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Steady State Cardio – Benefits & Exercises

Steady State Cardio – Benefits & Exercises

In the world of fitness, where high-intensity regimes often grab the spotlight, a timeless hero quietly offers profound health benefits: steady-state cardio. Steady-state cardio is the long, rhythmic stride of a runner in the park, the steady hum of a cyclist's journey, or the persistent rowing that cuts through morning waters. This training method starkly contrasts the explosive bursts of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) but holds its unique allure and advantages. In this article, CARE shines a light on Steady-State Cardio, which optimizes cardiovascular health, energy metabolism, and body composition.

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in Activity
9 min read · Mar 24, 2024

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What Is Steady-State Cardio?

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At its core, steady-state cardio is a moderate-intensity workout maintaining a consistent, low to moderate level of effort sustained over a prolonged period, typically ranging from 30 minutes to 120 minutes, that uniquely benefits your body by enhancing its aerobic efficiency. [1] [2]

Steady-state cardio, sometimes called LISS (low-intensity steady state), operates around the aerobic threshold, where your body maximizes its oxygen consumption without dipping into anaerobic metabolism. This threshold is crucial, as it marks the optimal intensity for improving cardiovascular endurance and uses fat as a primary fuel source during your training. Furthermore, steady-state cardio can also improve your VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake capacity of your body). [2]

Why, you might ask, should steady-state cardio be a cornerstone of your fitness routine instead of other training forms like HIIT?

The answers lie not just in its simplicity but in its profound impact on our bodies and minds.

In the following chapters, we'll dive deeper into the world of steady-state cardio. We'll explore its benefits, compare it to HIIT, and provide practical tips to incorporate steady-state cardio exercises effectively into your life.

Whether you're a seasoned athlete or a fitness novice, steady-state cardio has something to offer you. So, lace up your shoes, and let's embark on this journey to discover how this classic form of exercise can revolutionize your health and well-being.

What Are the Benefits of Steady State Cardio?

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Steady-state cardio, embracing a moderate intensity over a sustained duration, improves your cardiovascular health, enhances your VO2 max, and aids in weight loss. This form of training can also reduce stress, lower the risk of chronic diseases, improve joint mobility, enhance mood and mental health, and promote better sleep quality. [1] [2] [3] [4]

Here's a breakdown of five key advantages, revealing how steady-state cardio improves these aspects of your health:

Improved Aerobic Capacity

When you engage in steady-state cardio regularly, your heart's efficiency in pumping blood and your body's ability to utilize oxygen improves. The enhanced blood flow consequently improves circulation and oxygen delivery to your muscles and organs. This boost in aerobic capacity means you'll enjoy improved stamina and endurance, making your workouts longer and more effective and enhancing your overall physical performance. [1] [2]

Weight Loss/Fat Loss/Fat Burning

Steady-state cardio and fat loss go hand in hand since SSC exercises train your body to use fat as a primary fuel source, leading to more efficient fat burning. This shift not only aids in immediate weight loss through steady-state cardio but also promotes long-term changes in body composition, favoring lean muscle mass over fat storage, which is pivotal for your health and physique. [5]

Reduced Stress and Better Mental Health

By participating in steady-state cardio, you release endorphins, the body's natural mood lifters, which help in reducing stress and anxiety levels. The rhythmic and repetitive nature of activities like running, cycling, or swimming can also provide a meditative effect, offering you mental clarity and a sense of tranquility. Furthermore, in contrast to HIIT workouts, low-intensity workouts around a heart rate of 40% do not increase cortisol levels (stress hormones) but can even lower your stress level. [6]

Lower Risk of Injury and Better Joint Health

The low impact of steady-state cardio compared to high-intensity workouts means less strain on your joints and muscles, reducing your risk of injury. This aspect makes it especially beneficial for your long-term joint health and suitable for all fitness levels, whether you're a beginner or recovering from an injury. Especially for older people, steady-state cardio has been proven to improve flexibility, balance, lower limb muscle strength, and even depressive symptoms. [7]

A Lower Resting Heart Rate

Your heart is a muscle that can and should be trained like any other. Engaging in steady-state cardio consistently trains your heart to be more efficient. Over time, your heart muscle strengthens and pumps blood more effectively, leading to a reduction in the number of beats per minute when you're at rest. A lower resting heart rate is highly desirable as it indicates a strong, efficient heart. This efficiency reduces cardiovascular strain and decreases the risk of heart-related issues. The more you participate in steady-state cardio, the more adept your heart becomes at its job, reflecting improved overall cardiovascular health. [3]

Examples of Steady-State Cardio Workouts

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Below, CARE has curated some excellent types of exercise that represent some examples of steady-state cardio training:

Discover the Joy of Running or Jogging

Lace-up your sneakers and hit the pavement or a nearby trail. Whether you're taking a leisurely jog or a brisk run, you're not just moving your body – inviting vitality and endurance into your life. It's a classic, always accessible, and tailorable to your beat.

Cycle Your Way to Optimal Health

Feel the wind on your face outdoors or on a stationary bike ride. Cycling is your ticket to a (moderately) heart-pumping workout that's as gentle on your joints as it empowers your heart. It's like riding on the path to robust health.

Swim into Fitness

Glide through the water and feel the magic of swimming. It's not just an exercise; it's a full-body symphony, perfect for those who seek a blend of tranquility and robust cardiovascular training, all with the grace of a water dance.

Row Along the River of Endurance

Embrace the rhythm of rowing, either in water or on a machine. It's not just rowing; it's carving strength and endurance into every muscle, a journey that enhances your heart's health with every stroke.

Walk The Path to Cardio Health

Never underestimate the power of a brisk walk. It's your friendly neighborhood cardio, a simple yet effective stride towards health, perfect for starting out or when life demands gentleness. Even mowing the lawn or taking a long walk with your energetic dog can qualify as steady-state cardio exercise.

Be a Satellite To Your Health

Orbit your health, step onto an elliptical, and embark on a low-impact journey that takes your heart rate up but keeps the strain down. It's like circling your health goals with each stride, ideal for a universe of fitness enthusiasts.

Ascend the Stairs to a Stronger Heart

Challenge yourself with the ascent of stair climbing. Whether on a machine or actual stairs, each step is a climb towards a stronger you – a powerful way to lift your heart's health and sculpt your body.

How Does Steady State Cardio Compare to HIIT?

SSC operates at a moderate, consistent intensity, typically between 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. This level of effort keeps you in the aerobic zone, where your body relies on oxygen to fuel your muscles. This aerobic activity is efficient for prolonged exercise and encourages your body to use fat as its primary energy source, aiding in fat-burning and endurance-building. The consistent nature of SSC means less stress on your body, leading to fewer injuries and a sustainable routine for long-term fitness. [1] [3]

Conversely, HIIT workouts involve alternating between intense bursts (up to 90% of your max heart rate) and recovery periods, pushing your body into the anaerobic zone. In this zone, your body creates energy without relying solely on oxygen, which is effective for short, powerful bursts of activity. This process leads to a high-calorie burn in a short period and a significant afterburn effect, boosting your metabolic rate post-exercise. Interestingly, many people enjoy SSC over HIIT, which has proven to be an important component for consistency in training. [3]

While steady-state training is about maintaining a steady, manageable, and enjoyable pace to optimize fat burning and build endurance, HIIT is geared towards short, intense bursts to maximize calorie burn and metabolic rate.

Steady-state cardio's focus on the aerobic system makes it suitable for prolonged fitness and health. In contrast, HIIT’s anaerobic approach is ideal for those enjoying quick, intense workouts with a lasting metabolic impact. Your choice should depend on your specific health and fitness goals and your preference for workout intensity and duration. [3[

Steady State Cardio Routine For Beginners

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If you are a beginner, your steady-state cardio routine should focus on maintaining a consistent, low to moderate intensity that keeps your heart rate within the aerobic zone without crossing into the anaerobic threshold.

Here's a guideline by CARE on how to structure such a routine:

  1. Choose a Low-Impact Activity

    Start with activities like brisk walking, light jogging, cycling, swimming, or even mowing the lawn or marching in place. These are excellent for maintaining a steady pace and are beginner-friendly.

  2. Understanding Your Aerobic Zone

    Your goal is to keep your heart rate at about 50-70% of your maximum. A simple way to estimate your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. So, if you're 30 years old, your estimated maximum heart rate is 190 beats per minute, and your target zone would be 114–133 beats per minute.

    Are you not sure if you are still in your aerobic zone, or do you not wish to train with a heart monitor? A practical gauge for low to moderate-intensity exercise is the “talk test”: it's the sweet spot where you're working hard enough to sweat yet can maintain a comfortable chat. [8]

  3. Monitoring Heart Rate

    If you have a heart rate monitor, like an Apple Watch, use it to stay within your target zone. If you don't have one, use the 'talk test': you should be able to speak a few sentences comfortably without gasping for breath.

  4. Frequency and Duration

    Aim for 3–4 sessions a week, starting with 20–30 minutes each. The key is to maintain the same level of moderate effort throughout the sessions.

  5. Gradual Progression

    Each week, you can slightly increase the duration (by about 5 minutes) while keeping your heart rate within the target zone. As your fitness improves, your heart will become more efficient, making it easier to stay within this range.

  6. Importance of Warm-Up and Cool-Down

    Begin each session with a 5-minute gentle warm-up and conclude with a 5-minute cool-down. This helps your body to enter and exit the aerobic exercise state gradually.

  7. Listening to Your Body

    It's essential to pay attention to how you feel during your steady-state workouts. If your heart rate climbs too high or you feel short of breath, slow down. The aim is to maintain a steady, manageable intensity, not to push into high-intensity zones and out of the aerobic zone.

How Long Should a Steady State Cardio Session Be?

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends engaging in steady-state cardio activities for 30 to 60 minutes at a moderate intensity, around 60-70% of the maximum heart rate for optimal results. Adhering to this time frame can help you effectively enhance your cardiovascular health, aid in burning body fat, and improve overall endurance. [9]

This time frame allows enough time for the body to use oxygen and fat as primary energy sources, maximizing the benefits of aerobic exercise without overstraining your body or tapping into the anaerobic zone. If you are a well-experienced athlete and practice steady-state cardio regularly, some people can exercise up to 120 minutes.

CARE & Steady State Cardio

As a CARE member, you take a proactive step towards optimizing your health. You'll have access to regular health check-ups and assessments, enabling early detection and management of potential health concerns or gaps.

You'll benefit from personalized health plans, nutrition advice, and tailored fitness recommendations that can also include steady-state cardio, if you like, all designed to support your journey toward a balanced and healthier you.

With continuous support and expert guidance from our health coaches, you are empowered to make informed decisions, enabling you to succeed in improved long-term health outcomes.

We are happy to recommend a steady–state cardio personal trainer to you or help you determine which training form is the most suitable for your individual fitness and health goals.

List of References

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!