When you think of individuals tackling cardio workouts, the initial image that may come to mind could be of breathless athletes with flushed skin and sweat-soaked sports bras. You’re not incorrect – some cardio sessions can leave you panting, huffing, and feeling as though your heart is on the verge of bursting from your chest. However, experiencing these unpleasant effects is not necessary in order to reap the cardiovascular benefits that this workout method has to offer.
One approachable alternative is low-intensity, steady-state (LISS) cardio, a more relaxed form of cardio that challenges your heart, is gentle on your joints, and can be done by a wide range of individuals. In the following sections, two fitness experts will explain in detail what LISS cardio entails, its advantages, and how it differs from high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. Additionally, you’ll discover some LISS cardio workout ideas that you can implement.
What Is LISS Cardio?
LISS cardio is precisely what it sounds like: a type of aerobic activity in which your heart rate or level of exertion is moderate and remains relatively stable throughout the workout, as stated by April Gatlin, C.P.T., a personal trainer and Master Coach at STRIDE Fitness. Due to the lower intensity, these workouts are often longer in duration compared to their high-intensity cardio counterparts, typically lasting between 30 to 60 minutes, according to Gatlin.
In general, your heart rate during a LISS cardio session may fall within the range of 50 to 65 percent of your maximum heart rate, as mentioned by Donna Cennamano, a NASM-certified personal trainer and training manager for CycleBar. (By the way, you can estimate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) However, relying solely on how fast your heart is pumping may not be the most accurate measure when determining the intensity of your cardio workout. Each person’s body is unique, and factors such as caffeine consumption, stress, and certain medications can all impact your heart rate, explains Gatlin. “I am always cautious about providing specific heart rates because I do not want individuals to think that if their heart rate is too high or too low, they are not putting in the effort,” she clarifies.
Instead, Gatlin suggests taking into account your rating of perceived exertion (RPE) to determine if you are engaging in LISS cardio.
On a scale of 1 (you’re essentially relaxing) to 10 (you can hardly respire), your Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) should be a 5 or 6 while engaging in Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) cardiovascular exercise. “You can sense your exertion, but you can still engage in conversation, typically limited to one sentence at a time,” she includes.
The Advantages of LISS Cardio
Alright, LISS cardio seems like a fantastic choice if you’re in the mood for a subdued workout, but does it provide any genuine benefits? This is what Gatlin and Cennamano have to say.
Enhances Cardiovascular Fitness
Incorporating low-intensity, continuous-state cardio into your routine can be great for your heart health. Cardio workouts, in general, train your heart and lungs to deliver oxygen more efficiently to your muscles, enabling you to tackle more demanding activities without feeling completely breathless, as previously mentioned by Melissa Kendter, an ACE-certified trainer, functional training specialist, and EvolveYou coach, on Shape’s website.
Even though LISS cardio has “low-intensity” in its name, it is actually considered a moderate-intensity physical activity when performed at a 5 or 6 RPE, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The encouraging news is that engaging in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week has been linked to significant reductions in the risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality, as stated by the DHHS. This is why the department recommends that adults aim for at least this amount on a weekly basis.
Gentler on Your Joints
LISS cardio activities generally have less impact on your joints compared to more intense interval-style workouts like sprints, plyometric exercises, and HIIT sessions (where you alternate between bursts of vigorous exercise and short periods of active recovery or complete rest). As a result, they are often easier on your knees, feet, hips, and lower back, making them more suitable for older individuals or those dealing with other joint-related conditions, according to Gatlin.
For these individuals, “LISS cardiovascular exercise increases their heart rates in a less forceful manner, thus it is likely more advantageous for them to simply engage in a 30-minute stroll on a daily basis instead of participating in sprints,” she clarifies. Furthermore, regarding this matter…
Works for a Variety of Populations
Thanks to the low-impact, relaxed-intensity nature of LISS cardio workouts, they are generally accessible to a wide range of populations, including elderly individuals and people with orthopedic issues, says Gatlin. “[LISS cardio] can truly accommodate every individual out there, in one way or another,” she says. An intense HIIT workout can be challenging for certain populations, she says, but most individuals, regardless of their abilities, can discover and participate in a LISS activity that gently elevates the heart rate and aligns with their requirements.
LISS cardio also allows beginners and individuals recovering from injuries to reintroduce movement, adds Cennamano. “They can focus on increasing the duration and intensity of the workout gradually,” she explains. For instance, someone who hasn’t engaged in cardio for decades can begin with brisk walks around the neighborhood, gradually extending the time spent on the activity. Once their cardiovascular system becomes accustomed to the workout, they can progress to jogging, says Gatlin. “[It’s] sustainable and achievable without compromising safety or increasing the risk of injury,” notes Cennamano.
Challenges Your Body In Different Ways
Even dedicated HIIT enthusiasts and injury-free individuals can benefit from integrating LISS cardio into their fitness routines. Over time, your body will adapt to the exercises you consistently perform, and your progress in the gym may slow down or plateau as a result, says Gatlin. That’s why she suggests keeping your body guessing by incorporating various LISS cardio workouts into your schedule. “Nothing negative will arise from doing that,” she adds. “It’s beneficial to demand different things from your body, and that will only strengthen your body and heart. Take a look every four to six weeks and inquire, ‘Is my body becoming accustomed to these workouts…and how can I challenge myself differently?”
LISS Cardio vs. HIIT
HIIT is essentially the complete opposite of LISS cardio. Since the training method involves alternating between bursts of vigorous activity and short rest periods, it utilizes your body’s anaerobic energy system — not your aerobic one like LISS cardio, says Gatlin. Reminder: During aerobic exercise, your body will utilize your stored carbohydrates, protein, and fat, in addition to the oxygen you breathe, to generate readily available energy for your muscles. As a result, you can sustain the activity for extended periods of time, according to information published by Piedmont Healthcare. On the other hand, during anaerobic activity, your body will rely solely on the energy already stored in your muscles, allowing you to sustain the exercise only for brief bursts of time, according to Piedmont Healthcare.
And each of these types of workouts offers unique advantages. Aerobic exercise helps strengthen your slow-twitch muscle fibers, which contract more slowly and enable you to train for long durations before experiencing fatigue.
On the opposite side, anaerobic exercise enhances the size and quantity of quick-twitch muscle fibers, which enhances your muscle’s power and potency, in accordance with the International Sports Sciences Association. Despite this contrast, specialists claim focusing on training specific fiber types isn’t necessary, as “the fibers simply accomplish what they require in order to make you more proficient at whatever training you’re doing,” Ian Elwood, M.A., A.T.C., C.S.C.S., C.F.-1, formerly expressed to Shape. All that’s to state neither workout is superior for your body than the other — they’re merely distinct.
Still, lengthy LISS cardio sessions may feel tedious at times, challenging your concentration and motivation, says Cennamano. And that’s where HIIT workouts, which often require less than 30 minutes, may have an advantage. “A reason why so many people prefer HIIT is not just because of the efficiency of the workout — [you can] achieve results [i.e. improved cardiovascular health] in less time — but the engaging and often unforeseen element of it,” she adds. “Instructors and trainers have much more flexibility with programming choices and can vary activity from session to session.” During each HIIT workout you tackle, you might spend 15 minutes powering through a few different explosive exercises with brief rest periods in between. The outcome: a fitness routine that doesn’t become monotonous after just a few weeks.
The Top LISS Cardio Workouts
Ready to incorporate LISS cardio workouts into your routine and start reaping those benefits? Try out some of the workout methods below. If it’s too demanding to do a 30-minute workout right from the start, begin with a five-minute session, then increase it by a minute each week, says Gatlin. And remember to assess your RPE throughout your session to ensure you’re maintaining your intensity at a level 5 or 6.
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