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Exercising at the same intensity throughout an exercise routine has a variety of positive outcomes on your fitness levels, but limits the benefits you get from a workout. Steady-state aerobic exercise differs from interval training in the way your body burns fat, uses muscle fibers and affects your ability to recover after activity.
Steady-state exercise is activity you perform while maintaining roughly the same heart rate and muscle movements. Examples include jogging outdoors or on a treadmill, pedaling an exercise bike without changing resistance settings or pedaling speeds, or aerobic dancing that uses mostly the same rhythm throughout the class. Performing the same exercise for the duration of a workout does not make it steady-state. Examples of this include adding one minute of running every five minutes during a power walk, raising and lowering the resistance setting and pedaling speeds during a stationary bike workout or adding 90-second bursts of high-intensity moves to a step aerobics workout.
The slower you exercise, the more fat you burn as a percentage of calories. As you reach the high end of your aerobic threshold and during anaerobic activities such as basketball, football and tennis, you burn mostly glycogen. Even though you burn more fat as a percentage of calories burned during a so-called fat-burning workout or a cardio routine, you actually burn less fat overall than if you exercise harder, since you burn more total fat at high heart rates, explains certified fitness trainer Monica Neave.
Your muscles contain fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers, with slow-twitch fibers responsible for power and strength, and fast-twitch fibers responsible for speed and quickness. To train at a steady state, you'll need to work at a pace that won't fatigue you to failure, which often means relying on slow-twitch muscle fibers for much of the work. This means that this type of aerobic exercise is not optimal for athletes during their pre-season training and during their season. During aerobic activity, your muscles deplete their stores of adenosine triphosphate, which fuels muscle contractions. The body also produces lactic acid, which can cause muscle fatigue and cramping. During start-and-stop exercise, your muscles have a chance to replenish some ATP and remove some of the lactic acid you produced during a point, play or sprint.
During steady-state training, your heart rate stays at roughly 50 percent to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate and you keep it there. This helps improve your cardiorespiratory stamina, or endurance, but does not help you improve your ability to recover after high-intensity tennis points, football plays or other short bursts of activity. Sprint, or interval, training is more appropriate for this type of cardio conditioning.