Sometimes it seems that all we hear about is the magic of HITT — high-intensity interval training. This protocol alternates short periods of intense exercise with longer periods of moderate activity with a goal of reaching up to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate during the intensive times. While proponents promise quick results, the concept can be daunting for anyone who is just starting a workout program, recovering from an injury or surgery or packing a little more weight than ideal.
So let’s talk about LISS: Low-intensity steady state.
LISS involves extended periods of exercise done at 50 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. Sports medicine specialist and physical therapist Kevin McGuinness, who practices at Washington (D.C.) Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, said this typically includes activities such as walking, swimming or even jogging or biking at an easy pace.
“LISS is any activity that gets your heart rate up just a little bit and for a longer period of time,” McGuinness said. By longer he means 30 to 45 minutes, he said.
Assuming your physician has approved your fitness plan, here’s how to practice LISS exercise. Calculate your maximum heart rate (MHR) by subtracting your age from 220. For example, if you are 49, your MHR would be 171 beats per minute (bpm). To stay within the 50 to 60 percent range, you would want to keep between 85 and 115 bpm.
LISS is a great option for first-time exercisers, McGuinness said, especially those who might be intimidated or limited in their ability to engage in higher-intensity exercise.
“Low-intensity exercise is a much friendlier, easier-to-try version of cardiovascular exercise for the uninitiated,” he said.
It also can be the answer for people recovering from an injury or surgery. When Liza Himmelman of Chevy Chase, Md., was told that following a surgical procedure she would need to take at least two weeks off from her exercise regimen — four days of weightlifting and a once-a-week spinning class — she was worried about her fitness level plummeting.
“At my age, I can’t take two weeks off,” the 49-year-old said.
Her trainer talked up the benefits of LISS. He created a lifting plan that involved lifting lighter weights, lifting them more slowly and taking more time between sets.
McGuinness said LISS has a place in the exercise program of nearly everyone, including higher-level athletes, who use it as a “recovery day,” to tone down the intensity to take pressure off the muscles and joints but still want to keep moving to make sure they don’t stiffen up.
As he put it, “There’s value in staying at a good place where you can comfortably exercise and maintain your body composition and not hurt yourself.”