Cardio or HIIT Training for Weight Loss: Differences and Advice

The differences between cardio and HIIT for weight loss find common ground. Join us to discover their benefits and choose the one that suits you best.
Cardio or HIIT Training for Weight Loss: Differences and Advice
Leidy Mora Molina

Reviewed and approved by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Last update: 02 November, 2023

If you have been wondering which training method is more effective for burning calories, here are two options: cardio and HIIT training for weight loss. The former has been one of the most widely used remedies for this goal; its intensity level is moderate and can be adapted to any age. On the other hand, HIIT requires a higher level of physical power.

Cardio is a great help for you to gain endurance, while HIIT is ideal for shaping and toning. A great decision would be to choose both routines and intersperse them in your plan.

Cardio is also known as aerobic exercise. HIIT, on the other hand, is high-intensity interval training. It’s based on mixing very intense short bursts, reaching up to 80-90% of your heart rate.

Differences between cardio and HIIT for weight loss

It has been generally established that beginners in the world of training start with cardio exercises. Then, over time, HIIT can be added. Among the characteristics that differentiate the two systems are the following.

A woman running.
Running is an aerobic cardiovascular exercise. It is the most accessible option to initiate weight loss.

1. Energy systems that use

In cardio, the body divides fat and carbohydrate reserves to receive energy with the help of oxygen. When we talk about aerobic exercise, we’re referring to something that uses oxygen.

HIIT represents anaerobic exercise. This means that its energy system works without oxygen, i.e., it’s performed with a deficit of the gas. The body then breaks down muscle glycogen to produce ATP, which is the means of cellular energy.

This process is called “glycolysis” and creates lactic acid as a byproduct.

2. Duration and intensity

HIIT trains at 80-90% of the maximum heart rate. Therefore, you can’t perform it for too long. It’s done in high-exertion intervals that usually last 10-30 seconds, followed by rest.

Any type of cardio conducted by interval methodology becomes HIIT. This is the case with bicycle crunches, explosive running, and air cycling, for example.

Cardio will have you training at a heart rate between 50 and 80% of your capacity. It can last from 30 minutes to 90, if necessary.

3. Effects on your body’s performance

Cardio exercises have been linked to lower levels of cortisol, which is the stress hormone. They help improve mood.

They’re an effective tool for improving heart health, reducing the risk of blood clots and high blood pressure. If you do cardio regularly, you’ll lose weight, in addition to controlling sugar and insulin levels.

HIIT is usually more efficient because their exercises use short intervals of time. Likewise, they accelerate the loss of abdominal and visceral fat.

In a 24-hour period after training you can burn about 400 calories. In contrast, with aerobics this amount is reduced by almost half.

Finally, HIIT helps you improve your muscles’ ability to use oxygen. They give you the opportunity to lose weight faster at a higher energy cost. Cardio is less physically demanding, so you’ll lose weight at a slower rate.

A HIIT routine.
The intensity of HIIT routines accelerates weight loss. Although they involve a greater effort that not everyone can do.

Tips for the execution of cardio or HIIT for weight loss

If you decide to practice HIIT training for weight loss, keep in mind that you shouldn’t have suffered from cardiovascular or joint diseases in the past. Consult a doctor in that case and prevent injuries.

Perform HIIT 3 times a week with rest days in between. You must accompany it with a healthy diet that doesn’t harm the progress.

If you choose to do cardio, practice it up to a maximum of 90 minutes. The more time you spend doing things correctly, the more physical benefits you’ll achieve.

You must maintain a continuous rhythm in each routine. When you achieve a better physical shape, you can practice it every day with moderate execution times. Mix your practice at home, in a park, or in the gym.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Arboleda V, Feito Y, Patiño F, Vargas A, Arango E. Efectos del entrenamiento en intervalos de alta intensidad en comparación con el entrenamiento continuo de intensidad moderada sobre el consumo máximo de oxígeno y la presión arterial en hombres sanos: un ensayo aleatorio controlado. Biomédica: revista del Instituto Nacional de Salud. 2019; 39 (3): 524-536.
  • Abarzúa J, Viloff W, Bahamondes J, Olivera Y, Poblete C, Valenzuela T, Oliva C, García D. Entrenamiento en intervalos de alta intensidad en adolescentes. Revista médica de Chile. 2019; 147 (2): 221-230.
  • Gracía D. Sistema cardiovascular y ejercicio. IATREIA. 1992; 5 (1): 57-65.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.