If your fitness goals include fat loss, you are very likely to face the following question at some point: which form of cardiovascular exercise is best for you? Today, the fitness world is expanding rapidly, and as a result, there are almost too many various workout types. So what to choose, HIIT, LISS. or perhaps the almighty plyometrics?

Ultimately, it’s completely up to you. However, there are considerable differences between these workout types, and today we’re going to compare the three in order to help you create the best routine to suit your goals and desires.

What is HIIT Training?

High Intensity Interval Training

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, has many names – you may also encounter terms like high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) or sprint interval training (SIT), but it’s all the same thing, really. Simply put, HIIT is a form of interval training, implementing a strategy alternating short periods of vigorous anaerobic exercise with noticeably less intense short recovery periods.

HIIT has been around for a while – and there are good reasons for that. This type of training does wonders for fat loss [1], and the benefits are much greater compared to moderate intensity endurance training [2]. No wonder well-trained athletes choose to incorporate HIIT in their training regimes to overcome performance plateaus [3]!

How it works:

In 1996, Izumi Tabata of the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, Japan published the results of his study on the effects of High-Intensity Interval Training.

The findings demonstrated that 20 seconds of all-out cycling followed by 10 seconds of low intensity cycling for four minutes was as beneficial for VO2 max (maximal aerobic capacity) as 45 minutes of long, slow cardio performed four times per week [4].

Moreover, Tabata method of training resulted in improvements to anaerobic capacity, whereas, the steady state training failed to demonstrate such improvements [4].

In short, HIIT approach seems to work so well because:

  • Interval training may help achieve substantial VO2 max improvement
  • HIIT has unique anaerobic benefits for athletes, which cannot be achieved with steady cardio alone
  • Tabata training sessions required to facilitate the benefits are much shorter compared to “classic” steady state cardio

These benefits likely apply to all kinds of high intensity training, including but not limited to Tabata.

Physiological Benefits:

We’ve already established that HIIT training is highly beneficial for fat loss [1], but there is much more to it. For instance, HIIT seems to improve muscle metabolism by increasing the activity of muscle glycolytic enzymes [1].

Together, these effects mean that “for a given level of energy expenditure, vigorous exercise favors negative energy and lipid balance to a greater extent than exercise of low to moderate intensity” [1]. In addition, “the metabolic adaptations taking place in the skeletal muscle in response to the HIIT program appear to favor the process of lipid oxidation” [1], which means HIIT training sessions provide considerable benefits for weight management.

LISS

low intensity steady state cardio

The opposite to HIIT is LISS, low intensity steady state cardio. It’s also very beneficial for weight loss, but in its own way. What do we mean by that? Well, it appears that LISS is not your best friend at the early stages of fat loss, as due to its limited intensity it won’t help increase your fitness levels much, although it’s still beneficial to increase your aerobic fitness [5].

However, when it comes to shedding stubborn tiny bits of fat when you’re close to your goal, there is nothing better that LISS to overcome plateaus and shake up your system [5].

How it Works:

The deal is simple here: you want to go steady, maintaining around 60% of your maximum heart rate without going overboard. The easiest (although not the most precise) way to determine your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220 [6]. For instance, if you’re 45 years old, subtract 45 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 175 – and 60% of it will be 105. Use a heart rate monitor to monitor your exercise intensity.

To get a more precise estimate of your maximum heart rate, see a qualified personal trainer.

For LISS, most people prefer forms of exercise such as a bike, rower, treadmill, or simply going for an outdoors jog.

Physiological Benefits:

Consider the following benefits when deciding if you should add LISS to your workout regime [5]:

  • Faster recovery, as LISS is less demanding on your body
  • You will be able to easily maintain your muscle mass
  • You will still burn a lot of calories, especially if you stick to prolonged sessions of ~60 minutes
  • As we’ve mentioned before, you will improve your aerobic fitness
  • As the workouts are less demanding, you are likely to stick with them as they feel more like fun

Plyometric Training

1

Last but not definitely least, plyometric training! Explosive in nature, this type of training is somewhat similar to HIIT, as it certainly makes you work at a very high intensity.

A lot of plyometric exercises involve jumping, so be extremely careful with those if you have joint problems – also, there are almost always substitutes for the naughtiest offenders.

However, if your knee joints are perfectly fine, we have great news: plyometric training is an effective method to prevent knee injuries while also improving jump performance [7]!

How It Works:

Basically, all you need to do is to turn your classic resistance based exercises into explosive beasts. Think clap push ups, jump squats, burpees and jumping lean outs – you get the idea. Your aim is to make your body work twice as hard compared to your “normal” resistance routine!

By making your muscles contract repeatedly and then stretching them, plyometrics forces your muscles to produce maximal power [8].

Physiological Benefits:

Plyometric training is ideal for many areas of performance and weight loss. Some of the benefits include [8]:

  • Increased power and speed, due to repetitive alternating muscle contractions and muscle lengthening
  • Considerable strength gains, as plyometrics pushes you to use various muscle groups in both your upper and lower body.
  • Rapid weight loss and toning effect, as plyometric exercises require a lot of energy, because they are highly intense.

What’s best for you.

As we’ve noted above, the final choice is yours – pick a single cardio variation or try to incorporate them all into your routine. Your goals, your call!

However, if we had to pick only one, we would probably lean towards plyometrics – unless you have some prominent joint problems. The reason is because this form of exercise combines combine strength training and cardiovascular exercise, making plyometrics a perfect all-rounder.

If you’re still unsure which strategy to implement to facilitate fat loss, take some time to talk to a qualified professional personal trainer to get advice based on your individual preferences, needs and goals.

Hope you found this material helpful, and happy cardio!

References

  1. Tremblay, A., et al (1994) “Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism”. Metabolism. 1994 Jul;43(7):814-8.
  2. Sijie, T., et al (2012) “High intensity interval exercise training in overweight young women.” J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2012 Jun;52(3):255-62.
  3. Laursen, P.B. & Jenkins, D.G. (2002). “The scientific basis for high-intensity interval training: optimising training programmes and maximising performance in highly trained endurance athletes.” Sports Med. 2002;32(1):53-73.
  4. Lacasse, D. (2010). “The Past, Present, and Future of Interval Training”. Source: https://seeadamtrain.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/exercise-the-past-present-and-future-of-interval-training/
  5. Clark, S. (2015). “Going Steady: 5 Reasons To Do Steady-State Cardio” Source: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/going-steady-5-reasons-to-do-steady-state-cardio.html
  6. Mayo Clinic. “Gauging intensity using your heart rate”. Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise-intensity/art-20046887?pg=2
  7. Stojanović, E., et al (2016) “Effect of Plyometric Training on Vertical Jump Performance in Female Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Sports Med. 2016 Oct 4.
  8. Rohmann, R. (2013) “Advantages and Disadvantages of Plyometric Exercises”. Source: http://www.livestrong.com/article/531090-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-plyometric-exercises/