Steady State v Intervals v Weight Training

by Paul Rogers on January 13, 2009

If you’ve been reading about fitness and training for a while, you will know that various trainers and fitness experts have a view about which type of exercise is best for health, fitness and body composition — fat loss, muscle building, strength and aerobic and anaerobic  capacity.

The truth is, if you want all round fitness with a lean body, good muscle development and strong endurance, power and speed, you should do all three because they complement each other, even though at some level one will start to dominate the others. Here is a summary of how each type of training affects for your health and fitness.

Steady-state Aerobics

Steady-state aerobics is basically cardio training on the road, track, treadmill, bike etc for anything from 20 minutes to 2 hours. It need not be long slow distance (LSD) as some trainers suggest it is. It does need to be continuous, non-stop activity — allowing for a few tens of seconds or so for refuelling or rehydration. It is valuable in building an aerobic ‘base’ for any fitness activity and for weight loss.

The characteristics of steady-state aerobics are:

  • Builds the aerobic system with increased oxygen processing ability (VO2 max)
  • Increases mitochondrial  and capillary density in cells, providing increased ability to absorb and use oxygen. (Mitochondria are the energy stations within cells. Capillaries are very small blood vessels. An increase in both enhances aerobic fitness.)
  • Builds collateral blood supply to the heart in coronary arteries for increased oxygen supply at times of shortage. (Ischemia from blood clots or exercise demand.)
  • Steady-state aerobic exercise uses substantial energy. Sixty minutes of running at 5 minutes a kilometre uses around 950 kcalories.
  • Higher  intensity aerobic training, say beyond 75% of max heart rate, also produces some EPOC or ‘excess post-exercise oxygen consumption’. (EPOC ramps up the metabolism after exercise.)
  • Unless managed well — especially a nutritional strategy — steady-state aerobics may be catabolic, that is, may reduce muscle mass, bone mass and lead to dysregulation of hormones, especially in women. (This is more likely at the extreme end of aerobic training in marathoners and triathletes, although it is not unheard of in fitness enthusiasts.) 
  • As above, unless diet and program are managed with knowledge, immune system dysregulation and illness may result with extreme training. (Moderate aerobic training improves immune system response.)
  • Helps regulate body weight, blood glucose and triglycerides and cholesterol metabolism in conjunction with a healthy diet.

Interval Training

Interval training is shorter bursts of exercise, often at high intensity, with breaks in between. Running fast laps of an oval, resting, then doing it again is an example. This trains you to continue to do fast exercise at a high intensity. Fast interval training is essential for team sports, sprints, medium distance races and even endurance races. Interval training can be an important component of a fat loss program.

  • Builds the anaerobic system and the lactic acid system.
  • Improves the aerobic system by increasing VO2 max.
  • Uses a lot of comparative energy for time elapsed during any particular interval, but naturally, rest periods between intervals expend much less energy. One hour of interval training may not expend as much energy as an hour of steady state running, but it depends on the program.
  • Interval training is likely to produce significant EPOC, perhaps in excess of steady-state aerobics depending on the program.
  • A heavy program of interval training may also be catabolic unless nutrition, intensity and rest aspects are managed well.
  • Immune system dysregulation may be even more likely with a poorly conceived high-intensity interval training program.
  • Helps regulate body weight, blood glucose and triglycerides and cholesterol metabolism in conjunction with a healthy diet.

Weight Training

Weight training, resistance training or strength training is about lifting weights or alternative devices, including your own body weight, in order to improve strength and usually, build muscle.

  • Builds muscle, builds or helps maintain bone, and enhances strength and balance.
  • Weight training is a moderate form of exercise for energy expenditure. Sixty minutes of vigorous weight training uses 400 to 600 kcalories depending on intensity and time intervals between sets. Circuit type training may optimise energy expenditure.
  • Muscle uses more energy than fat so extra muscle and less fat should increase metabolism slightly. This does not make a a huge difference in the scheme of things.
  • If you work hard enough, weight training probably produces significant EPOC to ramp up the metabolism. But you can’t waltz around the gym lifting a few dog bone dumbbells now and then and expect to produce results. You need to work hard at weight like anything else.
  • May  help regulate body weight, blood glucose and triglycerides and cholesterol metabolism in conjunction with a healthy diet. (Weight training won’t help in this context if you maintain a high body fat percentage, as some specialist weightlifters do.)

It’s worth doing all three of these types of exercise. Obviously, you need to concentrate on one if your sport demands it, but for general fitness, each provides an element of fitness not available from the other two.

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