How to Mix HIIT and Endurance Cardio

How to Effectively Combine HIIT Sessions with Endurance Cardio

Ripped Woman

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.

Ripped Man

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?

  1. Maximize Variety

    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.

  2. Limit HIIT to Twice Weekly

    Simply put – if you use too much HIIT, it will interfere with your resistance training. Moderation is important.

  3. 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.

  4. Increase Intensity Two Ways

    After warming up, increase intensity either by increasing either of the two factors:

    • speed
    • resistance

    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.

  5. 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.

  6. Static 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.

  7. Go Outside!

    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

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11 Responses to “How to Mix HIIT and Endurance Cardio”

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  2. Steve,

    Another great article, I’m a massive fan of HIIT, I simply don’t have the time to perform extended cardio sessions. I try and blend 2 x HIIT sessions a week with 3 x Weight Training Sessions. I’m finding the mix is working well. I’m keeping up my strength and my fitness levels are through the roof.


  3. Amen to the death of long boring cardio sessions. If that’s all working out was, I’d NEVER workout. Maybe its the ADHD…but it drives me nuts!

    I’ve used HIIT training for couple of years now, ever since reading about pro football players using it.

    Great point about the importance of using it in moderation. For the reason you mention I do HIIT on my off days (the days I don’t lift).


  4. Agreed – who has the ability to do just HIIT all week long? There’s no time to recover! The bottom line is that to have a well rounded body you have to do some of everything, even if your slow cardio is walking to the store or playing in the pool.

    BTW, I have been working in some mobility drills, focusing on my pelvis and upper back, into my warm ups. I suppose they are forms of dynamic stretches!

    • I would say mobility drills are dynamic stretching. As long as you are not holding your stretch for more than 5 seconds it’s probably dynamic. I need to use some mobility drills for my hips.

  5. Nice article here. Even though when most people think about HIIT, they tend to focus on running, the principles can be applied to everything from swimming to strength training.

  6. Steve, I couldn’t have put this any better. You hit (or should I say HIIT) all of the points. I love intervals! But, I’ve also had the bug to do some endurance runs (5K’s, half-marathon, triathlon). Because of this, I love to run outside for distance. HIIT has been such a huge factor for me that for awhile, it was the only “cardio” that I did. Now I do both.

    • I think HIIT as the sole form of cardio was a fad for a while. Like fat free diets in the 80s and carb free diets in the 90s/2000s.

      HIIT is still hot, but I think people are starting to realize you can use both HIIT and endurance cardio for maximum effectiveness.

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