The HIIT vs. LISS Showdown: Is LISS the Best Answer to Your Cardio Equation?
We’ve come to the final week of our HIIT vs. LISS showdown. And that means it’s time to cover the cardio style everyone loves to hate: LISS cardio.
And I get it. LISS can seem boring, especially when you compare it to the short, fierce, cardio cage match that is HIIT.
But even though HIIT might seem like the flashier answer, that doesn’t mean it’s the best one (spoiler alert— for most people, it isn’t). LISS cardio can yield great results if you’re willing to commit.
So what exactly do I mean by LISS cardio and how do you know if it’s right for you? Come along and let’s find out.
What exactly is LISS?
When most people think of cardiovascular exercise, LISS is what they have in mind.
LISS stands for low-intensity, steady-state cardio (you might have also heard it referred to as Moderate-Intensity Steady-State Cardio – MISS – but we’re all talking about the same thing), and typically encompasses the more traditional forms of cardio you see at the gym.
When you see people putting in miles on the treadmill, hitting the elliptical, or going for a brisk walk around the neighborhood, they’re usually getting the benefits of a LISS cardio session.
Unlike HIIT, which focuses on working all-out for short periods of time, LISS focuses on getting your heart rate to a certain level and keeping it there for an extended period of time. That’s where the term “steady-state” comes into play— by steadily maintaining a low-to moderate activity level in order to get that heart-rate bump.
So what’s the target heart rate range for a quality LISS session?
My advice is to work to keep your heart between 125-135 beats per minute (BPM), for at least 30 minutes, to reap all the benefits that LISS has to offer.
In the age of searching for a quick fix, LISS sometimes gets a bad rap. Afterall, why would you want to spend hours doing boring cardio sessions when HIIT-style workouts promise twice the payoff in half the time?
But here’s the truth— LISS is actually a more effective cardio method for helping the majority of people to get results.
And do you want to know a secret? When I’m looking to get lean, LISS is the primary type of cardio I use.
Is LISS right for me?
Why do I believe that LISS cardio is better than HIIT for most people?
Because unless you’re a current or former elite athlete, most average people off the street don’t have the fitness level or ability to recover that is necessary for performing HIIT workouts correctly and safely (yours truly, included).
Plus, most people simply don’t need to push their bodies that hard to get a great workout. It isn’t necessary for mere mortals to constantly push their hearts to the limit to burn calories— simply elevating it (and keeping it there) is all that’s needed to reach your goals.
LISS cardio improves the body’s ability to use fat as a fuel source, meaning it’s a great way to tap into your body’s excess fat reserves. It also improves your overall aerobic capacity, which translates to better heart and lung function. And because it doesn’t deplete your body’s glycogen stores the way HIIT does, meaning you’ll have more protein available to build and retain muscle.
Less fat. More Muscle. Healthier heart and lungs. Sounds like a pretty potent combo to me.
The biggest complaint I get from people is that LISS cardio is boring. And I would be lying if I said that spending hours on the treadmill isn’t exactly an exciting prospect. But the good thing is that there’s no rule that says you can only do one type of cardio for LISS training to be effective.
Don’t be afraid to spend 10 minutes on one machine and then switch to something else. The important thing is that you’re keeping your heart rate at the desired level for at least 30 minutes.
And look, it’s okay if you’re looking to give HIIT a try. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever do a high-intensity workout if you’re an Average Joe. In fact, once you’ve built a solid fitness foundation, I would encourage you to throw a HIIT-style workout into your routine several times a month, if only to switch things up and see what your body is capable of.
But if you’re part of the general fitness population, I still recommend that the bulk of your cardio routine— 3-4 times a week— be focused on LISS cardio work for prime results.
When should I do a LISS session?
Last week we talked about HIIT workouts and EPOC effect— the afterburn that happens for up to 72 hours after a HIIT session. In other words, HIIT focuses on the calories you burn after the session is complete.
But LISS cardio is a different animal. Instead of that post-exercise burn, LISS cardio workouts primarily tap into your body’s calorie reserves during your workout. For that reason, I recommend you take a different approach when it comes to scheduling your LISS sessions.
In my experience, LISS workouts are most effective first thing in the morning, when your body is in a fasted state (something many people refer to as “fasted cardio”). In other words, you’ll be getting your cardio in before you feed yourself for the first time.
Why does this matter? Because you’ll be giving yourself a chance to tap into more of the fat that your body has already stored— and who doesn’t love that, right?
Want another cardio tip? I always suggest you try to break up your cardio and lifting workouts (this goes for both LISS and HIIT workouts). I like to think of it this way— every time you perform a workout, you’re giving yourself a boost in the calorie department. So if you’re throwing in some cardio after you lift, you’re only getting one boost. By breaking it up— for instance, by doing fasted cardio in the morning and lifting later in the day— you’re giving your body two opportunities to burn more calories, which translates to more calories, overall.
How do I get started?
The great thing about LISS cardio is that it offers endless possibilities. As long as the activity you choose gets your heart rate up and can be done for an extended period, it can be just about anything your mind can dream up.
Mix and match any machine at your gym. Get outside and go for a walk. Climb stairs in your office building during your lunch break. Swim laps while you work on your tan.
LISS cardio can be done anytime, anywhere. All it takes is a little commitment and some patience. But how do you know if your heart rate is high enough?
One easy way to measure heart rate is by using some type of device— a smartwatch, external HR monitor, even the hand sensors on your gym’s cardio equipment— to give you a great idea of where you’re measuring. But that doesn’t mean you necessarily need technology to get the job done. You can also measure your heart rate the old-fashioned way, by taking your pulse and doing a little math.
I find the easiest way to start is by placing the index and middle fingers of one hand just below the base of your thumb on the opposite wrist. Press lightly and count the number of beats for 15 seconds. Then multiply that number by four. Congratulations, you’ve just found your heart rate.
There’s one more important detail I want to mention when it comes to LISS cardio.
Over time, your body will adapt to a LISS cardio program, especially when you’re doing the same workout, at the same intensity, over and over again. That’s a good thing— it shows your body is changing, improving, and getting healthier. But it also means you might not be getting the same calorie burn from your trusty elliptical routine.
Don’t worry, though. You aren’t doomed to adding endless hours to your cardio routine.
All you need to do is switch things up. Try mixing in different activities or upping your intensity. Or get out of your comfort zone and try that new class you’ve been eyeing. In the end, all that really matters is you keep pushing yourself towards your goal.
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