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HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) vs. LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) Cardio

When it comes to cardio, whether you love it or hate it, you know it’s a must-do. No matter how many weights you lift or yoga classes you take, you have to work on your cardiovascular conditioning and strengthening your heart, and that means doing cardio. While it’s easy to think about working muscles such as the legs and shoulders, and the more aesthetic ones such as arms and abs, our heart is a muscle too and needs to be conditioned just as our other muscles do.

Finding time to do a cardio session on a regular basis can prove to be difficult, as life tends to throw a million different things in our direction at once. You may feel lucky enough just to be able to hit the weights for a solid half hour or so, and can’t figure out how you’ll find the time to jump on a cardio machine and get in a workout there as well. When people think of the word cardio, they often picture themselves running/walking for an extended period of time on a treadmill or hanging out on the elliptical for a half hour- not the most exciting thing. But did you know that there’s a way to not only get your cardio workout in but save time and burn mega calories too?

The long, drawn out cardio sessions referred to above are called low-intensity steady-state cardio (LISS). LISS is a more common type of cardio in which your heart rate never really exceeds 65% of your max. As its name suggests, LISS doesn’t include intense cardio sessions, so instead of a fast run or sprint, picture more of a decent paced cycle on a stationary bike or a fast walk/slow jog lasting for anywhere from a half hour to a full hour. LISS may burn more calories because you exercise longer, but the rate of calories burned per minute is not all that great.

On the flip side you have high-intensity interval training, also referred to as HIIT. HIIT includes things such as full-out sprints, where your heart rate is at its max (or near max). HIIT training is considered anaerobic, which means it takes place in the absence of oxygen. Picture yourself doing a sprint- breathing is nearly impossible for the duration of the sprint. On the other hand, when jogging on a treadmill, you can have a conversation and breathe fairly normally. Fast-twitch fibers are activated during anaerobic exercise, whereas slow-twitch fibers (which grow slower) are activated during LISS. Working your fast-twitch fibers leaves you with the ability to build muscle more, versus only working slow-twitch fibers.

Have you ever seen the famed internet picture of the marathon runner versus sprinter body? This is a prime example of how two different forms of cardio (sprinting- HIIT and long distance running- LISS) produce such different results. (For copyright sake, I’ve used two different photos here, the first showing a muscular sprinter, the second showing a scrawny long-distance runner.)

Photo Source

Photo Source

If you’re looking to take your body to the next level and save time, HIIT is undoubtedly your best option. It will help develop muscle (especially lower body) and also work on your cardiac conditioning. However, you can still practice a cardio routine that incorporates both HIIT and LISS. There really is no right or wrong way, there’s just what works best for you. Our bodies are used to LISS-type exercises, as walking is a normal motion and our bodies don’t necessarily react to a stroll on the treadmill in the same fashion as a full-blown sprint. So doing HIIT will really shock your body and give it that push to take it to the next level.

No matter what type of cardio you choose, remember the importance of it as part of a healthy lifestyle and workout routine. As we get older, the more we keep moving, the longer we’ll move. Invest in your health and your future.

If you’d like to learn more about HIIT, one popular source is PACE, by Al Sears, M.D.

PACE: The 12-Minute Fitness Revolution
Learn how to work out in a most efficient way, by using principles of high intensity interval training. Dr. Al Sears, M.D., provides his unique approach to getting more done in less time.

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