Right now HIIT (High Intensity Interval Traning) is more popular for fat loss than LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) cardio.
LISS was used for decades…
Then HIIT really caught on in the late 90s.
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HIIT isn’t a bad way to get lean, but in my opinion, LISS has a place in every routine as well.
In the battle of LISS vs HIIT, what type of cardio comes out on top?
I should probably do an overview of both types of cardio.
There are a gazillion articles covering HIIT and the benefits of HIIT.
So let’s start with LISS.
What is LISS Cardio?
Liss cardio stands for Low Intensity Steady State Cardio.
This typically involves walking on a treadmill at a slow rate for an extended period of time.
You can also hop on any other cardio machine and train at “walking level” intensity.
For instance, an exercise bike is fine for LISS.
The way low intensity cardio works is that it burns fat for fuel.
As you increase intensity you begin burning glycogen in the muscles along with stored body fat. The common advice is to stick to a lower intensity level, but I actually recommend walking at a decently fast pace.
I’ll discuss why I believe this is a more effective approach in a bit.
First, let’s cover HIIT.
What is HIIT cardio?
HIIT stands for high intensity interval training.
This is simply a high intensity effort alternated with a rest or recovery period.
An example would be HIIT sprints at a track.
HIIT cardio can be performed on cardio machines, your body weight, and even weights.
I prefer HIIT cardio on a cardio machine since it gives me the ability to finely tweak the intensity in a way that is tough to duplicate with weights.
HIIT cardio is often recommended due to the afterburn effect (burning calories long after the workout is finished.
The problem is that the afterburn effect is MUCH less than previously believed.
I have a comprehensive article about this here: Is the Afterburn Effect a Myth?
HIIT is still an effective tool for fat loss.
The intense portion burns calories at a rapid pace.
A typical HIIT workout burns a lot more calories per minute than a LISS cardio workout.
Let’s talk about the benefits of LISS vs HIIT.
The benefits of LISS cardio.
Why wouldn’t you want to only do HIIT if HIIT burns more calories in the same amount of time as LISS.
Well HIIT is also more demanding on your body.
If you push it too hard it is possible to lose muscle and get in an overtrained state.
It can’t be performed too often or for long periods of time.
Low intensity steady state cardio (LISS) does per fewer calories per minute than HIIT, but it can be performed for a much longer period of time.
Slow steady cardio like walking is extremely effective when it comes to getting lean.
It is also healthy.
Studies show that walking reduces inflammation and improves health more than if you only perform intense exercise.
When it comes to comparing LISS vs HIIT, LISS involves more of a time commitment than HIIT.
Back in the 1980s, bodybuilders would get shredded by walking up to 2 hours per day before a competition.
The reason I don’t recommend just performing LISS cardio for fat loss is that it does take quite a bit of time.
The benefits of HIIT cardio.
As I mentioned before HIIT burns calories at a fast rate.
This helps contribute to a daily calorie deficit, which is really the basic way we lose body fat and get lean.
The benefits go beyond just calorie burn.
Here is a list of HIIT benefits.
Releases Free Fatty Acids from Fat Cells: Intervals release fat from the fat cells, but aren’t ideal for using fat for fuel. Low intensity cardio is the opposite, great at burning up the fatty acids.
Depletes Muscle Glycogen: Intense exercise (like intervals) use muscle glycogen for fuel. It makes sense to be depleted (some of the time) to lose body fat.
Improves VO2 Max: Intervals, done properly, are the fastest way to improve VO2 max (aerobic capacity). People with a higher VO2 max burn more body fat, even when doing low intensity activity, than people with lower levels.
Increases Lactate Threshold: Lactate threshold is the point where lactic acid is pouring in faster than it can be removed by the blood. By increasing this threshold, you can train with more intensity for longer periods of time.
Improves Your Cardiovascular System: During the relief periods of intervals, your heartbeat slows down faster than blood flow. The heart pumps more blood per beat. This improves the stroke volume of your heart.
Increases HGH Release: HGH blunts the effects or cortisol. Cortisol causes fat gain and muscle breakdown, so slowing down these effects is a good thing.
So although the afterburn effect is less than we have been led to believe…
HIIT cardio is an effective tool for getting fit and lean.
Here’s a video which compares LISS vs HIIT when it comes to fat loss.
He points out in the video that the calories burned after HIIT are typically higher than LISS.
…and that EPOC (the afterburn effect) really doesn’t contribute much to fat loss.
He also points out that HIIT is more time efficient and that is its biggest strength.
One additional benefit of HIIT is that it releases fat from the fat cells.
I actually recommend HIIT to release fat from fat cells and LISS to use these fats for fuel.
Here’s a diagram from my cardio course:
This combo has been shown to lose fat more efficiently than HIIT or LISS on their own.
To master cardio for fat loss, check out my advanced cardio course:
One thing I recommend when doing LISS cardio is to go a tad bit harder than most trainers recommend.
Here’s a better way to perform LISS cardio for fat loss.
What is typically suggested for low intensity steady state cardio is to walk at a slow pace to where you aren’t breathing hard at all.
Low level cardio like this burns a higher percentage of calories compared to performing LISS at a slightly higher intensity.
But here’s the deal…
Doing LISS with a bit more intensity burns just as much fat, but more overall calories. Walking at a faster pace is better if you want to get lean.
Here’s the trick.
You want it to be an intensity that is just below the Lactate threshold.
If you don’t know what training below Lactate Threshold means, that is fine. You are simply performing cardio at a level JUST BELOW the point where you feel the burn.
If you push to where you feel a burn you risk overtraining.
So train in the sweet spot of increased calorie burn without taxing the body too much.
Instead of thinking LISS vs HIIT, I recommend a bit of both.
Add in enough HIIT to experience the benefits.
…then supplement with LISS
This will help you get lean without feeling exhausted.
It will also give you the full spectrum of fitness compared to simply choosing one type of cardio workout.
As a former fitness coach to fashion models, I can teach you how to increase muscle definition without adding size.
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