LISS: A Complete Guide, From What It Actually Is, To Why And When To Do It

You’re likely well-versed in HIIT, but how much do you know about LISS, a.k.a. ‘Low Intensity Steady State’ training? Also known as LISS cardio, the low-intensity training includes workouts such as walking, hiking or cycling. And it’s packed full of rewards that you’ll not want to be missing out on.

So, we’re diving into a full explainer on what LISS is really about, from what LISS cardio is good for, to how to do a LISS workout properly and when to add it to your weekly schedule. Ready?

1. What is LISS?

‘LISS’ stands for Low-Intensity Steady State training, so instead of pushing yourself to breaking point for short bursts, you aim for a lower level of exertion for a long, continuous period of time.

For many years, LISS was the go-to exercise for burning exercise cals (think long runs and endurance cardio) but when its younger and speedier cousin HIIT (high-intensity interval training) came along, it was quickly relegated to the B-team. The main difference between the two is that in HIIT, you’ll get your heart rate close to max for a matter of seconds before resting and repeating, whereas in LISS your heart rate will rise to a much lower intensity but will be kept there for minutes or even hours. You can see why some people swung to team HIIT – with shorter bursts of exercise needed for health benefits.

However, those of you that were quick to hang up your walking shoes may have jumped too soon – LISS has a myriad of benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked.

In fact, a weekly routine that contains both LISS and HIIT workouts might help you hit your goals more quickly than if you were to commit to just one – more on this later.

2. Benefits of LISS training

There are myriad benefits to LISS cardio, including:

  • Pain elimination
  • Posture improvement
  • Fat burn
  • Improving your body’s cardiovascular capacity
  • It’s accessible and scalable to all fitness levels

Research shows that LISS can be just as beneficial for cardio health as HIIT and that there’s no difference in fat loss between groups who did continuous training and interval workouts.

3. What are some example LISS workouts?

LISS training is any low-endurance workout, all at a relaxed level. These can include:

To be precise, LISS training or LISS cardio is any low-endurance workout that’s around 50-65% of your max heart rate, depending on your fitness level. In other words, you should still be able to hold a conversation whilst performing LISS, so it’s a good form of exercise to do with a friend or the family.

‘LISS is important because it breaks up your week,’ WH cover star and PT Kayla Itsines previously explained at Women’s Health‘s Live Virtual event.

‘Going for LISS [exercise] is so great for your overall fitness and also for your mind as well,’ she continued. ‘Set a 15-minute timer or a 20-minute timer and go for a walk and when it goes off, come back. It’s a really good way to break up your week and still stay active and motivated to do more.’

But, for those who strongly dislike walking, cycling or hiking – don’t worry, you’re not alone! – there are some other options to get your LISS-fix:

‘A semi-fast yoga class you can do at home,’ is one option according to Itsines. Or, ‘you could even march on the spot while watching TV,’ she suggests.

Try these LISS workouts:

  • A two to five-kilometre walk, aiming for a pace between 8 and 10 minutes per kilometre depending on fitness levels.
  • Hopping on a treadmill, cross-trainer or stationary exercise bike for 30-60 minutes at a moderate pace.
  • A Vinyasa or ‘flow’ yoga class that keeps your heart rate between 40% and 60% of your maximum.
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5. LISS vs. HIIT

Unlike HIIT – where you go balls-to-the-wall switching between max-effort bursts and short recovery periods – LISS is all about exercising at a slow and steady pace that burns fat over other energy sources, such as carbohydrates or food.

‘HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) alternates between powerful, limit-pushing bursts and slowed-down recovery periods, while LISS helps you achieve longevity in your training,’ explains Michelle Morrey.

6. Why is LISS good for fat burning?

Itsines frequently recommends LISS as part of her training programmes – citing the fact that LISS exercises such as walking burn the most fat per calorie when compared to jogging, running and sprinting.

‘In order to metabolise fat the body needs oxygen and the lower the intensity, the more oxygen is available to be used by the body to break down fat,’ Itsines explains. When you’re jogging or sprinting, less oxygen is available meaning that your body will use other energy sources, such as carbohydrates, for energy instead of fat.’

Bear in mind, however, HIIT does still burn fat, as well as helping with muscle adaptations – plus it burns more calories in a shorter space of time, so if you can’t find the time for a full LISS workout, then HIIT is a great alternative.

7. How much LISS should I do a week?

At WH, we encourage you to experiment with your exercises and try out new workouts that will get your heart rate going – do make sure you see your GP if you have a condition, are pregnant, or are feeling under the weather – but working out is also about balance and finding out what’s good for you.

‘Ideally, only 20% of your workouts should be high-intensity,’ says Morrey. ‘Whether you’re an Olympic athlete or a mum, it’s the same. Say you work out five times a week, only two sessions should be HIIT. If HIIT is not carefully controlled, it can lead to injury.’

The good thing about LISS is that it’s an easy, accessible and family-friendly way to keep fit and healthy.

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8. Who is LISS good for?

Luke Worthington, PT, Nike trainer and sports scientist, breaks down exactly why LISS isn’t just ‘the easy option out’:

‘TypicallyHIIT sessions have appealed to those who are time-poor people who need to fit in a short and effective workout. But, HIIT can actually cause more pressure as it’s a high-stress mode of exercise for the body but also for the mind and the nervous system.”

So from this perspective, LISS may actually be best for those with stressful lives and could benefit more from a low octane, long duration exercise session that is more calming for the parasympathetic nervous system as well as causing less damage to the body,’ says Worthington.

Morrey agrees with LISS being something that could benefit the vast majority of people but also something that’s gaining in popularity traction too:

‘There’s been a pendulum shift, which I’ve seen all over the world. Sport science is changing, and we’re realising that over-stressing the body is not beneficial and can lead to injury and sickness,’ she says.

9. So, is LISS cardio good?

It’s a resounding yes from all experts. In fact, Worthington tells us that he prescribes LISS workouts to almost all of his celebrity clients, including Dakota Johnson. They’ll do ‘LISS cardio, like a 60-minute walk, on non-workout days, around three times a week,’ he tells WH.

This article by Bridie Wilkins and Morgan Fargo was originally published on Women’s Health UK.

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