There’s no doubt that one of the most popular fitness regimens today is HIIT (high intensity interval training). HIIT workouts are fast, furious, and capable of burning lots of calories while simultaneously building muscle. It’s easy to see the attraction, especially if fitting an hour’s worth of workout into 20 minutes is imperative to you getting everything else done any given day.
Go to any fitness gym and they’re guaranteed to have one or more versions of HIIT style classes for you to take. Spin class, bootcamp, tabata training, and the like are all designed with HIIT in mind. If you’re doing the home workout thing right now (which, let’s face it, lots of us are) you can find hundreds of home HIIT routines to keep you feeling the burn at home. It seems like HIIT is here to stay, and for good reason. It’s fast, effective, and proven to work.
But HIIT is hard. Proper HIIT requires maximum effort as you quickly switch between periods of high impact exercises and brief periods of rest. And sweat. An awful lot of sweat. The fact is, not everyone is well suited to HIIT nor is it even advisable for certain people who may be more susceptible to injury or exhaustion. Even if you are well-suited to the HIIT life, high intensity training is not intended for everyday use.
LISS training’s “less is more” approach
For these reasons, a growing trend of LISS training is emerging in the fitness world. LISS stands for low intensity steady state, or essentially the opposite of HIIT. Unlike HIIT, the LISS cardio routine involves longer bouts of low intensity exercise like walking or light jogging that is intended to keep your heart rate moderately elevated but steady.
While counterintuitive, LISS training’s “less is more” approach to cardio training has proven itself to be just as effective as some higher intensity options. A study  published in Nutrition journal in 2013 found that prescribing higher intensity exercise methods among those who were overweight to obese resulted in decreased adherence and lessened fitness results than those prescribed with more LISS style workouts. Those prescribed high intensity routines completed less exercise and were more likely to stop exercising altogether.
The results here are easy to understand. Just because a workout routine is proven effective, does not mean that it is the right fit for everyone. Afterall, a workout routine that you enjoy and that is also effective for you is always going to be better than battling through a fitness regimen you dislike.
Another feather in LISS’ hat is its ability to burn fat without adding muscle. For those that are interested in slimming but not necessarily interested in adding muscle or bulk, LISS is a superior form of cardio exercise. Let’s dive a little deeper into what exactly LISS training looks like.
As you now know, LISS stands for low intensity steady state. This format can easily be broken down into two very intentional sub factors; the low intensity part, and the steady state part. Both components of LISS are important because they add to the efficacy of this style of workout.
Walking or cycling to and from work is a great LISS workout
Low intensity exercises are those that do not elevate your heart rate beyond a comfortable level. One of the best ways to determine this is whether or not you are able to simultaneously hold a conversation while performing the exercise. For example, if you are walking around a track with a friend, your pace should be such that you can hold a conversation without feeling winded or out of breath. That is not to say that your heart rate is not elevated, but it should be moderately elevated and sustainable.
The other component is maintaining a steady state. This means maintaining that moderately elevated heart rate at the same level for the duration of the exercise. Take the walking with a friend example again. If you are walking a hilly trail or neighborhood, there will be points of incline and decline that naturally increase and decrease your heart rate. Most likely, on these hills, you are unable to sustain a conversation without feelings of breathlessness.
With that example in mind, it is important to remember that low intensity steady state training is a bit trickier and requires more thought than simply heading out for a walk.
Ideally, using a treadmill, level walking track, stationary bike, or other cardio equipment will keep you from inadvertently adding intervals to your steady state training.
Some examples of ways to perform LISS are walking at a moderate pace, light jogging, low-intensity bike pedalling, arm bike, rowing, or elliptical trainers. The simplest and easiest way to ensure that you are doing true LISS style training is to use a piece of equipment like a treadmill that you can set a steady pace and leave it. Alternatively, if you prefer the outdoors, try using a heart rate monitor and keeping an eye out for any dips or spikes.
Since LISS is all about maintaining a steady heart rate of about 60-65% of your max heart rate, you must first understand what your max is and how to calculate accordingly.
Calculating Heart Rate
220 - your age
E.g 220 - 29 = 191
So for LISS 60-65% of your max heart rate would be 114-124
I use my Fitbit to track my heart rate
Alternatively you can go old school and count your BPM (beats per minute) (BPM = Find your pulse on your neck or wrist with your index and middle finger, count for 20 seconds and x by 3) or use this Target Heart Rate Calculator
Once you’ve established your heart rate, incorporating LISS into your exercise routine is easy to do. If you’re a beginner, try doing three LISS cardio sessions per week. If you’re at an intermediate or advanced level, try to include one or two sessions of LISS cardio in between more intense workouts like HIIT.
Here are some example LISS workouts for you to try. If you’re a beginner, start with 30 minute workouts. When you feel capable and have the time, increase your workout time all the way up to 60 minutes.
If the great outdoors is your thing you can try LISS workouts like walking your dog, walking with a friend, or, if possible, walking to and from work. You can also bike, roller skate, lightly jog, or do other aerobic exercises outdoors.
3.5-4 mph, no incline. You can entertain yourself with movies, podcasts, audiobooks, and music.
Getting LISS workouts in at the gym is super simple. The equipment provided at the gym makes it easy to set your pace or intensity level and leave it there for the duration of your workout.
Performing LISS exercise at home can be slightly trickier than the aforementioned options. It can be more difficult to maintain a steady elevated heart rate without equipment or space to continue a steady pace. However, LISS at home is perfectly possible if you follow these guidelines:
Low Intensity LISS Workout At Home - No Equipment Required!
Low Intensity Workout At Home
The prolonged nature of LISS training is specifically designed to target fat stores in the body. It takes time for your body to break down fat stores for use during exercise. Your body will always first look to more readily available energy sources before resorting to fat stores. LISS naturally unlocks your body’s ability to burn fat by allowing for a slower burn.
It’s important to recognize that all good things have downsides of their own. Let’s look at a few things that make LISS a challenge.
If you’re short for time, LISS can be challenging to fit into your routine. Ideally, you should commit a minimum of 30 minutes to LISS but 45-60 minutes is preferable. One possible way to get around this issue is to combine your LISS time with accomplishing other things. Perhaps you can make a few necessary phone calls or take advantage of time during a child’s practice. Lots of people like to combine relaxation or “me” time by zoning out to some television while walking on the treadmill.
HIIT is effective in large part due to its afterburn effect on the body. This means that you get your heart rate so elevated during a HIIT routine, that your body continues to burn calories well after your workout is done. LISS, on the other hand, does not produce this effect. Your calorie burning is restricted to the time you spend exercising.
LISS routines are extremely advantageous at the outset of a new fitness routine. However, your body will soon adjust to this workout and you will begin to see fewer and fewer results. For the best continued results, you’ll need to have a varied fitness routine.
While not quite a disadvantage per se, boredom can certainly play a role in LISS training. Even if you have the hour to give, it can be difficult to stay interested and engaged in a LISS workout when perhaps other things may be calling your name. Some easy ways to combat boredom are to include a friend in your workouts, entertain yourself with movies, podcasts, audiobooks, and music. You can also use your LISS workout time to practice meditative thinking, stress relief, and general peace of mind.
LISS VS HIIT
At this point you might be wondering exactly what the ideal fitness routine for you might be. We’ve discussed the advantages and disadvantages of both HIIT and LISS styles of training. If you are a true beginner or are struggling with obesity, starting your fitness regimen with LISS training is ideal. From there, you can start incorporating modified versions of HIIT workouts and work your way up to being able to cycle between the two.
Intermediate and advanced fitness levels can certainly see benefit from doing both types of workout. A basic routine might include 1 or 2 high intensity workouts per week coupled with 2-3 LISS style workouts per week. Ideally, your LISS workouts will be placed between high intensity workouts to allow for rest and recovery. You can also follow this Exercise For Your Body Type guide for more details of how much of HIIT, LISS and weight/strength training you should do depending on your body type.