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Long Duration Cardio (LISS) vs High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

a woman decides between a hiit workout or a liss training session

There’s no question that High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been the “media darling” of exercise plans in recent years.

This isn’t just fluff being marketed heavily, there are plenty of trainers, athletes, and dieters who have jumped on board because of the outstanding benefits this exercise program ha provided.

That being said, HIIT supporters will still find a lot of fans of the more traditional Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) cardio.

This style has been a standard of gyms, trainers, and many others for decades and there’s a reason: it still works for many people.

Put up against each other, these two styles of exercise make for a really interesting comparison in part because they seem so polar opposite from one another.

This comparison is definitely going to fire up the brain. Both claim to be great for losing weight and especially for losing fat.

Both claim to improve aerobic health. Both are often recommended as a part of an improved and healthy lifestyle.

So can this be true that both workouts are outstanding, or does one clearly outshine the other?

Read on to learn more about each option, how they compare, how they contrast, and which one is the best option for your specific needs, whether fitness or weight loss.

What is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)?

a woman starts a hiit workout using ropes

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is all about getting a huge amount of effect from a small amount of time. How can you get the most out of a 30 minute workout?

How about 10 minutes?

This is where HIIT comes into play, with some well regarded exercise cycles like the famous Tabata Method take a mere 4 minutes. If that seems like an amazing deal, it is, especially for people who chafe at the idea of working out several hours a day.

But that doesn’t mean it is easier.

HIIT is just like it sounds like: a set time of exercise that pairs an interval of all out 100% effort paired with a short time of rest or really low effort.

The idea is to slam the heart rate all the up to 80% or even 95% of your maximum heartbeat while really pushing the muscles, then letting yourself get back down to around 40% or 50% of maximum before you go all out once again.

This continues either for a set amount of time or a pre-determined set of “reps” or cycles.

This can apply to almost any exercise that allows a sprint/relaxed pace cycle.

Running, cycling, exercise bikes, weight lifting reps, even push ups or speed skating. Whatever the type of exercise or the goal, no HIIT workout ever goes longer than 30 minutes and most are 10 minutes or less.

The effects of these incredibly intense workouts last well beyond the actual exercise time which is part of the reason that HIIT has proven so effective for so many individuals.

Example HIIT Workouts

  • Tabata method, 20 seconds of doing as many push ups as possible followed by 10 seconds of rest, cycle for 4 minutes
  • Sprinting for 30 seconds, walking slowly for 30 seconds, then repeating the cycle
  • Any exercise program with 30 seconds of max speed/resistance followed by 1:30 of low level cycling against minimum resistance
  • If you want to use equipment, then the Bowflex HVT (learn more) is our preferred option for HIIT workouts.

Many people have actually done various HIIT workouts at one time or another without even realizing it.

So why do so many people love HIIT?

The first is time savings. When workouts are only 4 minutes or 10 minutes, there’s really no excuse for skipping a workout and it is done fast.

The fact that burst of heavy duty effort burns boatloads of calories is just bonus at that point.

Tests have shown this boosts both aerobic & anaerobic health, and helps boost a person’s metabolism for up to 24 hours meaning the calories just keep on burning long after the exercise is over.

What is Low Intensity Stead State Cardio (LISS)?

LISS workouts are a lot more traditional in many ways, and yet they still have been firmed up by some recent studies on how exercise and fat loss works.

These don’t stress and strain the body the way that HIIT workouts can and are meant to be longer workouts done at a steady pace that keeps the heart rate in that prime 50% to 60% maximum where the body burns more fat for fuel than anything else.

Think of LISS like a long steady run on the exercise bike or a 45 minute jog at the same steady pace the entire time.

You’re not expected to really push yourself.

This is about the long term stability that keeps you in the fat burning zone and helps build aerobic energy over a long time.

There’s no denying that a good LISS workout burns calories over a longer period of time, helps people get healthier, and is a solid option for getting in better shape while cutting the fat out of the abdomen.

LISS burns a lot of calories, takes most of those calories from fat, increases your aerobic health, and there is a reduced risk of injury.

LISS can obviously be done outdoors, but if you need an indoor option, a treadmill or TreadClimber (read our review) can both be great options.

While high intensity exercises have their benefits there are also plenty of risks that go along with that, as well.

You shouldn’t over-exert yourself on a LISS program.

How Do LISS and HIIT Workouts Compare?

a woman does a hiit kettlebell workout

While HIIT & LISS are quite different types of exercise programs, the two do share some similarities. Both improve your aerobic fitness level and lead to a healthier heart.

Both help with controlling blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, and even your resting blood pressure.

Both are good at cutting out fat while helping to preserve your existing muscle which is crucial to avoid accidentally bombing your metabolism.

However, that’s where the similarities end.

First off there is a huge intensity difference between HIIT & LISS. HIIT means going all out and really pushing the limits over and over again even if it is for a short time frame.

This is ideal for people who don’t mind that “sprint” for short periods of time but have trouble committing to an hour daily.

On the other side of things LISS is all about that slow steady solution that doesn’t force an uncomfortable level of effort but allows a long steady commitment. Time is a huge differentiating factor between these two.

HIIT burns far more calories per minute than LISS, though since LISS workouts are longer is possible for those to burn more total calories during the workout.

That being said, the “after burn” of LISS wears off rather quickly, generally with most of that effect gone after a couple hours.

This is where HIIT really shines with noticeable and substantial higher metabolism for up to 24 hours after the fact.

The early studies seem to indicate that when the after burn from a workout and the improved metabolism is figured in, HIIT ends up burning more calories and more fat in the long run.

On top of that, HIIT is much better for strength gain because of the high demand the exercise puts on the body during “burst” moments.

liss training

Most trainers will agree some form of LISS is far better for morbidly obese or terribly out of shape individuals who need to ease back into exercise. While high intensity workouts have a lot of benefits they also demand a certain level of fitness beforehand.

Conclusion

Both of these workout plans have their benefits. Both can help with weight loss, both can help get you into shape, both help you get healthier.

Some exercise is always better than none.

That said, for those in good enough shape to try it, there’s a lot to like about HIIT benefits and it’s hard to see that trend of them rising against LISS reversing anytime soon.

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