HIIT workouts or steady-state runs: Which are more efficient for weight loss?

Are HIIT workouts really superior to traditional cardio exercise, like running, when it comes to weight loss?

HIIT workout with battling ropes
(Image credit: Getty Images)

HIIT workouts are very popular when it comes to losing weight. The best exercises for weight loss, such as burpees and other full-body movements, are perfectly suited to HIIT-style interval work, and are often seen in boot-camp stile sessions. However, many people prefer slower, steady-state cardio, going on long runs or bike rides for exercise instead. So which is better for weight loss?

The obvious answer is "whichever one you like best". In the journal Health Psychology, researchers from Deakin University write: "People are far more likely to stick with a programme of exercise if they actually enjoy doing it. In a population-based mail survey of 1,332 adults, ‘respondents reporting high enjoyment and preference for physical activity were more likely to report high levels of activity’.

Simply put, if you already prefer running to a HIIT workout, you're likely to exercise more frequently if you're doing the activity you enjoy. However, there's clear evidence that HIIT workouts are one of the best ways to lose weight, as you'll burn more calories than doing low-intensity, steady-state exercises. 

Kyle Meyer, DO, a Sports Medicine fellow at Penn Medicine, said: “HIIT has been shown to provide better results in cardiorespiratory fitness, and could be thought of as more efficient. “The main difference between the two is in the time demand." 

By working at your maximum intensity for short periods of time, you end up taxing your body more heavily than a low-intensity run, therefore burning more calories in a shorter amount of time. One study found Tabata workouts – a form of HIIT workouts which can be completed in as little as eight minutes – also drastically increased peak performance and the body's fitness levels, in addition to torching calories. 

Try our Tabata workouts plan, or the video below, to get to grips with this super-condensed form of exercise. 

However, there is one problem – for some people, these workouts are too intense. The same study found people enjoyed Tabata much less than gentler exercises. 

If you're used to working at high-intensity, or you enjoy the rush, take advantage of HIIT workouts' ability to rev up your metabolism and burn calories like nobody's business. But for those who can't get into it, we suggest simply focusing on finding an exercise you enjoy – can we suggest our Couch to 5K plan?

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. 

Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.