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Low Intensity vs. High Intensity: Which is better?


I am sure a lot of you do this: Ride an exercise bike for an hour, while flipping through your favorite magazine or talking to your friends, only to see little results even after working out every single day.

Ever wondered why that happens? I mean I am sure you do feel exhausted at the end of the workout, but why doesn’t the number on the scale match the effort you put in?

For this, we are going to compare two main types of Cardio–Low Intensity and High Intensity– to see which one you actually should be investing your hard work and time into.

Low Intensity Cardio Training woman-trail

This type of Cardio involves working out at 40-60% of your Maximum heart rate. This is a long duration workout that is done in a slow and continuous manner, and can last more than 40 minutes. Examples of a low intensity workout includes jogging or walking.

This is not a very demanding training and is good for overweight people, or those just starting out with cardio. To actually burn fat though, the workout should last more than 60 to up to 120 minutes.

High Intensity Cardio Training

This type of Cardio involves working out at 80- 90% of your Maximum heart rate. High intensity training is very demanding and is done for only 20 to 30 minutes. Usually at 85-90% of your maximum heart rate, your body transitions from Aerobic to Anaerobic metabolism.sprinter

At the stage of aerobic metabolism, your body starts to use fat and carbohydrates in the presence of oxygen to create energy. But when the exercise intensity increases immensely, your body can no longer keep up with the high demand of energy, which causes your it to shift to the anaerobic mode. At this stage, your body is forced to burn the stored sugars to meet the increased energy requirement. Because of fatigue and muscle pain, usually people can only sustain on this stage for a few minutes, although with engaging in HIT consistently will increase your endurance level immensely.

Here Are 3 Reasons Why High Intensity Cardio Is highly More Effective Than Low Intensity Cardio

  1. Time: Did you know that short intense workouts are not just more convenient but also much more effective for improving fitness?

In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology , 23 participants were observed to see how long it took them to complete 18.6 miles through cycling. Then the participants were divided into three groups, with each group required to undergo exercise programs of varying intensities, three times a week.

The first group cycled at moderate pace for 2 hours a day. In 60 second intervals, the second group cycled for 10 minutes a day, and the third group cycled in 30 second interval for 2 minutes, with 4 minute rests between each interval.

The participants were again asked to repeat the 18.6 miles test. The results showed that, despite the intensity and the varying time duration, all three groups had improved the same amount.

In a nutshell, you don’t have to workout for hours to get a ripped body, it’s how you spend the minutes that count.

  1. Greater Loss in Calories:In low intensity training, the main substrate used for fuel is fat, but in high intensity, much more carbohydrates are used up than fat. This is still better because you end up burning a higher amount of total calorie when compared to low intensity cardio, and some of that comes from fat oxidation.

Another phenomenon you need to know about is Energy/Nutrient partitioning, which refers to where the nutrients go once they enter the body. All the micro and macronutrients that enter the body either go to our muscles or fat cells, where they are either burned up immediately or stored away for the future. When we exercise, especially through High Intensity cardio, it increases the level of GLUT-4 receptors, which directs the nutrients towards the muscles instead of fat cells.

  1. Muscle Mass: High intensity cardio actually gets you greater fat loss because of increased oxidative girl-backcapacity. Your muscles have energy producing units called mitochondria whose oxidative capacity increases through more intense workouts. Because your muscle mass increases, so does your metabolism. Not just that but low intensity cardio is also catabolic, i.e. muscle wasting, while High Intensity cardio is muscle sparing, which means you don’t burn away your hard earned lean muscle.

Whichever way you look at it, high intensity cardio is much more effective. So for those of you who are putting off working out because you don’t have hours to invest on your body, 20-30 minutes is all you need to sweat those calories away. If you are not feeling the burn or are not running out of breathe, try high intensity training. You will be surprised at the results.

In the comments section below, tell us: Low Intensity or High Intensity: which is your favorite style of cardio?

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Written by Ingrid Macher

Certified Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Motivator - I have a passion for helping people change their lives. I started out helping my friends and now I give advice and tips to perfect strangers who have now become my friends. I love what I do and I wouldn’t change my life even if I could. This kind of happy is truly a gift and I’ll do whatever it takes to be able to give this gift to others.

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