Which is better, low intensity cardio or high intensity cardio? A lot of trainers will favour one over the other but their reasoning is questionable. In this article we will look at the benefits and drawbacks of both low intensity cardio and high intensity cardio and show you which one is really better for you, is it low intensity cardio or high intensity cardio? Lets find out about it!
What Is Low Intensity Cardio?
Low intensity cardio is also referred to as Li or Lit (Low intensity training). It is performed at around 60-80% of your maximum heart rate and is usually carried out for longer duration than other types of cardio.
What Is High Intensity Cardio?
High intensity cardio is performed at a far higher percentage of your maximum heart rate than low intensity cardio and is often referred to as HIT or HIIT. HIIT stands for high intensity interval training and is a lot more demanding on the body. Due to the intensity of HIT it is usually carried out for shorter periods of time e.g. 10-20 minutes.
Which Is Better, Low Intensity Cardio Or High Intensity Cardio?
This totally depends on the individual and the goals of that individual. Both low intensity training and high intensity training can have a place somewhere in your training routine but it is probably fair to say that one can be more beneficial to an individual than the other. Let me explain.
Low intensity cardio would be great for the untrained athlete. A person who has very rarely done any kind of cardio work is going to need low intensity cardio in their training in order to gradually build up their fitness and train their cardio vascular system to become more efficient.
There is no way an untrained athlete can jump straight into high intensity cardio which is why, in this case, low intensity cardio is going to be of great benefit to them. Low intensity cardio is also a lot better for the older person as it is a lot safer and can help minimize the risk of injuries or strains.
What About Low Intensity Cardio For The Trained Athlete?
This is where it gets slightly more interesting. So your not an entire beginner and you have experience in fitness or weightlifting. Your probably thinking that high intensity training is going to be far more beneficial to you but hold on. Yes high intensity cardio is great for your body but just because you are in good shape does not mean that low intensity cardio should be written out of your routine.
Let me give you an example. A typical 200 pound athlete who trains daily to build muscle and become bigger suddenly decides he needs to lose weight and any unwanted body fat he may have gained. In this particular scenario low intensity cardio could be the way to go. The athlete's/bodybuilder's main goal will be to lose FAT. Not muscle tissue but fat. Ideally he will want to maintain muscle while cutting and losing fat.
Research suggests that to preserve as much muscle mass as possible low intensity would be the better type of cardio to perform. The reason being is that muscle tissue has a far smaller chance of being burnt or used for energy by your body when performing low intensity cardio.
A far higher percentage of the calories you burn during cardio are therefore coming from your fat stores instead of muscle tissue which is exactly what we want! Also remember that when you are looking to lose fat your body is going to be in a constant calorie deficit and carbs consumption is also likely to be cut, raising the risk of losing valuable muscle tissue.
The majority of professional bodybuilders will perform around an hour a day of cardio when their looking to cut up and lose fat for a show. This cardio is not high intensity as there is no way they could last 60 minutes or more performing it. A lot of low intensity cardio is performed at longer duration to help them burn the fat and keep the muscle.
What About High Intensity Cardio For The Trained Athlete?
So we have established that low intensity cardio is effective for athletes and bodybuilders who are looking to lose fat and maintain muscle mass but this doesn't mean that high intensity cardio should be forgotten about. High intensity cardio has many additional benefits to low intensity cardio. These include: an elevated metabolism throughout the day, more calories getting burned, shorter workouts, increased VO2 max (maximum amount of oxygen you can uptake during exercise) and many more!
A lot of trainers will recommend you perform low intensity cardio for longer duration if your trying to lose fat and maintain muscle whereas other trainers will say the exact opposite. Even if your main goal is to lose fat while maintaining muscle, I also think that high intensity/HIIT cardio should play some part in your training.
High intensity cardio can burn off a lot of calories in one workout and will force your body to burn off additional calories throughout the day due to the effect it has on your metabolism (the rate at which your body burns calories). The best time to perform high intensity cardio is probably going to be when your body is in a calorie surplus. This will prevent any noticeable muscle tissue being lost and will keep you in good shape as you bulk up and put on more size and muscle.
It will also be easier to fit into your routine as you only need a spare 10-20 minutes to perform it. As you probably guessed, performing high intensity cardio at a time when your body is in a calorie deficit is more risky in relation to losing muscle tissue which is why a lot of professional bodybuilders don't do it when losing fat for a show.
Final Verdict On Low Intensity Cardio Or High Intensity Cardio
Each type of cardio has its own benefits for different situations so my final verdict on low intensity cardio and high intensity cardio is this. The untrained athlete should always start off by incorporating low intensity cardio into their routines to begin with. As they progress, up the intensity. Low intensity cardio can also be used by bodybuilders and athletes who are looking to drop fat and maintain as much muscle mass as is humanly possible.
High intensity cardio should be used (if they choose to do so in their routine) by trained athletes/bodybuilders/weightlifters whilst their diets consist of a calorie surplus. This way they are reaping the health benefits of cardio and staying in good physical condition while adding on size and muscle to their frames. There is also no risk of losing muscle mass. High intensity cardio may also be used in your routines when you are looking to lose fat and are currently eating a calorie deficit but use it sparingly and be sure to pay attention as to how your body responds to higher intensity cardio while dieting.
If you notice significant muscle and strength loss even though your diet is spot on then switch to low intensity cardio. People may respond differently to the two types of cardio, not everyone body will respond the same so be smart with your training. If your body is not responding to it change it!