How to Effectively Combine HIIT Sessions with Endurance Cardio
Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please: walking or jogging for hours on the treadmill, peddling for hours on the stationary bike, climbing a mountain on the StairMaster, and plodding away on the elliptical trainer is NOT the best way to burn calories!
We’ve seen a hundred studies telling us that high intensity interval training (HIIT) burns more calories and fat, speeds up your metabolism, and is less catabolic than hours of endurance cardio. HIIT can also be far less boring, will actually help you build more muscle tissue, and increases your resting metabolic rate.
HIIT: Twenty minutes of HIIT cardio improves your VO2 max, burns a ton of calories, increases your metabolism, and maintains or builds muscle tissue all at once.
Endurance Cardio: Sixty minutes of endurance cardio is not only boring as hell, it also increases cortisol, burns muscle tissue (protein) for energy, and halts protein synthesis.
However, endurance cardio does have a place in bodybuilding routines because it doesn’t cause the same high level of muscle trauma as HIIT, which means you can combine a ton of endurance cardio with your regular resistance training routine. You can use endurance cardio before (not recommended) or after weight training, as well as in the morning, at night, at lunch, and the day after weight training. HIIT sessions should be so intense that if you combine too many of them with a regular weight training routine, you will end up overtraining or getting injured.
So how do we schedule endurance cardio with HIIT for maximum muscle preservation and fat loss?
You get the best results with maximum variety. You can alternate HIIT sessions with endurance training, or you can use a 3:1 ratio, or even a 4:1 ratio. Each cardio session, whether HIIT or endurance, should use a different form of exercise. Sprint one day, bike the next, row the next, jump rope the next, run stairs or bleachers, go jogging, use tabatas, etc…
Also vary the lengths of each session. A morning endurance session could last 60 minutes, while a post-resistance training session might only last 30 minutes, and HIIT sessions can last as little as 15 minutes and at much as 30 minutes at the most.
Limit HIIT to Twice Weekly
Simply put – if you use too much HIIT, it will interfere with your resistance training. Moderation is important.
Warm Up Properly
Every exercise session, whether HIIT, endurance, weight training, or sports, should start with a warm up. A five minute warmup is enough preparation for most exercise.
Dynamic stretching may be used in the warm up, but static stretching should not. See notes below on static stretching for HIIT.
Increase Intensity Two Ways
After warming up, increase intensity either by increasing either of the two factors:
After performing your high intensity interval for the desired length of time, back off to your recovery interval as prescribed using the guidelines below. Alternate your work and recovery intervals for an appropriate length of time – often 20-25 minutes – then cool down and stretch.
Work Within Your Abilities
Use the following guidelines to create your HIIT training session based on your personal level of conditioning and experience. You can apply these guidelines to nearly every aerobic exercise imaginable and even some anaerobic exercises, as long as it is conducive to both max effort and medium effort.
Experience Level Interval Type Interval Time Intensity Newbie Work 60 seconds Medium-High Recover 120 seconds Low Total 30 minutes Experienced Work 60 seconds High Recover 60 seconds Low-Medium Total 20-25 minutes Expert Work alt 30, 45, 60 secs Maximal Recover alt 30, 45, 60 secs Medium Total 15-20 minutes
Total time does not include warm up or stretching.
Static stretching is to be performed ONLY after you finish your workout. Static stretching should never be attempted with cold muscles. Post-workout stretching can last anywhere from 5-20 minutes.
Please don’t limit your HIIT or endurance training strictly to gym equipment. Go outside and sprint at the track or on your local soccer field. Ride a real bike. Row a real boat. Jumping rope can be done anywhere. Stair sprints are lethal.
Intervals can be fun, help you avoid a plateau, allow you to get some fresh air, burn more calories, and force you to train harder. Don’t over use them, but don’t neglect them either. Case in point: you’ve seen all those crazy ripped CrossFit people? They love interval training, but they include endurance rowing and outdoor distance running as part of their weekly routine.
I have also written several posts about HIIT and interval training here: HIIT Training