When it comes to workouts which type is best? Short and high intensity or moderate and long? The best answer is: both, depending on your goals and needs.
Long steady state cardiovascular workouts
Done at 70-80% of your maximal heart rate (30 minutes or more), these are great exercises to train for general fitness and sports. A steady state cardio workout asks you to keep your perceived rate of exertion between a 7-8 on a scale of 1-10. You should be able to speak clearly in full sentences. Also, long moderate workouts are an important building block if you intend to do short (20-30 minute) high-intensity training.
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Short high-intensity workouts
Whether done as anaerobic intervals (like HIIT) or in other forms (like short fast runs), these types of workouts can help you rev-up your metabolism, bust through plateaus or train for speed. But, to be effective and not a recipe for injury, your joints, and muscles – including your heart – have to be ready for the increased load. During a high-intensity workout, your heart rate can peak around 85-90% of its maximum, so your perceived rate of exertion can hit up to a 9 on that 1-10 scale. There might even be very brief points where you come close to maxing out beyond 90%.
Benefits and Concerns of High Intensity Exercise
When you push your limits and reach the upper ends of your maximum heart rate and sprint into the anaerobic (without oxygen) zone out of the aerobic (oxygen-based), your body stops turning to stored fat for energy and seeks carbohydrates for fuel. You can’t sustain anaerobic activity for long. Therefore, high-intensity workouts are frequently done as interval workouts. The fast work is punctuated with bouts of recovery.
People training for a racing event might use “race pace” and sprints that get the heart rate soaring in some workouts, but they don’t train at a high intensity every day. High-intensity training should be limited to no more than 2 to 3 times per week.
Intense short duration training is useful for someone who is has a solid fitness base, is preparing for a specific sport that demands speed or is looking to save time. If you can get your heart rate up to 85% of its max and beyond without stressing out your joints, heart, muscles, tendons, and ligaments – go for it!
A word of warning! Don’t fall into the trap of only relying on high-intensity workouts. You’ll still need to hone your base cardio and strength to prevent injuries. Additionally, longer bouts of cardio exercise bring some people more than just fitness; they also provide practice time to master footwork and form, recovery from high-intensity workouts, stress relief, and fun.
The bottom line is that the American College of Sports Medicine suggests doing a variety of workouts that focus on all aspects of physical fitness. In the end, the best exercise for you is the exercise you safely do!