The Best Types of Cardio

Cardio can be a very useful tool for those seeking to maximize their energy expenditure (calories burned daily). While it is not absolutely necessary, it’s certainly something that’s probably worth doing for most people.

With that said, many people are clueless as to what type of cardio to do and what type of equipment to use. Should you do LISS (Low-Intensity Steady-State) cardio? How about MISS (Moderate-Intensity Steady-State)? What about HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)? Should you use a treadmill? Elliptical? Bike?

Let’s go over the specifics of each cardio modality and list some pros/cons for each. Then, we’ll talk equipment.

LISS Overview

Low-intensity steady-state cardio is any form of cardio that puts you in a consistently low heart rate range (think 60-70% of max heart rate) for a prolonged period of time (generally 30 minutes to 1 hour).

Pros: Very little fatigue accumulated / Lower injury risk in comparison to alternatives

Cons: Very time consuming

Example of LISS: A brisk walk on the treadmill for 45 minutes totaling 2-3 miles walked.

MISS Overview

Moderate-intensity steady-state cardio is any form of cardio that puts you in a consistently moderate heart rate range (70-80%) for a prolonged period of time (generally 30 minutes to 1 hour).

Pros: Good amount of calories burned per unit time

Cons: Fairly fatiguing / Reasonably high injury risk / Very time consuming

Example of MISS: A fast-paced jog/moderate paced run for 45 minutes totaling 4-6 miles jogged/ran.

HIIT Overview

High-intensity interval training is any form of cardio that rotates between a high heart rate range (80-90%+) and a low heart rate range (60-70%) for a short period of time (generally 10-30 minutes).

Pros: Very good amount of calories burned per unit time

Cons: Very fatiguing / Reasonably high injury risk

Example of HIIT: A 5-minute brisk walk to begin the exercise bout that leads into 30 seconds of running/sprinting followed by 90 seconds of walking. The 30/90 paradigm is to be done five times total. (This specific example will total 15 minutes exactly.)

Now that we have a general understanding of the three most popular cardio modalities, let’s discuss the three most popular pieces of cardio equipment.

The Treadmill

The treadmill is undoubtedly the most popular and versatile piece of cardio equipment on the planet. It can be used for all three of the cardio modalities discussed. It offers virtually no drawbacks outside of the impact that can potentially be bothersome for those with existing joint/connective tissue issues. If you fall under this umbrella it’s probably best to opt for one of the alternatives, which will be discussed next. Otherwise, treadmill it up!

The Elliptical

The elliptical is one of the most widely available pieces of cardio equipment. It too can be used for all three of the cardio modalities discussed though it is probably not a favorable option for HIIT and the trainee should stick to more of a LISS or MISS style protocol. The elliptical offers virtually no drawbacks making it perhaps the best all-around piece of cardio equipment.

The Bike

The bike is also one of the most widely available pieces of cardio equipment. It too can be used for all three of the cardio modalities discussed though, like the elliptical, it is probably not a favorable option for HIIT and the trainee should stick to more of a LISS or MISS style protocol. The bike offers virtually no drawbacks as far as injuries go, however, due to being seated it’s possible that it may lower energy expenditure resulting in fewer calories burned per unit time.

Practical Recommendations

We have one major recommendation (with a few caveats attached to it) to give after considering all of the above points:

The decision on which modality of cardio to do and which type of equipment to use should be made based on (1) How much time you have and (2) Your current physical limitations.

On the topic of time:

  1. If your time is limited, it’s probably best you opt for HIIT as this will give you the most efficient calorie burn possible.

  2. If you have ample time, it’s probably best you opt for LISS as this will give you a similar calorie burn to HIIT (with lower injury risk and less fatigue generated).

*Note: Staying away from MISS is probably best (unless you have jogging/running specific goals) as it possesses the most downsides.

On the topic of physical limitations:

  1. If you have no existing injuries, you’re free to choose whichever piece of equipment you like.

  2. If you have an existing injury, it’s probably best you opt for the elliptical/bike as these tend to be easier on the joints, connective tissue, etc. It’s important to note, however, that this is dependent on the pre-existing injury and this decision must also be made in conjunction with the above decision on time and cannot be in contrast to it. (Ex: If you have a knee injury that is bothered by impact but are low on time, you’d have to make a compromise. You could do so by opting for HIIT on an elliptical. This is less than ideal given HIIT is likely best done on a treadmill but it would probably be your best option given the circumstances.)

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