The Trendy Workout That's Easy, But Still Good For You

Photographed by Winnie Au.
If you're um, well, kinda lazy, you've maybe been turned off by the ever-growing popularity of HIIT, or high-intensity interval workouts (think CrossFit and treadmill sprints for days). And for all of the buckets of sweat HIIT yields, it’s no surprise there’s been a backlash: It’s all too easy to feel guilty about not working out at 10,000% all the time. Because everyone gets lazy sometimes.

Recently, a gentler type of workout with its very own acronym — LISS — has gained steam. It provides an effective, kinder alternative to those back-breaking routines. LISS, which stands for “low-intensity, steady state,” was once only used by bodybuilders as a way to supplement their harder workouts with cardio, but it's since become trendy again among certain trainers.

So, what exactly is it? “LISS is basically a type of cardio workout that’s done at a relaxed, cruising pace,” says Phoenyx Austin, MD and certified sports medicine specialist based in Washington, D.C. “Think walking, cycling, swimming, and even slowly jumping rope,” she says, “with the overall number-one criteria being that you keep the intensity low.”

Yes, you read that right: The number-one thing to keep in mind is to take it easy. The even better news? If you do your slow-and-steady sessions right, you really can reap a slew of health benefits. Here’s everything you need to know about getting the most out of your easy workouts.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Where To Start
LISS workouts need to be low-intensity, but finding that sweet spot between too easy and just easy enough can be confusing at first. The official recommendation is to keep your heart rate between 50 and 70% of your personal maximum. You can achieve this by simply listening to your body while you're walking or biking: You should be working up a sweat but still able to hold a conversation.

If you want to figure it out exactly, you can calculate your target heart rate with an online calculator. The key is to keep the same pace throughout, and you can make sure you're doing that by using a heart rate monitor (some sync to your phone or fitness tracker, or you can use the less-precise monitors built into the cardio machines at the gym).
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
How To Design Your LISS Routine
Because LISS is basically a framework for cardio, there are so many types of movements that fit the bill: walking, hiking, jogging, swimming, getting on the elliptical machine — anything that will get your heart pumping, but not completely racing.

When it comes to determining the frequency of your LISS workouts, look to current government guidelines. “According to the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association, adults need a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, and LISS workouts are great for helping you achieve this goal,” explains Kaitlyn Bishop, C.S.C.S., a personal trainer at Find Your Trainer.
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Photographed by Winnie Au.
How LISS Gets You Fit
LISS workouts are excellent for basically all the same reasons as more intense cardio regimens: They help lift your mood, boost your energy, and reduce your risk of larger health issues, such as heart disease and diabetes, notes Dr. Austin. One small study from the University of Georgia found that low-intensity exercises reduced fatigue symptoms in healthy (but tired) adults by more than 65%; even walking just two minutes more per day has been found to offset the common health hazards associated with desk-jockeying all day.

On top of that, there are some benefits to LISS that are even stronger than what you'd get from higher-intensity workouts. For example, a February 2013 study published in the journal PLoS One found that merely walking for an hour improved insulin sensitivity and blood lipid levels more than intense exercise for the same duration did.

Especially if you’re new to the cardio game, you’ll find that LISS increases your endurance, says Dr. Austin. “At the end of the day, LISS is simply a form of cardio, and the overall effect of doing cardio regularly is that it will help strengthen our hearts and lungs, which are key for building stamina and endurance,” Dr. Austin says.

You also don't have to just do LISS. If intense exercise is something you like to do, you can sprinkle a couple of LISS sessions into your routine to help you recover from those hardcore workouts — they'll help your muscles rebuild and repair, Bishop says. Or do a little LISS right after a harder training session to cool down and help muscles recover.
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Photographed by Danny Kim.
What LISS Won’t Do
Yes, the lazy-girl workout does have limitations.

The biggest one: It's only cardio. So while that's really awesome for your health, it won't do much for your muscular strength. And the fact that HIIT-style workouts often use strength-building movements such as squat jumps and wall balls to get your heart pumping means you can kill two birds with one stone in a way that doesn't really happen with LISS. (That said, if you’re just starting exercise for the first time or taking on a new-to-you activity, like biking when you normally stick to walking, you will likely develop some newfound tone in the previously-underused muscles associated with your chosen workout, Bishop notes.)

Another caveat is that LISS likely won’t help improve your endurance beyond the duration you’re training for, notes Bishop, because if you never increase the intensity — even just a little bit — you’ll stop gaining any additional cardio capacity.

Bottom line: While LISS is great for building endurance and getting your heart pumping, it should really just be one part of your routine, notes Dr. Austin. “If you’re looking to build a complete workout regimen that will help you get a body that’s fit, strong, and just awesome, I would recommend pairing LISS workouts with a mix of strength training, too," she says.

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