Breaking the gym stereotypes : women and cardio


In our society, women are socialised to defer to men in terms of physical activity.  We all are well aware of the fact that how some women have the beloved relationship with their treadmills and elliptical trainer.

From being considered as the sole way of losing weight to the major culprit behind the muscle loss, cardiovascular exercises have come a long way in the fitness industry. You will find various people in the gym (especially women) doing hours and hours of cardio to lose fat. On the other hand, there will be some who will always criticise it for its harmful effects on muscle building. Our intent here isn’t to promote cardio over weight training, but to discuss the benefits and types of cardio and how to smartly incorporate those into your workout plan.


Types of cardio

Cardiovascular exercise can be of different types depending on the intensity of the exercise. Let’s understand the meaning, potential advantages and disadvantages of cardiovascular and HIIT exercises:

  1. Steady state cardio: An activity that is done for a prolonged period of time and at a constant intensity in order to increase the endurance of the skeletal muscle. It can be further divided into the low-intensity steady state (LISS), moderate intensity steady state (MISS) and high-intensity steady state (HISS).  


  1. Easier to begin with, more enjoyable. Therefore better adherence
  2. Less fatigue and better recovery as compared to HIIT
  3. Can be more beneficial for women, type 1 muscle fibers


  1. Longer duration
  2. Large volume to burn a small amount of fat


  1. High-intensity interval training: All these activities can also be used do HIIT at higher intensities. A HIIT workout includes a short warm-up of low intensity followed by some high-intensity bouts (at maximal intensity) that are separated by low-intensity recovery periods followed by a short cool down.



  1. Time efficient.  Requires less time to burn the same amount of calories
  2. Increased glycogen depletion. Improved insulin sensitivity


  1. More fatigue can affect weight training, increased risk of injuries. Difficult to do progressive overload
  2. Less frequency than LISS

Which one to chose?

There are certain benefits and drawbacks of both the type of cardio and therefore both have its separate place and importance in your workout regime. The type to go for depends on your current fitness levels as well. If you are a beginner or completely out of shape, steady state (LISS/MISS) should be your choice of cardio as the kind of intensities demanded by HIIT can be risky while you are starting. Just like weight training, focus on slow and gradual progression in the cardio intensity.

Likewise, the choice of cardio also depends on your training routine. Most women out there love to train their lower bodies number of times in a week and doing HIIT around an intense leg workout could be an invitation to injury. Thus, if you are training your lower body twice or thrice a week, HIIT needs to be smartly placed in your workout regime. Doing HIIT every time can make you run quickly into the problems. Replacing some sessions of interval training with the steady state would be a better option.

In the previous article, we also discussed how women’s strength and energy varies along their hormones throughout a month. Similar to weight training, the frequency and intensity of the cardio can also be set as per these fluctuations in women’s energy level and mood.

More on this in INFS Health series for Women: ‘Girls get strong’ which is going to release very soon.

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