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  • Writer's pictureLisa Magnuson

Ways to Build Endurance- Part 2: LISS

If you have never seen the acronym LISS before you may not be alone. LISS is the ugly stepsister to the ever popular HIIT but that doesn't mean it isn't important. In fact, some argue that LISS is actually MORE important than HIIT for several reasons.

First- what does LISS stand for- low intensity steady state (cardio). This is the type of work Myles is constantly berating you to do on your days in-between training sessions to help boost your recovery. LISS type activities include slow biking, hiking, jog/walking, easy lap swimming and other similar exercises. When doing LISS you can carry on a conversation (barely) and need to do it for 30-60 minutes to glean the benefits of the work. Volume becomes a driving factor in how well LISS will work for you- so you need to accumulate some time in this zone.

If you like using heart rate zones to guide your effort level (we highly recommend this approach) then LISS activities will fall within the 70%-80% of your max heart rate zone for the majority of the work. To put this into real life numbers for you visual learners, let's say your max heart rate is 180 (and let's pretend you actually did a max heart rate test to determine this is in fact your max heart rate and not some number arrived upon by using a formula). 70%-80% of 180 is the range 126-144. This is slow, easy (albeit sometimes boring) work but it's not hard. It is harder than going for a walk around the neighborhood however. When walking your heart rate will most likely not get into this zone unless you are walking uphill the whole time or rucking with weight, so you do have put more effort in than just a daily walk.

Here are some recommendations of activities that will achieve this goal:

  • Airdyne bike for 30-45 min keeping RPM's steady and heart rate in this zone.

  • Jog/walk keeping an eye on your heart rate or perceived exertion and slowing to a fast walk when you feel your HR get too high.

  • Moving through several cardio options in the gym. For example- 10 min on the rower, 10 min on the treadmill, 10 min on the bike- all keeping it slow and low.

  • Setting up a circuit with weights and/or bodyweight and spending a few minutes at each station always watching your heart rate and choosing activities that won't skyrocket your HR. For example, farmer carries, bodyweight squats, plank hold, light rows, light RDL's, etc (no jumping, sprinting or heavy loads).

Now that you know what to do and how to do it, let's take a moment to explore why you should do it. LISS will build your foundation for everything you do. If you were just beginning your exercise journey and you jumped right into HIIT, that would not serve you well and you could very easily get injured. You need this low level work to develop some volume and your work capacity to be able to support everything else you do. As I mentioned above, LISS also promotes recovery while building this base.

When considering how to allocate your time between HIIT and LISS I'll give you a few tips. HIIT is only for those who have developed a base, so you don't get to do HIIT until you have done several weeks/months of LISS work. Then, once you have that base in place, you continue to spend 2/3 of your time in LISS, and the other 1/3 of your time in HIIT or even the moderate high intensity level that most of us spend WAY too much time in- that 80-90% of our max heart rate. To refresh your memory, moderate high intensity is the workout that kicks your butt but doesn't really do a whole lot for you- we discussed this in the blog post about HIIT.

The best way to gauge you have your balance right is to assess how you feel at the end of your workouts. If you feel like you are beat up and exhausted most of the time, you are doing too much in the moderate high intensity zone and not nearly enough in LISS. Most of the time you leave the gym or finish a workout you should feel revitalized, maybe a little tired but generally you have more energy. Occasionally you will have a tough strength day that wipes you out, but if you are always feeling beat up, you have to make a change. This is about sustainability and you have to promote recovery to continue to push results- so feeling trashed is not your goal 100% of the time. Yes, you will and should have days that you feel like you got your butt whooped, but hopefully those are your HIIT days and they are usually over quickly. And following those days, you need to do LISS to help promote recovery so your body can continue to adapt and change driving the results you are working towards.

Find a good podcast, audiobook, or playlist and start putting in some quality time in the LISS zone to build your work capacity and promote recovery. Your body will thank you.

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