If HIIT is too intense, try Liss, the low-intensity option for beginners, the injured and the overweight
High-intensity interval training promises fast results, but isn’t suitable for everyone. The alternative is Liss (once known as cardio), which is a low intensity, more sustainable workout that is perfect for beginners
Sometimes it seems that all we hear about is the magic of HIIT – high intensity interval training. This protocol alternates short periods of intense exercise with longer periods of moderate recovery (eg sprinting 30 seconds, then walking or jogging at an easy pace for one minute, and repeating for about 20 minutes total) and promises results in a short time.
However, the concept can be daunting for anyone who is just starting a workout programme, recovering from an injury or surgery, or packing a little more weight than is ideal.
So I’m here to preach the gospel of Liss: low intensity steady state.
Liss exercise is any repetitive motion for 30 to 45 minutes at 50 to 60 per cent of your maximum heart rate (MHR), according to sports medicine specialist and physical therapist Kevin McGuinness, who works at Washington Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. This typically refers to such activities as walking, swimming, or jogging or biking at an easy pace.
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“Liss is any activity that gets your heart rate up a little bit and for a longer period of time,” McGuinness says. If it sounds familiar, that’s not surprising: before the recent popularity of HIIT, low intensity exercise was called cardio.
In addition to improving your mood and cognition and helping you control your blood sugar, he says, “Liss is one of the best ways to maintain a level of fitness.”
Assuming your doctor has approved your fitness plan, here’s how to practise Liss exercise. Calculate your maximum heart rate (MHR) by subtracting your age from 220. For example, if you are 49 years old, your MHR would be about 171 beats per minute. To stay within the 50 to 60 per cent range, you would need to keep your MHR between 85 and 115bpm.
There are plenty of devices that help you monitor your heart rate, but you can also do this by taking your pulse and counting the beats for 60 seconds (or for 15 seconds and multiplying by four).
Another method is to see if you can hold your end of a conversation comfortably. If you can, you’re working within the optimal range for Liss.
Liss is a great option for first-time exercisers, says McGuinness, especially those who might be intimidated or limited in their ability to engage in higher intensity exercise.
“Whether it’s a more approachable form of exercise or whether their weight makes that type of exercise too painful to complete on a regular basis, low intensity exercise is a much friendlier version of cardiovascular exercise,” he says.
Because it is associated with fewer injuries, Liss is particularly appropriate for people recovering from an injury affecting a weight bearing part of the body, such as the ankle, knee or hip.
“Getting your heart rate up again and reintroducing some of the benefits of exercise without the potential pitfalls and risks that come with higher intensity exercise make Liss an ideal option for people recovering from injuries,” he says.
It can also be the answer for people recovering from an operation. When her oral surgeon told Liza Himmelman of Chevy Chase, Maryland, she would need to stop exercising for at least two weeks after an upcoming operation, she panicked.
She didn’t want to give her fitness routine: heavy weightlifting two days a week with a trainer; lighter, self-guided weightlifting two other days; and a weekly spinning class.
“I want to maintain my health, which took me six months to get,” the 49-year-old says. “At my age, I can’t take two weeks off.”
I haven’t been able to run since March 11, when I developed plantar fasciitis during a half-marathon. It can take weeks or months to heal and sufferers can’t run during rehabilitation. I worried that, in addition to losing my level of fitness, I would put on weight.
Our trainer created different workouts for us. For me, he designed Liss walking workouts. For Liza, he created a lifting plan that wouldn’t unduly raise her heart rate. This approach involved lifting lighter weights, lifting more slowly and taking more time between sets.
Liss isn’t helpful for only neophyte and recovering fitness buffs. It has a place in nearly everyone’s exercise programme, including higher-level athletes, who may use a Liss day, or “recovery day,” to tone down the mileage and intensity to take pressure off joints, while still moving so as not to stiffen up.
Varying the level of intensity in any exercise programme can help you avoid burnout and offer adequate time to recover while still being active, says McGuinness. But in Liss, as in any exercise programme, it’s also important to vary the stimuli.
One of the physiological adaptations of exercise is that the body becomes more energy efficient and may not burn as many calories doing the same volume of exercise after the body has adapted.
“If you go for a one-hour walk five days a week and always on flat ground and never change the pace, eventually that exercise is going to be less useful,” says McGuinness.
He recommends changing that one hour of walking to 40 minutes of easy bicycle riding. Or you could change the distance or the intensity by varying it within the confines of Liss. In my case, that includes walking the hills in my neighbourhood until I can run again.
As McGuinness puts it, “There’s value in staying at a good place where you can comfortably exercise and maintain your body composition and not hurt yourself.”
Walker is a wellness blogger and author of Getting My Bounce Back: How I Got Fit, Healthier, and Happier (And You Can, Too).