intensity of the exercise. So, for a balanced physical and mental health, Cardio might be a better option.

Which do bodybuilders prefer?

When it comes to HIIT versus Cardio, a lot of bodybuilders would most definitely go for HIIT. Any type of weight lifting exercise is usually considered as anaerobic just like HIIT. 

Most weight lifters including bodybuilders and powerlifters make HIIT part of their routine. 

One prominent benefit achieved by bodybuilders from performing HIIT exercise is their body’s increased ability to destroy the buildup of lactic acid. 

The process of glycolysis helps to break down glycogen which directly converts to energy. Then, the lack of oxygen in the muscle causes the buildup of lactic acid in the muscle. This lactic acid helps to buildup fatigue muscles even faster than aerobic exercise.

So, what this means is that by performing HIIT exercise, lifters would be able to lift heavier weights for longer periods between rest and recovery. This results in increased strength and mass in the muscle.

Which saves more time?

If you happen to be limited on time but still want to get an effective workout, then you might want to do HIIT. 

One prominent reason why HIIT has gained popularity is that it often takes lesser time and yields faster results. This is why most people call it the “work smarter, not harder” form of exercise. 

HIIT is an attractive option because it offers a full-body workout in about 30 minutes or less for most people. 

You could perform Cardio exercise twice and not get all the benefits you could get by just performing HIIT once. So, on days where you are bothered about how you’ll fit in time to exercise, opting for HIIT would be nice.

Which poses a higher risk of injury?

When comparing HIIT to Cardio in terms of the one with an increased risk of injury, HIIT is the one to pick.  

This is significantly due to the intensity with which the exercises are performed. The harder and quicker you work, the more likely your chances of having an injury, a tear or strain a muscle. A study showed that consistently performing HIIT without giving your body time to rest might result in kidney damage.

However, from the year 2007-2016, more than three million injuries were recorded from performing HIIT exercises. The injuries stemmed from HIIT type equipment including boxes, kettlebells, and barbells. Moreover, burpees, lunges, and pushups were the most common HIIT exercises reported with injuries.

So, if you want a reduced chance of sustaining injuries during a workout, you could go for Cardio exercises. Although, prolonged running may increase the risk of musculoskeletal fractures so you should keep that in check. Still, HIIT has a higher chance overall.

What is the learning curve of both exercises?

If you just started exercising, there is going to be a learning curve to get over. Anyone with athletic ability can do C know, running takes less skill than biking or swimming. 

Although, there is a technique needed. This is because if you don’t run properly, you might cause injury or strains to your lower body. 

HIIT, on the other hand, requires proper training to do to avoid injury and perform the exercises correctly. To do it properly, you should have core strength, mobility, developed muscles, and flexibility.

So, as a newbie, you should start with easier exercises before advancing to more complex ones as you learn.

Is one better than the other?

Analytically, both HIIT and steady-state Cardio are effective in their different ways. Aerobic and anaerobic exercises affect the heart and body in diverse ways, and your involvement in both of them must be on a balanced scale. If not, your body can be pushed off the edge.

If you carry out only HIIT exercises without balancing it up with some traditional steady-state cardio, you risk getting highly stressed and filled with anxiety. Funny enough, this is the opposite of what you want to accomplish by working out.

So, the best thing is striking a balance between both workout activities. 

How to strike a balance

The best way for you to reach equilibrium between HIIT and Cardio is to get yourself a personal trainer or fitness professional. If you try out this measure, you can successfully draw out a training plan with your instructor. The customized routine will surely cater for your fitness needs and also keep you on the path of safety.

Luckily, there is a plethora of fitness tutors and professionals out there that can help in mapping out a training plan for you can decide to do it outdoors, or in the comfort of your home.

Final Thoughts

HIIT and Cardio exercises are quite essential given their benefits. They are among the best type of exercises of this contemporary age. They promote fitness, health, and vitality.



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