What’s Best for Fat Loss: Intervals, Steady-state Cardio, or Weights?

runningThere are scores of articles in fitness magazines and on the Internet covering the subject of fat loss. Specifically, people want to know what the most efficient method of exercise is to eliminate fat. For years, fitness professionals trumpeted the benefits of performing aerobic exercise in the “Fat Loss Zone,” usually 60-70% of an individual’s maximum heart rate. This recommendation is based on the notion that the proportion of carbohydrates and fat burned during exercise varies with the intensity of exercise. Low intensity exercise such as walking, or hiking on a mild gradient, for example, burns mostly fat, whereas higher-intensity exercise such as sprinting, utilizes mostly carbohydrates. This is where the notion of the “Fat Burning Zone,” comes from.1 However  – walking for an hour a day is not the most efficient way to lose body fat.

If you have opened a fitness magazine in the last few years, you have probably read something about Interval Training. This method, commonly performed on a treadmill, track, or stationary bike, involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by a rest period typically one to two minutes in length. Interval training has received a lot of attention in recent years because studies have shown that similar to weight lifting, interval training increases your metabolic rate for up to 24 hours after you have finished working out, unlike steady state cardio, where metabolic rate is increased only during the workout itself. Some of the reasons why interval training is superior to steady state cardio for fat loss include:

··Increased metabolic rate for up to 24 hours after workout.

· Stimulates the production of HGH (Human Growth Hormone).

· Improve insulin sensitivity.

 · Improve blood sugar regulation.

· Higher levels of fat oxidation in the muscles.

Regarding the number of calories burned, keep in mind that very strenuous exercise such as sprinting burns far more calories than does walking at a brisk pace, however it is difficult to sustain for a long period of time. Therefore the total number of calories you burn during an interval training workout is likely to be lower than a moderate, steady-state cardio workout done for a longer period of time. The advantage of interval training is the beneficial impact on your metabolism, which keeps firing at a higher rate for up to a full day after your workout. In fact, studies such as one conducted by the University of Western Ontario have shown that intervals are much more effective at burning body fat than steady state cardio training. Researchers asked 10 men and 10 women to train 3 times per week, with one group performing four to six 30 second treadmill sprints (with four to six minutes of rest in between), and another group doing 30-60 minutes of steady-state cardio on the treadmill in the “Fat Loss Zone.” After six weeks of training, those doing intervals lost more fat!2 Interval training is certainly more time efficient and it is a great way to lose body fat, but don’t think that you should abandon steady-state cardio completely. Shannon Clarke, of Bodybuilding.com, notes that interval training, “taxes your central nervous system to a high extent.”3 If you perform too many interval workouts in a week, you run the risk of hampering recovery if coupling them with a strength-training program.


This is important to keep in mind because the best method for losing body fat is to combine cardiovascular training and strength-training. Lifting weights is an excellent way to lose body fat because like intervals, your metabolic rate increases for up to 24 hours after a session. Furthermore, in the long-term, weight lifting allows you to build up a larger degree of lean muscle mass which then allows your basal metabolic rate to increase in general. While strength-training has various other benefits such as increased bone density, athletic performance, stress reduction, and various others, the cardiovascular benefits of aerobic exercise should not be ignored.


The healthiest way to lose body fat is to incorporate weight lifting, interval training, and steady-state cardio into your fitness routine. Focus on lifting weights and performing intervals and use steady-state cardio intermittently to not over-tax your body, as weight lifting and interval training represent a heavy load on your central nervous system and can damper recovery if overused. Each of these methods has various benefits and to utilize one form of exercise to the exclusion of others is not the best way to lose body fat!




2 Ibid.
























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