What Is LISS Cardio? Benefits, Workout Ideas, and LISS Cardio vs. HIIT

Looking to improve your cardiovascular health without becoming drenched in sweat in the process? Turn to LISS cardio workouts.

When it comes to cardio workouts, the common perception often involves athletes gasping for breath, their skin flushed and clothes soaked in sweat. While some forms of cardio can indeed lead to such an intense experience, it's not a pre-requisite for reaping the benefits that cardio workouts offer. There exists a more accessible and gentler form of cardio, known as Low-Intensity Steady-State (LISS) cardio. This form of workout is not only easier on your joints but also poses a healthy challenge to your heart. In this comprehensive guide, two fitness experts provide insights into what LISS cardio involves, its advantages, and how it contrasts with High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts. Additionally, you'll discover various LISS cardio workout ideas that you can implement.

What Is LISS Cardio?

LISS cardio stands for Low-Intensity Steady State cardio, an aerobic exercise method characterized by a consistent, moderate level of effort, as stated by April Gatlin, a Master Coach and Certified Personal Trainer at STRIDE Fitness. These routines usually last between 30 to 60 minutes and are less intensive compared to vigorous-intensity cardio workouts. Your heart rate during a LISS workout session typically falls within the range of 50 to 65 percent of your maximum heart rate, notes Donna Cennamano, a NASM-accredited personal trainer and Manager of Training for CycleBar. To calculate your estimated maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220, as per the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, Gatlin warns against relying solely on heart rate metrics to gauge the intensity of your cardio workout due to its variability caused by factors such as stress, certain medications, and consumption of caffeine. Gatlin suggests focusing on your rating of perceived exertion (RPE) to ascertain whether you're performing a LISS cardio exercise. The RPE scale ranges from 1 (practically resting) to 10 (almost out of breath), with LISS cardio falling at 5 or 6. This means that although you're exerting effort, you can still manage to speak, normally one sentence at a time. Common forms of LISS cardio include running, brisk walking, cycling, and swimming. Yet, what may be considered LISS cardio differs among individuals based on their fitness levels and the activity being performed. Thus, while a brisk walk might make you slightly sweaty and breathless but still comfortable, your friend who frequently exercises might need to jog to experience similar effects.

The Benefits of LISS Cardio

Okay, LISS cardio sounds like a perfect option if you're in the mood for a toned-down workout, but does it have any legit benefits? Here's what Gatlin and Cennamano have to say.

Improves Cardiovascular Health

Adopting a routine of low-intensity steady-state cardio into your workout can benefit your heart health tremendously. Regular cardio exercise conditions the heart and lungs to transport oxygen more effectively to muscles, increasing your stamina for more demanding activities, says Melissa Kendter, an ACE-certified trainer, functional training specialist, and EvolveYou coach.

Despite its 'low-intensity' label, LISS cardio performed at a 5 or 6 RPE is actually classified as moderate-intensity physical activity by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Encouragingly, participating in 150 minutes of such aerobic activity every week has been associated with significantly reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality, states the DHHS. This is why it recommends that adults include at least this amount of activity into their weekly schedules.

Has Less Impact On Your Joints

Compared to high-intensity, interval-based activities like sprints and plyometric workouts, or HIIT sessions that oscillate between vigorous bursts of exercise and brief moments of rest or active recovery, LISS cardio exercises are a more gentle alternative. These routines have a lower impact on joints including the knees, hips, feet, and lower back, making them an ideal choice for older individuals or those suffering from joint-related issues, according to Gatlin.

In such cases, LISS cardio enables a heart rate increase in a less strenuous manner. Consequently, for these individuals, embarking on a daily 30-minute walk could prove more beneficial than performing rigorous sprinting exercises.

Works for a Variety of Populations

LISS cardio workouts, due to their gentle intensity and low-impact nature, cater to a broad spectrum of individuals, including those who are elderly or have orthopedic conditions. As Gatlin points out, there's a LISS exercise for everyone that not only mildly elevates the heart rate but also aligns with their requirements. While a strenuous HIIT session may seem daunting to some, almost anyone can find a LISS activity that suits them.

Furthermore, LISS cardio provides a platform for beginners in exercise and individuals on the road to recovery from injuries to step back into the world of physical activity, according to Cennamano. "They can progressively add duration and intensity to their workout," she elucidates. For instance, an individual who hasn't participated in cardio for years could start with quick-paced walks around their neighborhood, slowly extending the duration of these walks. Once they've adapted their cardiovascular system to this form of workout, they can transition to jogging, as per Gatlin's suggestion. Cennamano emphasizes that such a progression is "achievable and maintainable without threatening safety or heightening injury risk."

Challenges Your Body In Different Ways

Even the most dedicated HIIT enthusiasts and those free from injuries can find value in integrating LISS cardio into their fitness agendas. Your body, over time, gets accustomed to the exercises you regularly perform. This may lead to a plateau or halt in your gym progress, notes Gatlin. Consequently, she suggests that it's beneficial to introduce variety in your workout regimen by adding different LISS cardio activities. "Engaging in such practices won't cause any harm," she further adds, "In fact, it's beneficial to challenge your body in diverse ways, which ultimately strengthens your physique and heart. Every four to six weeks, evaluate if your body is becoming too familiar with these workouts...and think about how to push yourself differently."

LISS Cardio vs. HIIT

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, fundamentally contrasts with LISS cardio. HIIT involves a combination of intense exercise periods and short rest segments, employing your body's anaerobic energy system, unlike LISS cardio which uses the aerobic one. To clarify, during aerobic workouts, your body uses stored carbs, protein, fat, and inhaled oxygen to provide readily available energy for your muscles. This allows for longer workout durations, according to Piedmont Healthcare. However, during anaerobic exercises like HIIT, your body draws from energy already stored in your muscles, thus the workout lasts only for brief intervals. These workout types come with unique advantages. Aerobic exercises enhance your slow-twitch muscle fibers that contract slowly, extending your workout duration before fatigue sets in. Conversely, anaerobic workouts boost the strength and size of fast-twitch muscle fibers, improving muscle power, as per the International Sports Sciences Association. But experts insist that you need not focus on training specific fiber types as they automatically adapt to your workout regime. While neither workout is superior, LISS cardio sessions can sometimes seem monotonous, testing your motivation levels. That's when HIIT workouts, usually under 30 minutes, could be more appealing. "Not only are HIIT workouts efficient — yielding improved cardiovascular health in less time — but they also offer an engaging and unpredictable aspect," says Cennamano. With HIIT, you might engage in varied plyometric exercises for 15 minutes with brief breaks in between, resulting in a dynamic fitness regimen that remains fresh.

The Best LISS Cardio Workouts

Ready to mix LISS cardio workouts into your routine and start scoring those perks? Try out some of the workout methods below. If it's too challenging to do a 30-minute workout right from the get-go, start off with a five-minute session, then increase it by a minute each week, says Gatlin. And remember to check in with your RPE throughout your session to ensure you're keeping your intensity at a level 5 or 6.

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