HIIT vs Steady State Running: Comparison

Last Updated: January 14, 2022

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Workouts tend to take on different faces catered to different people. Some might prefer the more intense workouts, while some like to take it slow and steady. Whatever the case, both have their benefits.

If you’ve been on your fitness journey for quite some time, you’ve probably heard about the hype around high-intensity interval training or HIIT. In fact, regular gym-goers tend to prefer HIIT nowadays that it’s very easy to forget about steady-state cardio.

The fact of the matter is, both types of cardio are important. This is especially true for runners, both endurance and sprint. Incorporating these two faces of exercises will benefit both types of runners and will help each reach their goal.

Before you turn your back on one or the other, hear about the benefits of HIIT and steady-state running, and decide for yourself which you prefer. Before that, check out this great video from Bodybuilding.com on the matter:

Interesting right? Now for some information more centred around runners:

What is HIIT Running?

To understand HIIT running, we must first understand what HIIT really is. High-intensity interval training is a type of workout where, for a short period of time, you go all-out on the exercise for that interval.

The “on” period, or the period where you’re doing the high-intensity exercise, usually lasts for 30 seconds to 1 minute, which seems like a short amount of time. However, if you’re doing it right, 30 seconds to 1 minute is long enough to get you heaving and breathing hard.

After this interval, you are expected to either rest and catch your breath for about 1-2 minutes (sometimes even more) or do a lower intensity exercise. Then, you go back to doing the high-intensity exercise.

The cycle goes like that for a few more sets. It all really depends on your fitness level, but I tend to go for 4-5 sets. This is enough to get my heart rate up to maximum, even if it was done in a short period of time.

If you haven’t tried HIIT before, I know you might question how effective this type of exercise might be, since the sets only last for a little while. We’ve become accustomed to the notion that fitness is all about steady endurance. You might understand once you try it, though!

HIIT is usually applied to circuit workouts that include what I like to call the “mat” exercises: push-ups, squats, lunges, burpees, and all that good stuff. Go on YouTube and you’ll find a ton of HIIT exercises you could do at home.

HIIT running, then, applies the same concept of a high-intensity running interval (aka a sprint) followed by a low-intensity interval where you might stop for a while to catch your breath or walk instead.

Trust me, it’s harder than it sounds!

Benefits of HIIT Running

1. Increased VO2 Max

HIIT Running tends to increase your VO2 max, something that is well-coveted by runners all around. VO2 max is basically how fast you can burn aerobic energy and your body’s ability to consume oxygen.

If you were curious, VO2 max is measured in a lab as you run your hardest. Once your heart rate reaches the max that it can reach, that’s when the maximum volume of oxygen consumed (aka VO2 max) is measured.

This implies that increasing your VO2 max means you are able to stay in that aerobic zone for longer as your body is able to quickly convert oxygen into the energy you need, thus improving your endurance. This also improves how long you can stay at your 5K pace.

The great thing about HIIT is how it pushes that maximum level every time you go on your high-intensity interval!

2. Improved EPOC (Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption)

HIIT tends to prolong your calorie burning up to an hour after your workout. During high-intensity workouts, your body tends to want to go into the anaerobic zone, where your body supplies energy at a quick rate.

This energy, however, is limited, which is why your body has to find a way to recover. If you’re doing your HIIT workouts right, you’ve exhausted this energy to the point that your recovery will continue even after your workouts.

Replenishing this energy involves oxygen consumption, thus EPOC or post-exercise energy consumption.

3. Get your workouts in for a shorter period of time

We get the science of HIIT running and how it can improve performance and calorie burning, but what about other practical matters? Well, HIIT tends to be my favorite go-to workout on busy days because of how quickly the time seems to pass (and how effective it tends to be).

Because I know how short the amount of time I would be able to give that day to exercise, I tend to go all out on my HIIT running. This helps me push myself further and, ultimately, improve my efficiency as a runner.

If you’re a busy runner, HIIT running is for you.

4. Light on the joints

Bodybuilders will love HIIT running for how light it tends to be. Unlike endurance running where you really feel the weight of the run as each footsteps on the ground, HIIT running tends to concentrate more on your breathing and keeping your heart rate steady.

The bodybuilders I know also tend to hate endurance running but are afraid that their cardiovascular levels are not optimal, so incorporating HIIT running (or HIIT anything, really) can help make running more enjoyable to them.

What is Steady State Running?

Envision your typical, average runner. The archetype that probably comes to mind is one that runs long marathons, at a steady pace, with an endurance that is unlike any other. That is what steady-state running is.

Steady-state running is a long, continuous run at an easy to medium pace. Endurance runners often take this pace to keep the consistency of their run, which is, after all, what’s most important to them.

You can definitely say that the steady-state is the opposite of HIIT running, which is why beginner runners tend to go for this kind of training first. Steady-state running is definitely more forgiving and is less intense.

Of course, this isn’t always the case once you start steady-state running. Once you get deeper into the run and you’ve been running for quite a while, you’ll definitely start feeling the burn. Don’t be fooled by its lower intensity; it still is definitely going to push you if you’re doing it right.

Benefits of Steady State Running

1. Improved endurance

One of the more obvious benefits of steady-state running is, of course, increasing your endurance. Your goal for steady-state running is to maintain your pace and stay in the same zone for a longer period of time.

Remember the 3 zones we talked about in “Heart Rate Training for Running”? First is the aerobic zone, where things are relatively easy and energy is supplied at a steady state. The second is the anaerobic zone, where the high intensity comes in and energy is supplied at a quick but limited time.

Staying in the aerobic zone for an extended period of time generally improves the amount of time you can stay in that zone without wearing out. You might find that the 5-minute runs that once got you heaving at first tend to get easier over time.

2. Burn fat more efficiently

Because you tend to stay in the aerobic zone for a longer period of time when steady-state running, you also tend to burn fat for longer. This is because the aerobic zone uses fat for energy instead of carbohydrates (which you see in the anaerobic zone).

Staying in this zone for a longer period of time can more efficiently target your fat. This tends to be at a moderate pace (around 65 percent of your maximum heart rate).

3. Increased aerobic threshold

The aerobic threshold is basically the maximum pace you can run while still staying in the aerobic zone. Increasing this threshold is something that is coveted by endurance runners because this means that you can run at a faster pace and still have enough oxygen for their energy expenditure.

Once you cross this threshold and get into the anaerobic zone, you’ll find that your muscles won’t last long. Remember that HIIT is in the anaerobic zone. You won’t have enough energy to maintain this zone for longer.

Increased aerobic threshold, then, improves the performance of endurance runners by increasing the ability of your


Now that you’ve heard of the two faces of running, you might have already realized that successful runners tend to incorporate both of these. Some prefer one over the other, depending on their fitness goals.

For instance, if your goal is weight loss with running, then steady-state cardio would probably do you some good. HIIT tends to increase your fitness overall, however, and gives you a good but quick workout.

Some tend to feel so much better after HIIT, but adding in steady-state running during your active recovery days can balance that out. Remember that at the end of the day, listening to your body is the best thing you can do. Balance is always key.

 Check out our other reviews since you’re here. We’ve done reviews on the best running shoes for beginners as well the best barefoot running shoes if that’s what you’re into. If you’re into reading more about running check out the mental health benefits of it with a post we’ve done recently. If your main goals are to lose weight, check out this gym equipment which can be used for weight loss efforts. Good luck with your training!


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