“Why jog for 1 hour when you can do HIIT for 1 minute and still reap the same calorie-burning and health benefits?”
Depending on your stance on the whole HIIT vs. LISS thing, there are 3 expressions you could have on your face right now:
- 😏 for … Exactly. I don't understand why dumba*sses out there are wasting their time doing steady-state cardio?!
- 🤨 for … Wtf, that seems like a really problematic claim. How can 1 minute of high-intensity cardio possibly be equivalent to 1 hour of steady-state cardio?
- 😐 for… I don’t really care. Just tell me which is better, so I can do it in my workout routine.
Regardless of which facial expression camps you fall into, you'll want to check out the rest of this article.
We'll examine just how high-intensity cardio stacks up against steady-state cardio — drawing upon objective, well-conducted research studies and not opinions.
Let’s get the definitions out of the way
How intense is “high-intensity cardio”?
Before diving into the meat of the HIIT vs. LISS issue, let's get our definitions straight so we're all on the same page.
In general, cardio can be split into 2 major categories.
One, interval training
High-intensity efforts, with heart rate routinely exceeding 85% of maximum.
This means sustaining the same level of effort for a prolonged period is incredibly challenging, and intermittent rest periods (where you either continue exercising at a low intensity or stop exercising completely) are necessary.
The 2 types of interval training include:
- Sprint interval training (SIT): Maximal-intensity (i.e., everything you've got and that little bit more) work intervals interspersed with active or passive recovery intervals
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT): Less than everything you've got, but still intense because your heart rate will reach or exceed 85% of your maximum during work intervals.
Two, steady-state training
Lower-intensity efforts, which means you can sustain it for a prolonged period without needing intermittent rest periods. The 2 types of steady-state training include:
- Low-intensity steady state cardio (LISS): Your heart rate typically stays between 50-69% of your maximum.
- Moderate-intensity steady state cardio (MISS): Your heart rate typically gets elevated to 70-84% of maximum.
Psst, you might want to check these out:
In this article, we'll focus on HIIT vs. LISS and MISS
There are two reasons for this.
First, it’s highly unlikely that you’d want to do sprint interval training for your cardio needs. It’s punishing — even for professional athletes.
Second, most research compares HIIT vs. LISS and HIIT vs. MISS.
HIIT vs. LISS/MISS: is there any truth to those wild claims?
If you think 1 minute of HIIT is equivalent to 1 hour of steady-state cardio, then this 2022 study published in Kinesiology Review will 100% feel like a tight reality slap to the face.
In this paper, the researchers specifically evaluated this claim (amongst others, and we’ll touch on them in a bit):
“1 minute of HIIT is equivalent to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity continuous exercise.”
And what did they find?
After critically analyzing all three studies claiming that a few minutes of HIIT could be “as effective as” ~50 minutes of MISS, the researchers found that all three contained:
💩 Misleading claims, to be specific, several of the assertions about the benefits of HIIT included within the studies diverge from the original evidence
Bottom line? Likely, 1 minute of HIIT won't give you the same cardiometabolic/calorie-burning/athletic benefits as 1 hour of LISS/MISS.
Oh, and as mentioned earlier, that wasn't the only claim the researchers debunked in the whole HIIT vs. LISS/MISS saga.
They also showed that the following were nothing but wishful thinking:
- HIIT lowers the risk of mortality more than moderate-intensity continuous exercise
- HIIT doubles endurance performance only after 15 minutes of training over 2 weeks
- HIIT is more pleasant and enjoyable than moderate-intensity continuous exercise
False, false, and false.
HIIT isn’t useless
But now, don’t be mistaken.
This isn’t to say that HIIT won't result in cardiometabolic/calorie-burning/athletic performance benefits.
Of course, it will, but if you thought you could see massive improvements in 5 minutes a day, you'd need to bring your expectations way down.
Just look at the official exercise recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) when it comes to cardio; they recommend that adults should get at least:
- 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity weekly, or
- 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity weekly, or
- An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity
Yeah … you read that right. 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week.
If you were to do 5 sessions of HIIT weekly, you’d need to spend 15 minutes per session.
And, at the risk of stating the obvious, the fewer sessions you do weekly, the more time you’d have to spend per session (e.g., 3 sessions of 25-min HIIT 😮💨).
… unless you can’t stick to it
So, the question is: is that amount of HIIT doable/enjoyable to you?
Because unfortunately, there's research suggesting that it might not be. I mean, there's the 2022 study mentioned earlier.
Then, there’s also this new 2023 study published in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise.
After systematically searching the scientific literature for studies comparing long-term adherence rates between HIIT and MISS (lol, this wasn't intentional) exercise interventions, the researchers identified 8 studies that met their inclusion criteria and found that:
- Compared to MISS, more individuals assigned to HITT did not adhere to their prescription unsupervised, most likely because they could not
- Some dropped out, whereas many of those who continued exercising did so at lower-than-prescribed levels of intensity
- As a result of nonadherence, initial physiological adaptations tended to dissipate over the course of follow-up (i.e., the participants who gave up on their HIIT routine lost their “cardio fitness gains”)
Here's how you could approach the HIIT vs. MISS/LISS thing
First, ask yourself if there’s any compelling reason for you to do HIIT.
Do you only have very limited time? Or a particular training need (e.g., a competition)?
Next, be honest with yourself.
Do you enjoy HIIT? Some people think HIIT is more enjoyable/engaging, and if that's the case for you, great! Keep doing it (just don't think it's a magical, do-it-for-just-1-minute thing).
What does your workout routine look like?
Whether you do HIIT, MISS, or LISS (or SIT?), remember that cardio is the perfect complement to strength training.
And speaking of strength training …
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Ekkekakis, P., & Biddle, S. J. H. (2023). Extraordinary claims in the literature on high-intensity interval training (HIIT): IV. Is HIIT associated with higher long-term exercise adherence? Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 64, 102295. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2022.102295
Ekkekakis, P., & Tiller, N. B. (2022). Extraordinary Claims in the Literature on High-Intensity Interval Training: II. Are the Extraordinary Claims Supported by Extraordinary Evidence? Kinesiology Review, 1(aop), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1123/kr.2022-0003