Steady State Cardio vs Interval Training | For Max Fat Loss


There was a time when I didn’t give steady state cardio much respect.

I had success getting lean for years using slow steady cardio after lifting weights but then jumped on the HIIT bandwagon in the mid-’90s.

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Steady state cardio actually works wonders for getting lean, if performed with just the right amount of intensity.

More on that later.

HIIT is effective as well.

In this article explain the benefits and challenges of each type of cardio. I want to give people a better understanding of how both types of cardio can be used effectively for fat loss.

Before begin, I want to make a point that cardio exercise can dramatically speed up weight loss.

Diet vs cardio for weight loss.

diet vs exercise for weight loss

You have probably heard this phrase, “abs are made in the kitchen”.

Other people will say “fat loss is 90% diet”.

They are implying that exercise plays a small role when it comes to getting lean.

I have helped countless people get lean with cardio when diet alone was failing them. Cardio is what pushed them over the edge into a calorie deficit… resulting in steady fat loss.

I’ve seen so many people hit weight loss plateaus who to refuse to add in cardio because you know…

“Abs are made in the kitchen”.

Cardio is the ultimate plateau buster for people who have hit sticking points with their diet.

There’s a study which demonstrates this titled, Aerobic Exercise Alone Results in Clinically Significant Weight Loss for Men and Women.

The findings?

Supervised exercise, with equivalent energy expenditure, results in clinically significant weight loss with no significant difference between men and women.

In this study, the diet wasn’t even optimized.

The control group, who ate the same diet without cardio GAINED weight and the people in the cardio group lost between 8 – 12 pounds.

Some people do have the ability to get lean without cardio…

Typically these are younger men and women, I have only met a few people over 40 who have the ability to get lean without cardio.

losing fat without cardio

For just about everyone else, especially those over 40, cardio will certainly accelerate the rate at which you lose fat.

*Cardio fills the gap of declining hormones as one gets older.*

So let’s talk about the 2 main types of cardio:

Steady state cardio and HIIT.

What is steady state cardio?

Steady state cardio is continuous cardio like walking or jogging done at a steady pace for an extended period of time. This is different than HIIT which alternates between more intense and less intense efforts.

Throughout the ’70s and ’80s steady state cardio was THE way to burn body fat.

Lifting was for gaining muscle and slow cardio was used to burn fat.

Back in the ’70s and ’80s, the recommended method to lose fat was spending a long period of time on a cardio machine at a walking pace, to reach a target heart rate that supposedly used “fat for fuel”.

1980s cardio workouts

This did work for people who put in the time and who ate strictly.

It was particularly effective for bodybuilders since they would burn more calories walking due to their high lean body mass.

Steady state cardio worked but had flaws.

The problem with steady state cardio was that people began to think that they could walk at a snail’s pace and get great results.

I remember going into a gym in the late ’80s and NOBODY was running or cycling at a fast rate, everyone was walking at a slow pace.

They were all shooting for that recommended “fat burning zone”.

Steady state cardio needs to be performed at a higher level for the best results.

This will be discussed later.

What is HIIT cardio?

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training and it is cardio which alternates between intense efforts followed by recovery periods.  Typically HIIT workouts are kept to 10-15 minutes and are more time efficient than steady state cardio.

I remember picking up an issue of Muscle Media 2000 in the mid-’90s and it explained high intensity interval training.

This was a form of training where you would go “all out” for 30-90 seconds alternated with one to two minutes of active or passive resting.

I started doing this immediately in my gym and people kind of gave me strange looks.

The thing is that it worked extremely well.

Here are some of the flaws with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

high intensity interval training on an exercise bike

If you don’t push hard you won’t get good results with interval training.

The funny thing about many cardio machines is that they have warnings that tell you to stop if you feel signs of exhaustion or fatigue.

You need to IGNORE those warnings (within reason). If you want an effective HIIT workout that is exactly what you are shooting for.

HIIT can also result in overtraining and can make you feel run down.

You have to test out to find your HIIT threshold.

I was able to do more HIIT sessions when I was younger without feeling drained.

Is HIIT more effective than steady state cardio?

is hiit more effective than steady state cardio

No, and to be honest, some people should actually avoid HIIT.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but high intensity interval training isn’t for everyone.

If you are not going to push hard enough then you won’t get good results with HIIT.

Steady state cardio performed properly has helped thousands of people get lean.  It has to be done with a little more intensity than what you see in a lot of gyms, but it does work well.

Countless people have lost body fat without EVER doing interval training.

There’s a HIIT vs cardio study titled, The Effects of High Intensity Interval Training vs Steady State Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity.

It came to this conclusion:

The results suggest that although HIIT protocols are time efficient, they are not superior to conventional exercise training in sedentary young adults.

What is the best type of cardio for fat loss?

I believe HIIT mixed with steady state cardio is the quickest way to reach your fat loss goals.

Here’s a diagram from my cardio for fat loss course.

The idea is that intense exercise like HIIT is more efficient for RELEASING fat from your fat cells and Steady State Cardio is more efficient for using that fat for fuel.

The reality is you can’t do excessive amounts of HIIT without overtraining. The way to extend your fat burning and calorie burning session is by adding in low intensity steady state cardio.

In my opinion, the best cardio for fat loss is a combination of HIIT and steady state cardio.

They both have their strengths and weaknesses.

If you are limited in time?

HIIT is a good option.

If you have more time and don’t want to feel wornout then longer sessions of steady state cardio will work well for you.

Here’s the proper intensity level to get the most out of steady state cardio.

A lot of people get scared away by cardio because they fear muscle loss.

Others have tried cardio in the past and haven’t noticed much of a fat loss effect.

Muscle loss CAN occur if the cardio session is done with medium to high intensity for extended periods.

I like to call this “marathon cardio”.

The body will adapt to challenging cardio done for extended periods by reducing the muscle mass a bit on the body.

I actually have recommended marathon cardio for fashion models who needed to slim down a bit for runway shows.

Marathon cardio is also used by boxers and fighters who need to make weight.

boxer doing cardio to make weight

They call this “road work”.

I’d say most people don’t have tons of use for marathon cardio over the long term.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is waking.

Walking is a healthy activity that will help with fat loss but…

I believe that most people walk too slowly to get the biggest benefits from steady state cardio. The common advice is to walk at a speed where you can hold a conversation.

Here’s the thing…

That doesn’t burn many calories for each minute you walk.

It does burn a higher percentage of calories from fat than faster walking, but faster walking burns fat and MANY more calories than slow walking.

The ideal intensity to get the greatest fat loss benefits out of steady state cardio is faster than typical slow walking that most trainers recommend, but not so fast that you burn muscle.

Here’s what this looks like on a treadmill.

I’ll use myself as an example.

If I want to focus on rapid fat loss for a short period I’ll walk on a treadmill at 4.0 – 4.3 MPH on an incline of 2.5 degrees for 45 – 60 minutes. I’ll do this right after lifting weights.

The level of intensity you are after is the same intensity as a fast-paced walk. A level of intensity that you can maintain for an extended period of time. Typically on machines like an exercise bike, you will want to work at the level of intensity just below the point where you feel a burn in your quads.

I don’t do this much steady state cardio year round, but if summer is coming up this is what strips away any stubborn body fat.


I typically won’t be on the treadmill the whole time.

I might do this level of effort on the elliptical for 15 minutes followed by 15 minutes on an exercise bike and finally 15 minutes on the treadmill.

Audiobooks or killer tunes are also a must when doing cardio for extended periods.

Is it possible to do too much cardio?

Steady state cardio can be performed daily, within reason, with no adverse effects.  You just need to pay attention to your body and adjust the intensity level accordingly.

I mentioned early that slow walking isn’t going to be as effective for getting lean as faster walking, but if you are sore or feel extra tired this slow level of cardio is appropriate.

If you have more energy than normal, pick up the pace a bit.

It has been suggested to give your body a break and not perform HIIT year round. Personally, I’m doing 2 months on and 1 month off.

On the off month, I simply do steady state 4-5 days per week.

Beginners should do 4 weeks steady state cardio before introducing HIIT.

The steady state cardio intensity should be at that fast walking intensity I mentioned early and simply slow it down if you are feeling fatigued.

Should you do cardio on an empty stomach?

cardio in the morning on an empty stomach

There is a SLIGHT benefit to doing cardio on an empty stomach.

The reason for this is because of Adrenaline.

One of the functions of adrenaline is to break down fat stores and burn them.

Your body has the ability to release more adrenaline in a fasted state than it does after a meal. If you also drink a cup of coffee on an empty stomach this further enhances the fat loss effects of adrenaline.

Doing cardio on an empty stomach isn’t a must to get lean.

It makes just makes a slight difference.

If you are unable to train on an empty stomach you can get just as lean as someone who trains in a fasted state.

It just could take a little longer.

Should you do cardio before or after weights?

If your main goal is to improve your endurance, like a marathon runner, you will want to do your cardio before weights. If you are more interest in maintaining or gaining muscle while losing fat, then perform cardio after weights.

I’d say most people will want to do their cardio after weight training.

The cool thing about weight training is that what you are doing essentially mimicks HIIT to a certain extent… intense efforts alternated with recovery periods.

As I discussed earlier, intense exercise releases free fatty acids from your fat cells into your bloodstream.

Weight training creates a special fat burning window of opportunity.

If you follow this up with cardio you will burn up some of those free fatty acids.

Steady State Cardio & HIIT Summary:

steady state cardio vs hiit

I think both types of cardio have their place in a solid routine.

  • Some people can get lean with zero cardio of any type, but that is rare for anyone over 40.
  • Cardio has been shown in studies to help people lose weight even when following a sub-optimal diet.
  • HIIT is time-efficient but carries the risk of overtraining if done too often or too intensely, etc.
  • Steady state cardio is incredible for getting lean but takes a time commitment.
  • If steady state cardio is pushed too hard, it becomes what I call “marathon level” intensity. This can be good for people who are after a bit of muscle loss and who want to lighten up an overly muscular physique. This is bad if you are trying to maintain muscle.
  • If steady state cardio is done at too low of an intensity it won’t burn enough total calories to make much of a difference when it comes to fat loss.

Hopefully, this clears up some cardio confusion.

I believe everyone can benefit by including it in their routines. Even the people in their 20’s and 30’s who are able to get lean with diet alone.

This article is mainly focusing on fat loss, but cardio also adds to lifespan and is tied to greater cardiovascular health, etc.

We all want to look our best…

Click Here for my “Yacht Bod” Article: How to get a slim & sophisticated physique that looks equally stunning in dress clothes or a swimsuit.

This exercise thing can actually be good for you too.


-Rusty Moore

As a former fitness coach to fashion models, I can teach you how to increase muscle definition without adding size.

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