For cardio training, a big question in the past few years seemed to have been:
Should people engage in HITT (high intensity training intervals) or Steady State Training?
If you're new to HIIT, HIIT is cardio training that alternates between high-intensity and low-intensity exercise. Another answer here touches on that subject and a real life example of HIIT would be if you sprinted for 60 seconds, and walked for 120 seconds, and continued on cycling through that process of sprinting and walking.
Just going by your description above, you're likely not new to steady state cardio. Steady state is where you are constantly running/jogging/biking/etc at the same pace/effort throughout the entire activity; there is no variance in intensity.
Some fitness websites believe that HITT is the best type of cardio training to engage in if your desire is to burn fat. In this article on Built Lean the author argues that
- HIIT is the best cardio to burn fat
- HIIT results in increased aerobic capacity
- HIIT results in increased lactate threshold
- HIIT results in improved insulin sensitivity
- HIIT results in the anabolic effect
Of course, Built Lean is not the only fitness website that agrees on the advantages of HIIT over steady state. Mens Fitness and BodyBuilding.com feel the exact same way. Interestingly enough, BodyBuilding.com makes a case for including both types of cardio training into your workout routine in this article here.
In The Effects of High Intensity Interval Training vs Steady State Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity, an article from the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, a study has revealed some interesting results about HIIT versus steady state training:
our results suggest no particular advantage for very high intensity training models, such as that which has been widely adapted from the results of Tabata et al. (1996)
First, I do want to say this study was on the Tabata regimen, and since then we've developed the Gibala, Zuniga, and Timmons regimen. But, in the choice of which cardio program you should choose, apparently the results of the study suggest that either works. What I found most significant in the study:
The observation that the Tabata protocol was less enjoyable is not surprising. The progressive loss of enjoyment across all the protocols suggests that perhaps variety in the type of exercise is as important as the type of exercise per se. Particularly considering that the health benefits of exercise have to be viewed in the context of the likelihood that exercise is continued for several years
This all sort of resonates well with me because when I first got back into exercising, I found myself plagued by a lack of enjoyment. I found that if
- I was at the gym, I needed to vary the machines throughout my one hour cardio session. I could not be on the elliptical for an hour straight. I had to switch up the machines and I had to switch up the modes. Some machines were strictly cardio trying to maintain "x" heart rate. Some other cardio machines were for building resistance, and so on and so forth.
- If I was running in my neighborhood or at the park, I couldn't just run 3 miles at 8 minutes per mile. I needed to run 3 miles to get to the park, then participate in HIIT once I got there, then run back home at 8 minutes per mile.
Personally, what I found most successful (because believe me, I did initially struggle for a long time figuring out what made me happy) is
- engaging in cardio daily to maintain the habit
- making every cardio session different to prevent lack of enjoyment
- always trying to improve on previous records so that you have something to look forward to which is really just a form of motivation.
I say records because it will be different depending on your goals.
- If you run 1 mile today, run 1.1 miles tomorrow.
- If you run 1 mile in 9 minutes, shoot for 8:55 or 8:50 on the next run
Smalls steps are the best route for improvement in cardio.
My advice to you would be to decide whether or not you want to continue steady state, incorporate HIIT instead, or engage in a combination of both. You should also develop short and long term goals for whichever cardio training you prefer to use.