LISS Cardio: What It Is and Why It Works

LISS Cardio: What It Is and Why It Works

Photo: Pond5

These days, kick-your-butt workouts reign. If you’re not lying in a sweaty puddle on the floor by the end, was it really worth it? (The answer is yes; but we’ll get into that in a sec.) Luckily, if doing burpees ‘til your brain hurts doesn’t sound all that great to you, we’ve got an alternative to all that, and it’s called LISS — low-intensity steady-state cardio.

“[LISS] means doing light cardio — 50 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate — at a consistent pace, usually for long durations,” says Alex VanHouten, National Development Specialist and Master Trainer at Life Time Fitness Centennial outside of Denver, CO. Think power walking, using the stair-stepper or biking at a steady pace.

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While you’ve heard about the calorie-blasting and metabolism-boosting benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) — LISS has its benefits, too. “About 45 to 60 minutes of LISS can help the body become conditioned over time to use fat as a fuel source better at your next workout,” says VanHouten. It’s also a low-impact way to work your ligaments, tendons, joints, and muscles in preparation for when you want to crank up the intensity. That’s especially great if you’re just starting an exercise program and aren’t ready to go all-out with something like HIIT.

Plus, you can do it again the next day. “Since recovery is quicker than other higher intensity training, you can do LISS in back-to-back exercise sessions. It mostly adheres to a lifestyle I endorse: more moving, less sitting!” says Michael Moody, a Chicago-based personal trainer.

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Why You Should Do All LISS, All the Time

“Gym-goers who skip LISS are missing out on a stress buffer, fat burner…and an active recovery day.”

Before you chill on the elliptical for the fifth day in a row, know that you shouldn’t rely on LISS workouts as your one-and-only form of exercise. “Your body adapts over time. So if all you do is LISS, you’ll miss out on the adaptations that come with higher intensity bouts of cardio,” says VanHouten. In other words, if you’re looking for more muscle and less fat, LISS alone won’t be enough.

Plus, your personality might not mesh with LISS. If you thrive on a creative routine that changes things up and keeps you (and your body) guessing, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of being bored, says Moody. (Another mile walked…yay?) Another point: “Most people prefer to burn calories in the shortest amount of time possible, and this is not what LISS training does,” he says. If you only have 15 or 20 minutes for a workout, HIIT might be a better bet.

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Your LISS Cardio Workout, Explained

If you’re doing three to four days of cardio and two to four days of weight training per week, try to make only one or two of those cardio sessions LISS workouts. Start with 30 minutes and work up to one hour, VanHouten advises. If you’re not a newbie exerciser, you might make LISS part of a routine that includes HIIT and yoga for a well-rounded week, Moody says. 

Now, pick your (healthy) poison: running, swimming, biking, walking, or using the elliptical or the stair stepper. The key is reaching and maintaining a pace that makes you feel like you’re working at a level of 3 to 4 on a scale of 1 to 10, says VanHouten. (He says “1” is watching Netflix and 10 is “feel-like-death-at-this-level.” This is different for everyone. After four weeks, you’ll be able to pick up the pace but still feel like you’re only exerting yourself at the same level.

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The Bottom Line

Bootcamp lovers, don’t be fooled into thinking LISS is for wimps. “Gym-goers who skip LISS are missing out on a stress buffer, fat burner, cardiovascular conditioning and an active recovery day that can help their mind, body and metabolism recover from a long week,’ says VanHouten. Well, we’re sold.

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