Fitness Articles

Discover the Benefits of LISS for Weight Loss

Do Slow & Steady Workouts Win the Race?

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When it comes to getting fit and healthy, there's no magic pill or secret shortcut for reaching your goals. Whether you'd like to drop a few pounds, build more muscle or achieve a more dramatic, life-changing weight loss, the recipe for success is proper nutrition and effective exercise. Ideally, that exercise should be a mix of strength training and cardio (defined by the American Council on Exercise as "movement that gets your heart rate up to improve oxygen consumption by the body”).
 
Seems simple enough—but how do you determine which type of exercise is best for you?
 
Over the past few years, there's been a lot of buzz around High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which is a form of cardio that alternates between short intervals of maximum intensity (usually between one to three minutes) and longer periods of recovery (around two to four minutes). The idea is to keep the body guessing by constantly switching up intensity levels, which can burn more calories in a shorter amount of time.
 
HIIT definitely has its benefits, but it's not for everyone. People with heart conditions or other medical concerns—or those who are new to exercise—may not be able to safely accommodate the high-intensity intervals. Fortunately, HIIT isn't the only way to reap the benefits of cardio workouts.
 
To Ramp Up Results, Slow It Down
 
Fitness has come full circle. After the industry's long-term love affair with HIIT, there's been a return to traditional endurance-based cardio. Low-Intensity Steady State cardio (LISS) is essentially the opposite of HIIT, involving longer periods of exercise at a lower heart rate in the aerobic range (typically 60 to 80 percent of maximum capacity).
 
Shane Mclean, an ACE-certified personal trainer, says that although anyone can benefit from LISS workouts, they're especially well-suited to beginners and those who are returning to exercise after a long hiatus. "LISS is especially beneficial for deconditioned people who have fallen off the exercise wagon, as well as individuals with certain chronic health conditions," he says. "A healthy aerobic system will help these people with all aspects of health and exercise."
 
Andrew Noble, a certified personal trainer for Go Smart Fitness, says the best candidates for LISS workouts are those who are looking to reestablish a fitness habit without running the risk of joint injuries, as well as people who are in basic cardio rehabilitation plans.


 
Reasons to Love LISS
 
Extended, lower-intensity workouts have been linked to a myriad of benefits:
  • Efficient Fat Burning: Exercising at a lower heart rate may burn more fat, while HIIT workouts primarily burn glucose.
  • Aerobic Training: LISS workouts train the body aerobically, which enables better recovery from all types of training, according to Mclean.
  • Stress Reduction: Longer, lower-intensity workouts can help to reduce stress levels by forcing you to slow down, rather than trying to fit as much exertion as possible into a shorter amount of time.
  • Lower Cortisol Levels: Restorative activities, such as slow leisure walking and stretching, have been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, a stress-triggered hormone that can trigger retention of belly fat (also known as visceral fat).
  • Stronger Immunity: LISS workouts have been shown to improve immunity to colds, flu and other conditions, while high-intensity exercise could possibly make you more susceptible to illness.
  • Healthy Hormones: In addition to burning calories, low-intensity workouts help to regulate hormone levels, which improves moods.
Types of LISS Workouts
 
There are countless ways to implement low-intensity exercise. Kim Schaper, a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, prefers walking and elliptical training. "Walking has tremendous benefits, especially the day following a HIIT session," she says. "It's been proven to reduce cortisol, relieve stress, balance hormones and make us happier and less stressed."
 
For those new to LISS, Schaper recommends starting with 30 to 60 minutes of light walking each day. For best results, she also suggests mixing in some restorative yoga, stretching, meditation or breathing exercises. Other slow and steady activities include jogging, swimming, cycling and hiking.
 
In the gym, Mclean uses a three-part LISS workout that combines three, 10-minute intervals:
  • 10 minutes on a stationary bike at 60 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate (MHR)
  • 10 minutes on the treadmill at 60 to 80 percent of MHR, at around 4 mph (adjust incline for desired intensity)
  • 10 minutes on the rowing machine at 60 to 80 percent of MHR
That's not to say you have to choose one or the other. For best results, Mclean suggests a combination of high and low intensity exercise. If your fitness level allows, he recommends doing HIIT sessions three to five times per week, along with periodic LISS workouts to help with recovery.
 
According to Noble, an average LISS workout would be 30 to 45 minutes of cardio, while keeping the heart rate as close as possible to the fat-burning zone. “The easiest and most accurate way to measure intensity is to elevate to 70 percent of one's maximum heart rate,” he says.
 
As always, be sure to consult with a physician or health professional before starting a new exercise program.
 
Which do you prefer: Higher intensity in a shorter time frame, or lower-intensity, steady state workouts?

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About The Author

Melissa Rudy Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.