What Is LISS Cardio and When Should I Do It?

Perhaps you’re looking for something to speed your recovery between intense workouts—something that will give you an exercise fix but not leave you drenched in sweat. Or maybe high intensity training isn’t on your radar, and you just want something that will put you on the fitness fast track without crushing your will to work out. Either way, low-intensity steady-state cardio — a.k.a LISS cardio — might be the perfect addition to your weekly exercise routine.

What is LISS cardio?

LISS stands for “low-intensity steady-state,” and it exists at the other side of the cardio spectrum from high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is the kind of max-effort workout that tests your endurance and taxes your strength and power.

“Low-intensity” means that it gets your blood pumping without having a significant impact on your breathing rate. With LISS, your heart rate won’t creep above 60 percent of your max. “Steady-state” means that it’s done at a continuous, unchanging pace. That means you’re not stopping and starting, or pushing really hard and then slowing down. LISS cardio can encompass a number of activities, including walking, jogging, and easy swimming and cycling.

How long should you do LISS cardio?

For an activity to be considered LISS, it generally needs to be sustained for at least 30 minutes. (HIIT, by contrast, alternates between short bursts of intense activity and rest periods, with the former typically lasting no more than two minutes.)

Is running LISS Cardio?

It can be! It all depends on the intensity of your run. You shouldn’t go above 60 percent of your max heart rate if you want a run to count as LISS cardio. If you can hold a conversation easily, then you’re exercising at the right intensity. But if you find yourself breathing heavily, then you need to slow down. In short, jogging is LISS. Doing hills, intervals, threshold runs, tempo training, and speed work is not.

LISS vs. HIIT

So what’s better: a gentle hike or a round of HIIT? “Whether you should focus on LISS or HITT really depends on your fitness level and where you are on your fitness journey,” says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., Openfit’s senior manager of fitness and nutrition content. If you’re new to exercising or have a lot of weight to lose, a high-intensity workout might be too challenging. LISS cardio offers a more approachable way to establish a workout routine, improve cardiovascular health, and build a strong fitness foundation.

“If you’re already in decent shape, however, LISS cardio shouldn’t be your primary form of exercise, because it won’t be challenging enough to trigger adaptations such as muscle growth, fat loss, and improved endurance,” says Thieme. “Once you become moderately fit, you’ll have to look to higher intensity training methods such HIIT to continue your transformation.”

The Benefits of LISS Cardio

People of different fitness levels can benefit from LISS cardio in different ways. “If you’re new to exercise, LISS cardio can be an effective way to start your fitness journey,” Thieme says, explaining that it can help ease you into exercise without putting you at risk of overtraining, which can delay your progress. “And if you’re already in shape, it works well as ‘active recovery‘ between intense workouts.”

Here’s why: When you challenge yourself during an intense workout—running intervals, lifting weights, etc.—you cause microscopic damage to your muscles. That damage triggers repair and adaptation (AKA recovery) processes that ultimately leave you stronger and fitter than you were before—if you don’t interfere with them by doing another intense workout before they’re complete. LISS cardio can facilitate your recovery and shorten the time required for it by boosting blood flow (and oxygen and nutrient delivery) to your muscles without stressing them further (i.e., causing more damage).

“The more quickly you can recover, the less time you’ll need between intense workouts, and the better you’ll perform during them,” says Thieme. “And that translates into becoming fitter, faster.”

The key is to keep LISS cardio low intensity. “If your breathing rate increases to the point where you can’t hold a conversation comfortably, slow down,” he says.

How to Incorporate LISS Cardio Into Your Training Plan

As previously mentioned, if you’re new to exercise, focusing on LISS cardio can help you build a strong fitness foundation. If you’ve been pounding the pavement or pumping iron for a while, though, do it between interval or strength training sessions to facilitate your recovery.

Thieme advises against doing strength training and LISS cardio back-to-back on the same day, mainly for practical reasons. “Most people have limited time to work out,” he says. “Devote those 30+ minutes it would take you to perform LISS cardio to challenging your strength and muscular endurance, and save LISS cardio for recovery days.”

Get Started with LISS

Low intensity doesn’t have to mean low energy. You can find dance workouts that will get the job done while you’re having a blast listening to your favorite music. Or, try making a weekly walking date to catch up with your best friend. Just find something that you enjoy!