Steady State Cardio for Weight Loss
Updated: Aug 27, 2020
Firstly, what does cardiovascular (cardio) training mean? Cardio basically means any activity that raises your heart rate above its resting rate and works to improve the efficiency and function of your heart and lungs. How much your heart rate increases depends on the intensity of the training session. So today, we will talk about steady state intensity. What does steady state mean? This means that you’re exercising at a low-moderate intensity over a long period of time. Usually no rest in-between as it is low intensity. You generally won’t feel too tired doing this (at the beginning) as you are supposed to last a longer duration, you’re not supposed to burn out quickly. A general rule of thumb is that you should be still able to hold a conversation relatively easily when you are doing Steady State Cardio.
Examples are walking or jogging, Leisurely cycle or going for a hike. These activities are all longer duration activities where you may still hold a casual conversation in between.
A great thing about steady state is that it targets more body fat than high intensity training. To understand this, we must first know that our bodies need oxygen to be able to burn fat and fatty acids as energy. This means that during steady state cardio, our heart rate will rise which means our bodies are consuming more oxygen to keep up with oxygen demands from our muscles to continue performing the exercise. As stated above, steady state cardio usually lasts for a longer duration meaning that our bodies are exposed to higher oxygen consumption over a longer period of time. This means our bodies can slowly start to use more fat as we continue to exercise as our bodies utilise the oxygen more and more. As a general rule of thumb, your body effectively uses more body fat mass after 35-45 mins of steady state cardio. This time frame may be different as it depends on many other factors, but this is the general rule of thumb.
The longer the duration of steady state, the higher percentage of energy used will be body fat. At the beginning, glucose (carbs) will be used as energy because glucose is more energy dense with oxygen compared to fat. However, as time prolongs, our ATP* (energy) supplies are low and we need to switch to a more longer lasting energy source. This means we slowly start switching to using fat as energy as fat is much more abundant in our bodies. So the longer we exercise at a steady state, the higher the percentage of fat use compared to glucose use. FOR EXAMPLE - after 30 mins of steady state we are using 55% glucose and 45% fat as energy. After 45 mins we are using 45% glucose and 55% fat as energy. After 60 mins we are using 30% glucose and 70% fat as energy. These numbers are examples only to explain my point, not actual energy usage.
Steady State works to increase the endurance of your heart and lungs to work over a longer period of time. It improves the endurance of your heart and the hearts efficiency to work over a longer period of time. Has no real effect on strength of heart of maximum oxygen uptake, that is form high intensity. To simplify, steady state helps with long term endurance of your heart to continuously work efficiently. High intensity will help improve heart strength and how much oxygen we can consume at one pump of the heart (high intensity is explained in a separate blog).
The more you do Steady state, the more efficient your body will be at transferring energy usage from glucose to fat. Since steady state uses less ATP and glucose, it doesn’t have a large effect on losing muscle mass. Meaning that your muscle mass will not be effected with steady state exercise. This is a very good point for weight loss, it is very important to have lean muscle mass when it comes to weight loss and increased metabolism. Keeping muscle mass is also great for reducing risk of injury to joints. Steady state is low impact meaning that is puts less stress on joints and lowers risk of injury. It is much more sustainable if you do not train regularly or just beginning out in training.
Even though a higher percentage of overall calories burnt during steady state is from fat mass instead of glucose, overall calorie loss is lower than that of high intensity training. As the name states, high intensity is much more difficult for the body to adapt too meaning it must use more fuel to keep up with demands of intensity.
Also steady state does take up a lot of time. As stated earlier, for steady state to effectively move from glucose to fat as energy, your body needs to be exercising for a longer duration of time. If you only exercise for 15-20 mins of steady state, your body will still be using glucose as energy. This is because glucose will forever be the preferred source of energy for the body. So for those with busy schedules, this might not be the best option for every training session.
I hope this clears up any confusion you may have when it comes to what type of cardio you should do and what the benefits are. The most important thing to know is that any exercise will have benefit if done correctly, so it would be wise to add variety as each type of cardio will have different benefits. There will be a separate blog post on high intensity training for weight loss.