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Is it better to do my cardio at a high intensity or low intensity?

Wendy Batts
Fitness
Usually this question is posed within the context of the goal of weight loss, so we’ll talk about it that way. Often this question boils down to “what intensity of cardio is better for losing weight?” The short answer is that the best type of cardio, whether low or high, is the one you will do consistently over time.
Now, with that being said, if we were to compare only intensity, the optimal goal is to start at a lower intensity if you are new to cardio and slowly work your way to higher intensities as your endurance and cardio respiratory work capacity improves. This is because you will just flat-out burn more calories during the workout at higher intensity. And remember losing fat is about burning more calories than we consume over time. The other advantage to higher intensity cardio is that the “after-burn”, or the calories we expend afterwards to adjust to the workout, is actually higher. So not only are you burning calories during your cardio, but after your cardio workout as well. Both of which will contribute to hitting your weight loss goals faster. Remember to progress slowly with baby steps though because doing too much too soon can lead to injury or eventual burn out.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
It depends on what your doctor okays and how active you have been recently.  If your doctor gives you the A-OK, getting your heart rate up and keeping that intensity high will burn more calories (and melt pounds), but low intensity is still good for your cardiovascular health, mood, and waistline.  Any exercise and persistence (high intensity can promote injury) are keys. Start slow and work up gradually (to avoid injury) to a higher intensity if you can or at the very least (if your doctor says it’s okay), try to go as fast as you can for at least a minute during your work out.
Your goal, available time, and current level of conditioning will determine which intensity is best. Are you doing cardio for health, performance, or weight loss? Performance cardio training will dictate a style of training that mimics your sport's demands. If your sport requires continuous bursts of high intensity work with short rest or low intensity breaks, then the use of intervals may make sense. Interval training cycles training intensity between high and lower throughout the workout. If your goal is weight loss, either style of training will burn calories. Your available time may ultimately be the factor that determines which is best. Performing cardio, if your conditioning allows, at a higher intensity will allow you to burn more calories and fat per unit of time. If you cannot handle the demand of higher intensity work, you can still get the calories burned, it may simply take up to twice as long.
Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
Fitness
Regardless of your health and fitness goal(s), both high and low-intensity cardio have their place in a well-designed program. High-intensity cardio can help you burn more calories for weight loss goals and allow you to achieve higher levels of conditioning necessary for participating in sports and athletic activities; however, lower to moderate intensity cardio is great for building a base level of conditioning, which teaches your body how to burn fat more efficiently, and for where your program calls for a recovery day, allowing your body to rebuild and repair itself from the higher intensity exercise sessions you perform.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.