When it comes to getting in shape and losing weight, it’s widely accepted that there’s going to have to be some sort of cardio involved — but when it comes determining what type is the best cardio to burn fat, people become divided.
Especially when it comes to HIIT and LISS training.
HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is a form of cardio where you switch back and forth between short intervals of high-intensity exercise, followed by short rest periods.
For example, a typical HIIT workout structure might include 45 seconds of squat jumps, followed by 15 seconds rest, then move on to 45 seconds of mountain climbers, and another 15 seconds of rest, etc.
LISS, or low-intensity steady state, training is effectively the opposite — it can be any form of cardio, such as walking, swimming, and cycling, but at a low-endurance, relaxed level for at least 40-60 minutes.
Unlike HIIT, which revolves around pushing your body to its absolute limit for a short burst of time, during LISS you’re aiming for a low level of exertion over an extended period of time.
But which is the best cardio to burn fat? Let’s settle the score.
Benefits of HIIT
1. It’s a time saver
Ever feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to work out? You’re already juggling work, commuting to work, food prep, cooking, washing, socialising, scrolling through social media… (okay, so the last one isn’t a real excuse, but it’s probably a reality).
Squeezing in 15-20 minutes of heart-pumping HIIT is a great compromise — you’re still getting your body and muscles active, just without the commitment of a full-blown gym session. You could even get it done in front of the TV during the advert breaks, or while you’re waiting for your dinner to cook.
The high intensity of the exercises mean that your body is still doing the fat burning bit though, just in a condensed period of activity.
2. It’s a full-body workout
One of the key foundations of a HIIT workout is that it’s made up of exercises that use pretty much every muscle group — trust us, after one round of burpees you’ll be feeling that burn everywhere.
Full-body exercises like squats, burpees, mountain climbers, and planks are great to really get your heart going and kick your fat loss into gear.
3. It’s super-effective
Pushing your body to the extreme gets a rapid response. Short bouts of serious exertion that leave you unable to breathe triggers your metabolism to start working at a higher level, and your body can begin to burn fat for energy instead of carbs.1
Yes, it’s tough — but the results make it worthwhile. It’s also over quicker…
Benefits of LISS
1. It’s not as daunting
Some days it can take a lot of mental willpower to even get changed into a pair of trainers, let alone start throwing yourself about in a series of rapid exercises that have you dripping with sweat from head to toe. Going for a long walk can be a much better alternative — and can be a great break for your mind too.
Finding a type of exercise that’s sustainable for you — and that you actually enjoy doing — can make all the difference when it comes to sticking to a training plan and getting to your long-term goals.
2. You can do more of it
Being active doesn’t always have to mean you’re completely out of breath and aching for days after — completing multiple sessions of LISS a week instead of injuring yourself after 10 minutes of high-impact exercise is a much more effective approach to fat burning.
The simple fact that you can physically perform LISS for a much longer period of time than HIIT means that you’re able to burn more calories too.
Plus, LISS doesn’t place anywhere near as much strain on your body as HIIT, therefore it’s a great choice for those who are just finding their feet in the fitness world, or recovering from injury.
It may also be a better option for those who are also following an intense weight-training programme or play a lot of sport, as HIIT can fatigue the body and therefore increase your recovery time. If you want to bounce back to peak condition for an important match or to smash out a leg session, then an hour’s walking the day before is probably a much better idea than pushing yourself to the limit with a HIIT workout.
Take Home Message
To wrap things up, it seems like personal preference has the final say in the ‘best cardio to burn fat’ debate. Sure, a HIIT workout can have you blasting through calories, no matter what your schedule looks like — but if you’re more likely to stick to a plan with 4-5 sessions of lower intensity cardio a week than put yourself through that ordeal, then you’ll burn just as many calories, if not more.
Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.
- Wingfield, H. L., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Melvin, M. N., Roelofs, E. J., Trexler, E. T., Hackney, A. C., … & Ryan, E. D. (2015). The acute effect of exercise modality and nutrition manipulations on post-exercise resting energy expenditure and respiratory exchange ratio in women: a randomized trial.Sports medicine-open, 1(1), 11.
Lauren is an English Literature graduate originally from the South. She’s always loved swimming, has discovered the power of weight training over the past few years, and has lots of room for improvement in her weekly hot yoga class.
On the weekends she’s usually cooking or eating some kind of brunch, and she enjoys trying out new recipes with her housemates – especially since shaking off student habits, like mainly surviving off pasta. Above all, she’s a firm believer in keeping a balance between the gym and gin.
Find out more about Lauren’s experience here.