Chronic HIIT Workouts: The New Chronic Cardio?

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.



What defines a good workout to you?


Sweat on the brow?

Great, heart-pumping music?

Working your butt off?

Being flat on your back when all is said and done?


My answer used to be the latter: Being flat on your back.



Taxed. Tired. Butt-kicked.


Every day was a grind, with my little inner workout beast beating it into my head that if I was not hitting it hard, then I wasn’t giving it my all.


Fast-forward to today: Epiphany!!!


The gym—and your workouts (regardless of what you do) are meant to make you BETTER for living this game of life—inside AND outside the gym!


In other words: Empowered. Stronger. On top of the world…(not beat down, day in and day out).


Common Misconceptions


You may have heard the term: “Chronic Cardio” before.



Essentially: Over-doing it on the aerobic workouts.


Running for miles…and miles…and miles…


Look around any classic globo gym, at the cardio equipment, and who do you often see on the ellipticals, Stairmaster’s and treadmills?


Many ‘chronic cardio’ victims.






Or ask the majority of Americans what defines a “workout” or what they “should do” for exercise, and the majority will tell you:




It burns calories. Justifies pizza-indulgences. And makes you sweat.


Win, win, win, right?


Not necessarily.


Cardio—or too much cardio (just like too much of anything else)—can backfire on the body: so much to the point that your body either:


  • Adapts. You do the same thing—day in and day out (run 3-6-10 miles; ellipticize for exactly 30-minutes—the length of a Friends re-run episode; spin your legs away on a cycling bike for an hour or two to heart-beating pump-up music; or step your heart out for 20-minutes on the Stairmaster). Your body knows what to expect, and thus, the cardio, while it gets you moving, no longer challenges your body to continue to evolve, grow, enhance its metabolic function, etc.


  • Gets Beat Down. You pound your body to the point that exercise and cardio becomes more of a laborious chore; a ‘to do’, and consequently, your body no longer benefits from the exercise.


  • Works Against You. “Why am I not losing weight or inches?! I run every day and eat healthy!”—a cry of many who fall victim to the myth that cardio is the “answer” to body composition changes. Not to even mention those who truly desire straight up improved health—only to find they struggle to recover between workouts, they have low immunity, or don’t understand why they aren’t “getting better.” Your body only can handle so much of a stimulus—and when we over-do the cardio (something we thought was ‘healthy’), the body actually backfires.


Read more about chronic cardio here and here.


While I may have not been doing “chronic cardio” before I experienced my EPIPHANY—I could totally relate to MISCONCEPTIONS when it came to exercise:


My “definitions” of a “good workout” (i.e. “Sweat. Beat down. And flat on my back”) were similar to those chronic-cardio-ers who believe a workout is not a workout unless they have burned X-amount of calories or they are sweating their makeup off.



I may have been “over” my days of slaving away on a StairMaster (a la eating disorder days), but I still fell into the trap of not feeling like I had worked unless I did hard HIIT-style (met-con) sessions day in and day out…until now.


Exercise Was Meant to Make You Feel Good—Like Really Good.


I’d say my “light bulb” moment really came through my own work with a coach who now individually programs my own workouts for me in the gym (my belief: every coach needs a coach too!).



She takes into account my strengths, my weaknesses, my goals, my abilities—and designs a workout program that is conducive to providing a “just right” challenge—without beating me up day in and day out.


Weekly, I perform a balance of strength, skill, HIIT efforts, endurance and aerobic-capacity work in the gym—but without the risk of overtraining, overexerting or overpushing.


One day may look something like this:


Day 1



5 rounds

Backsquats x 3 reps


Negative Pull-ups (10-second descent)


4 rounds

Weighted Single Leg Step-ups (8/8)

GHD Sit-ups x 18

Seated Single Arm Press (6-8 each arm)



12-minute AMRAP

20 Ball Slams

15 Hip Extensions

10 H/R Push-Ups

200M Row




Power Cleans 5×3



12-Minute Air Dyne Intervals


Core work


12-Minute Air Dyne Intervals


The next day may look something like this:


Day 2


Conditioning (Sustainable Effort)

 8 Rounds for Time:

50 m Sled Drag

25 Calorie Air Dyne Bike

20-Seconds Wall Facing Handstand Hold

600-meter Row

20 Pushups

20 Dumbbell Step-ups


And the next day, maybe this…


Day 3

60-minute Hike outdoors


No day is ever the same—one session may be more strength focused, while the other is focused on ‘building a base’ of aerobic capacity, and the other on doing something different than typical, even outside the gym.


And…for the first time in my 13+ years of training in the gym:


My workouts actually energize me and allow me to feel stronger and see progress (in my strength, my aerobic capacity, my power), as opposed to like a hamster on a wheel—blog hopping to perform the random Workout of the Day or making things up in my head as I go along…


An ironic thing?


I am actually doing quite a bit of “sustainable” aerobic-based/conditioning workouts than before in my “always intense” days—essentially workouts at more sub-maximal efforts (Also known as: Zone 1 or MAP 10 training ).


I may be prescribed to complete a workout, like Day 2, above, that takes me an hour and 45-minutes in total to complete (i.e. also a MENTAL GRIND), but unlike my former “always have to be intense” mentality, it has forced me to open my mind and eyes to the value and beauty of movement, and realize that above all, BALANCE in any training program is necessary.


In fact, while there is A LOT of hype right now in our fitness culture about HIIT style workouts (which I still do love!), and A LOT more awareness about CHRONIC CARDIO…you actually need a balance of both modes of training to ACTUALLY GET SOMETHING OUT OF YOUR FITNESS (aerobic and anaerobic/HIIT work)—in other words: Improve.



The best part?


By working smarter—not necessarily harderI am reaping the benefits more so than ever before: gaining strength; feeling more recovered; able to put more power into my power workouts; and HAVING FUN with the process.


How have your workouts been lately?


Ever feel like you’re spinning your wheels in the gym?


Perhaps it’s time you got to working smarter-not necessarily harder as well.


Have you ever fallen into a trap of believing exercise had to be one way in order to count as “exercise” or justify it as a workout?


What could “working smarter” actually look like for you?



Schedule a free phone consult with me to talk training, lifestyle and/or nutrition, and customize an individualized THRIVE Blueprint to help you get off the hamster wheel of fitness, OR conquer the “must-beat-myself-down” mentality.





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