Low Intensity Steady State Cardio – Healthy Heart Rate Workouts?


You’ve heard about high intensity interval training (HIIT). But there’s another exercise system making headlines: Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) cardio.

Instead of exercising as hard as possible for short bursts, LISS takes an opposite approach: you perform low-intensity cardio for a long period of time.

Right now, LISS is the lesser-known younger brother of HIIT – but it’s quickly making headlines around the world. Let’s take a closer look at LISS cardio exercises and how they can transform your exercise routine.

Examples of Low Intensity Steady State Cardio

LISS cardio doesn’t involve doing anything crazy or unique: you’re doing the same familiar cardio exercises, just at a lower intensity and for a longer period of time. Some of the most popular LISS cardio exercises include:

  • Jogging
  • Power Walking
  • Incline Walking
  • Biking
  • Indoor Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Elliptical
  • Hiking

Hiking is the classic Low Intensity Steady State workout: you’re burning more calories than just walking around your block – but you’re also going at a slow, steady pace. You’re not pushing your body to the extremes, but you’re not being lazy either.

Where Does LISS Come From?

Obviously, LISS just recently started to make headlines. So where exactly did it come from?

Women’s Health Mag investigated and got to the bottom of it: they claim the term was “made famous by the PT and boyfriend of Bikini Guide queen Kayla Itsines.” His name is Tobi. They actually interviewed him as well:

“It was a name that I used in competitive natural body building, we wanted an abbreviation. It represents the exercise, the heart rate and the intensity of the cardio”, Tobi explained.

In any case, Kayla has millions of social media followers. The popularity of LISS can be traced back to the first few mentions on her Instagram account and other social media platforms.

What Are the Benefits of LISS?

You know what LISS is and where it comes from. Why should you consider doing it?

Kayla, the originator of the term we mentioned above, claims that LISS is the best workout for fat and weight loss. She claims “walking burns the most fat per calorie compared to jogging and sprinting.”

That sounds weird, but the argument goes like this: in order to metabolize fat, the body needs oxygen. When you perform low intensity exercises, the body has more oxygen to break down fat. When you jog, sprint, or perform other high-intensity exercises, your body has less oxygen available, which means it turns to energy sources aside from fat (like carbs).

Ultimately, Women’s Health Mag cautions that “this doesn’t mean LISS is more effective at fat burn than HIIT”, but it does mean that it burns fat in a different way.

In any case, practitioners of LISS typically talk about the following benefits:

-Maintain muscle mass while still losing fat

-Exercise even if you don’t have great cardiovascular endurance

-Avoid joint pain

-Protect yourself from future injuries, or avoid pain from pre-existing injuries

Ultimately, the training system is popular among groups like the elderly, many of whom have trouble sprinting or performing other HIIT exercises. It’s also ideal for those with pre-existing joint problems, joint pain, or other mobility issues. And some people just like LISS because they limit their risk of injury, avoid muscle pain the next day, and are able to work out multiple days in a row without feeling total body pain.

How Do I Start Low Intensity Cardio?

I can’t give you a specific speed at which you should run, bike, or swim to perform LISS. Instead, it’s all about your personal fitness level. Some people perform LISS at the same speed at which other people run, for example, while others need to go very slow.

Regardless of your speed, your goal is to keep your heart rate at a low level of intensity of the entire duration of your workout.

You should specifically aim for the aerobic (with oxygen) zone, which works out to 60% to 80% of your max heart rate. This website has a good calculator that lets you check your target heart rate based on your age.

When your heart rate stays low during a workout, you will primarily be burning body fat for fuel – not carbs or other ingredient sources. That’s why this is also called the fat burning zone.

If your heart rate goes beyond this zone, then you’ll enter the anaerobic levels, at which point your body starts to burn glucose.

How do you track your heart rate while working out? Thanks to modern technology, it’s easier than ever. Buy a fitness tracker with a heart rate monitor, for example. Or, many modern phones – like the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6 – have heart rate monitors built-in (and also let you track heart rate with third party chest straps).

How Long Should I Exercise?

You know that your heart rate should be kept between 60% and 80% of your maximum heart rate for optimal fat burning. But how long should you spend exercising?

Many people recommend a starting point of working out 2 to 3 times a week for 30 to 45 minutes.

As you become more experienced with LISS, you’ll want to work out for a longer period of time. Your goal is to break a sweat without having a workout that’s too intense.

Many LISS practitioners safely double that workout time, working out 3 times a week for 1 to 1.5 hours. As long as your heart rate is in the 60% to 80% zone for the duration of the workout, and you’re not experiencing muscle pain, you should work out as long as you feel comfortable. The longer you work out, the more calories you’ll burn.

Does It Actually Work?

Most research we’ve found on LISS shows that it works: it’s not like you’re doing some crazy, advanced exercise technique. Instead, you’re just performing a moderate exercise for a long period of time – so it’s no surprise that you’ll lose weight.

PopSugar.com quoted a personal trainer who said that he “implements LISS when he works with clients” and it’s also part of his own training. However, he cautions that you need to do LISS correctly:

“LISS training by itself will almost always lead to a negative yield in lean muscle mass and basal metabolic rate. It’s very effective at metabolizing fat for energy consumption by the body. However, it is horrible at accessing and breaking down stored fat.”

In layman’s terms, that means if you only do LISS training and nothing else, then your body will start to break down its own muscles as a source of fuel. This can lead to weight loss, although it’s not the kind of weight loss most of us are looking for: you’ll thin out, but lose muscle mass while you’re at it.

The most important thing to remember is to maintain a balanced exercise schedule: just like you need to balance your diet, you also need to balance your exercise schedule. Don’t solely rely on LISS. Incorporate moderate weight training and other exercises.

The person trainer quoted above recommends working out as you normally do and then doing a LISS activity after each training session to wind down. After weight training, for example, an LISS activity can help your muscles wind down while also regenerating and conditioning your muscles.

Should You Start LISS Training?

LISS training is a popular new exercise training system that involves performing low intensity cardio for a long period of time. It’s not for everyone, and many people will get bored performing low-intensity cardio for more than 45 minutes. However, if you’re looking for an easy way to add weight loss to your exercise routine, then low intensity steady state cardio exercises may be the right choice for you.

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