Why LISS (Low Intensity Steady-State) Cardio Is the New Feel-Good Workout


Over the past decade, "go hard or go home" has infiltrated the fitness world, leading to the popularity of get-fit fads that aim to kick your butt by kicking your workout up a notch — or multiple notches.


LISS workouts allow you to be more mindful and careful with your body. (Image: MixMedia/iStock/GettyImages)

Many of these hardcore, high-heart-rate fitness enthusiasts wouldn't dare walk on the treadmill for an hour. After all, in today's world, where time is money, why spend an hour burning calories when you could burn the same or more in 20 minutes?

That's the big sell for workouts involving high-intensity interval training (HIIT), a workout method that involves alternating bouts of vigorous effort with periods of slower-paced recovery. And fitness enthusiasts are HIIT-ing this trend hard (pun definitely intended).

But the growing trend on fitness-centered social media seems to point to the growing popularity of another attractive option for those who don't want to go quite so hard, but who don't want to go home either: low-intensity steady-state cardio (LISS).

What Is LISS?

Simply put, LISS involves elevating your heart rate with activity, but not letting it go beyond 50 percent of your maximum heart rate, and then keeping it there for an extended period of time (at least 30 minutes).

To estimate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. You can also use heartbeats per minute to measure intensity. Sports and conditioning coach Mike Robertson recommends keeping your BPM (beats per minute) between 120 and 150 for low-intensity exercise.


Some examples of LISS include going for a slow jog or a casual walk on flat terrain, riding a stationary bicycle at an easy pace of less than five miles per hour and at a low resistance, leisurely swimming and some forms of gentle yoga.

When you're doing LISS, you might break a light sweat, but not much more. Your breathing is fairly steady, and you can easily carry on a conversation with your friend on the neighboring treadmill.

However, keep in mind that intensity is relative. For a novice exerciser who's out of shape, a 30-minute walk could be a moderate- to high-intensity activity. For an athlete doing LISS on his rest day, a 45-minute jog might not take him out of the low-intensity cardio zone.

Why Is LISS So Popular?

LISS is nothing new; it just never had its own hashtag until now. In fact, in the '70s and '80s (way before Instagram and exercise selfies) steady-state cardio was all the rage. No one who wasn't an athlete was running sprints.

In some ways, the increasing popularity of LISS is a direct response to the emphasis on "all high-intensity, all the time" from the past two decades. People are slowing things down and becoming more mindful and gentle with their bodies. Plus, it's a lot less intimidating than jumping into a high-intensity boot camp class.

It's also a much more realistic approach to exercise for certain populations, such as beginners, people with injuries and those who aren't too crazy about working out in the first place — the same groups that have been shut out and turned off by the high-intensity craze.

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