HIIT Kicks Cardio's Butt

ben johnson crushes carl lewis
I like to visualize Ben Johnson crushing Carl Lewis when I do my HIIT sprints

So, there I was.

I had just finished a set of killer HIIT sprints….when the Lance Armstrong clone to my left asked me “what’s the deal with that workout”?

I think I croaked something about anaerobic this and EPOC that…and was about to hop off the bike when he said…

“that’s just a fad..like Atkins. If you want to get fit, you HAVE to do cardio”


Stifling my hulk-like rage, I asked…

HIIT hulk

“What do you mean I have to do cardio?”

From there, he proceeded to tell me why cardio rocks and why high intensity training (HIIT, HIRT, resistance training) sucks.

Double arggghhhhh!

Hulk (me) was getting mad.

But, instead of smashing, I flipped him one of my business cards (along with a certain finger) and suggested he read the following study which shows (once again) how HIIT kicks cardio butt

And here’s the study.

According to the researchers, high intensity interval training (HIIT) is better than traditional endurance training for improving:

  • Athletic performance
  • Metabolic performance
  • Molecular adaptation to exercise

According to researcher Martin Gibala…”doing as little as 10 one-minute sprints on a standard stationary bike with about one minute of rest in between, three times a week, works as well in improving muscle as many hours of conventional long-term biking less strenuously.”

We have known for years that repeated moderate long-term exercise tunes up fuel and oxygen delivery to muscles and aids the removal of waste products. Exercise also improves the way muscles use the oxygen to burn the fuel in mitochondria, the microscopic power station of cells.


Running or cycling for hours a week widens the network of vessels supplying muscle cells and also boosts the numbers of mitochondria in them so that a person can carry out activities of daily living more effectively and without strain, and crucially with less risk of a heart attack, stroke or diabetes.


But the traditional approach to exercise is time consuming. Martin Gibala and his team have shown that the same results can be obtained in far less time with brief spurts of higher-intensity exercise.

Take that Mr. Lance Armstrong clone.

But wait, it get’s better.

One of the main complaints about High Intensity Interval Training is that it’s…well, too intense.

Sure, it gives you a great workout, but it will probably give you a heart attack.

Not according to Dr. Gibala.

The main purpose of his study was to prove the performance, metabolic and molecular advantages of a more practical model of low-volume HIIT.

The new study used a standard stationary bicycle and a workload which was still above most people’s comfort zone (about 95% of maximal heart rate) but only about half of what can be achieved when people sprint at an all-out pace.

  • Seven men performed 6 HIIT training sessions over 2 weeks.
  • Each session consisted of 8-12 x 60 s intervals (at ≈100% of peak power) separated by 75 s of rest.
  • That’s a total of between 17 and 26 minutes per workout or 2 ½ hours over 2 weeks

So, how does this workout compare to traditional cardio?

According to the doc, to achieve the same performance, metabolic and molecular benefits with traditional endurance (cardio) training, you’d need to complete over 10 hours of continuous moderate bicycling exercise over a two-week period.


Hmmmmm…let’s recap.


  • 2 ½ hours per week


  • 10 hours per week

And I won’t even mention the fact that HIIT workouts make you look like this:

fit man woman posterize

while cardio workouts make you look like this…

skinny man woman runner cardio

your choice.

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  1. like the photos at the end, made me chuckle!
    I feel like I have the same conversation daily with people re cardio, its pretty frustrating. Go for a 1 hour slow-steady-state run if you like running, but don’t do it if you want results! Plus people avoid Hiits because they are harder too!!

  2. I have tried to research where I found the article, but I also recently learned that HIIT can more than mimic the outcome of training for a 5K and because of its intensity can train you BETTER than running/training the 3 miles. The study had someone run the 3 miles and had the other do HIIT/sprinting for 1/2 to 1/3 the time. Guess the winner…

  3. I think HIIT workouts are awesome. But I also love to run for long periods of time because it makes me so relaxed. Those pictures at the end were definitely a point in favor of HIIT workouts, however. My mantra remains, do what works for you. If you like HIIT, and can handle the difficulty, then go for it. If not, then cardio is OK too. It all depends on your goals, and in the case of HIIT, your tolerance to pain, right? To me, the best athlete is the well rounded one. That means that there can be a place for BOTH HIIT and Cardio in your workouts. Thoughts?

  4. I agree with your position that the best athlete is the well rounded one – ie. a decathalete vs a 100m sprinter or a ultra-marathoner.

    I think we get in trouble when we buy into a dogma that one form of exercise is superior in every way. i try to take the best of different methods to create my own hybrid style of training

  5. You should have smashed him.

    I just got my gymboss the other day. Used it a couple of times with my road bike on the trainer. I plan on doing hill sprints with it too. This is the year McBloggenstein gets a six pack!

  6. The return of McBloggenstein

    be afraid…be very afraid

    Are we going to see a return of Bloggy’s blog?

  7. […] Steady state workout 04042010 04/04/2010 mattjon332 Leave a comment Go to comments I am personally not a big fan of steady state, for one I think its boring compared to interval training, and secondly I don’t think a martial artist needs to do a lot of steady state cardio because it builds slow twitch fibers and fast twitch is what you need.  Everything I have read is that when there is a contention over fast or slow twitch fibers, the body will favor the slow twitch, thus long duration steady state can undo all your hard efforts to build fast twitch fibers.  Combat sports is about fast strikes and explosive actions followed by fast recovery rather than being able to  run for hours on end, you do need some endurance but I think your better off with fast recovery.  I also think that HIIT is superior in building cardiovascular health, you take your body into ranges they never would otherwise see, and that forces it to adapt and get stronger.  For a little more information on HIIT, check out this article: HIIT kicks cardios butt. […]

  8. Martial artists need cardio, but we really need STAMINA – the body’s ability to continue to do work over time, because you cannot count on a fight being over quickly. And you don’t get that through traditional cardio, you get it through anaerobic training – HIIT, as well as circuits involving exercises found in Cross Fit, SEAL Fit, kettle bells, military PT, etc., etc., etc.,… Strive for true functional fitness – training like your life depends on your ability to respond to any situation: attack, retreat, evade, escape, running for cover, carrying a fallen buddy, climbing, jumping, pushing, pulling – you get the picture. Train like a soldier. Because in a moment of crisis, that is all you have.

  9. Next time ask “Lance” if he’s ever done hill repeats (while on a real bike). Dude, that’s HIIT duh!

    Runners, ever run into a 5 x 400 in your training program? Again, that’s HIIT. Think your coach would put them in there if they weren’t worthwhile?

  10. I like HIIT very much!! But the end conclusion “HIIT workouts make you look like this:
    … while cardio workouts make you look like this…” is untrue in this form!

  11. I totally agree with you! If you have the physical capacity to train using HIIT, then you absolutely should! It is far more effective, far less time consuming, and most importantly it’s FUN instead of boring!

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