Steady-state v. Interval training. Have you heard these cardio terms thrown about in the gym or online? What’s the difference? Which is better? Let’s talk about it.
Steady-state refers to cardiovascular exercise where the effort or intensity is maintained throughout the duration of the session. An example of this might be going for a walk or run and keeping the same pace for a certain time or distance. Steady state cardio is excellent for those who are new to exercise and need to work on building time and tolerance. Effort levels (Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE) & Heart Rate) are generally moderate and feel manageable throughout the entire session. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that adults should aim to get 150 minutes per week of moderate steady-state cardio exercise to enhance heart health and closer to 300 minutes per week if weight loss is a goal.
During cardio interval training, the effort levels change dramatically throughout the session. There are short bursts of time where the intensity is very high followed by a period where the intensity is very light. Very little time is spent in the moderate training zone. Usually, these bouts of high and low intensity are programmed for a certain ratio. For example, a 1:2 ratio interval would mean that the light intensity recovery period would be twice the length of time as the interval. These lengths of time can vary anywhere between 10 seconds to a few minutes. Because this type of cardio requires a person to work at such high intensities, it is recommended for someone who is more intermediate or advanced in their training. An additional benefit to these more vigorous training sessions is the recommendation is shorter: 75-100min/week with sessions lasting less than 30 minutes.
Both types of cardio are important and have a place in an effective training program. If you are brand new, it is best to focus first on developing a consistent steady-state cardio routine and allow your body to adjust. Once this foundation has been established, it is a great time to start to incorporate interval training. Start by just switching one cardio session to an interval session and slowly start incorporating more days and see how you feel.
Still have questions on where to start or how to incorporate interval training when the time is right? In my 4-week Fitness Jumpstart program I walk you through the basics of developing a solid steady-state cardio foundation and then incorporating interval training.