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Why is steady state cardio often the best way to go?

In a separate article, we gave all the benefits of short burst cardio training. Short burst cardio increases cardio capacity, shortens refractory periods between sets, increases blood exchange and also improves insulin sensitivity. All these benefits make SBCT (and/or HIIT) an excellent tool to incorporate into your program on a regular basis. Old fashioned steady-state cardio, however, has its own set of unique benefits. Steady-state cardio improves heart function and recovery in ways nothing else does.

To burn fat and improve high level conditioning, short burst cardio and HIIT are the most efficient. This is not without its drawbacks though. Any good weight training program puts a serious demand on the body, and, in most cases should leave you physically and mentally drained after a good workout. Tack on multiple intense SBCT sessions and you will find yourself beat down and in need of rest before you know it. While SBCT will improve recovery and cardio capacity, it also puts a tremendous load on the body in achieving that goal, so just like your weight workouts, days off are needed from SBCT. This is where steady-state cardio finds its place. Steady-state cardio does not place a large demand on your body and can be done every day with a big upside. Here are three benefits unique to steady state cardio that make it a must-do for every program:

  • Low impact, high recovery – Steady-state cardio is very easy on the body. It places minimal load on the central nervous system and is also not taxing on the muscles. Unlike SBCT/HIIT which actually requires time to recover from on its own (in addition to recovering from your weight workout), steady state cardio immediately induces blood flow to muscles and accelerates the recovery process. For this reason, whether your current goal is cutting or bulking, one to two 15-30 minute steady state cardio sessions per day will help you recover faster by improving blood flow to the trained muscles without placing additional load on the body.

  • Improves heart function - Steady-state cardio causes unique adaptations in the heart. With SNCT and HIIT, your heart often beats so fast that the left ventricle (which stores oxygenated blood briefly before pumping it out to the body) is unable to refill completely between contractions. Since steady-state cardio has a slightly lower heart rate, the left ventricle fills completely before it contracts, which, over time, causes it to grow in capacity and in turn pump more blood with each contraction. This triggers your heart rate to drop substantially, both at rest and during exercise. In other words, steady state cardio is the optimal cardio to specifically train the heart. Much like progressive resistance weight training causes an adaptation that makes muscles bigger, stronger and more efficient, steady-state cardio does the same for your heart, and only steady-state cardio has this effect.

  • Real-world training – While weight training and SBCT are awesome and produce marvelous results in our body, these abilities won’t often be used outside of the gym if you are not a competitive athlete. It’s rare that you will legitimately need to bend a steel bar or reach a dead sprint for three minutes in your day-to-day life (if you do, I’d like to hear about it). Steady-state cardio on the other hand is something that, if trained, can make our day-to-day lives easier. Walks, housework, yard work, moving, etc. will be less taxing on us.

Both SBCT and steady-state cardio have a unique set of benefits. The benefits to the heart and recovery times make steady-state cardio a must to reach your highest level of fitness. Ideally, incorporate both into your program. Steady-state can be done every day, regardless of off days, while SBCT should be limited to what your personal recovery ability dictates, probably around three times per week.

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