When you ask which is better for dropping body fat and retaining muscle mass, either Low Impact Steady State (LISS) or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), one problem is that you set up a dichotomy, as if there are only two choices and only one is best.
Intensity is not a switch you set either on high or low – it’s more like a dial. Cardio can be prescribed through a range of intensities and durations. Here’s the quick and simple answer: Want more fat loss? Push yourself. Turn up the intensity dial regardless of the type or mode. High intensity cardio that burns more calories will produce more fat loss, period.
The longer answer is, it depends on each individual’s needs and on the type, intensity, frequency and duration variables you are comparing. HIIT usually wins for effectiveness, and always for efficiency. But that depends on what you mean by LISS or HIIT. By LISS, do you mean a one hour walk? A ten mile run? Or 45 minutes nonstop at the highest level you can sustain? I’ve heard all of those called LISS. By HIIT, do you mean one four-minute tabata series, eight 30-second sprints, or ten rounds of 60 second intervals? I’ve heard all those called HIIT.
Most people only associate steady state with low intensity. But what if you do approximately 30-45 minutes steady at the highest intensity you can tolerate? This is called highest intensity steady state (HISS) cardio. HISS cardio acknowledges that there’s an intensity dial and that the total amount of calories burned is a product of intensity times duration. Some will find HISS incredibly effective – light years ahead of LISS and equally or more effective than brief HIIT workouts (although it requires more time).
Lowering intensity hoping to get into the mythical “fat burning zone” is misguided. That will burn less calories! To maximise fat loss, do the opposite: However much time you have – four minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes – the more intensely you work in that time, the more calories you’ll burn and the more body fat you’ll lose.
There are many factors that determine which one to use such as time/duration, intensity level you can handle or tolerate, your specific goal, and even your personal preference. Here is a quick guide on which may work best for you.
LISS – Low Intensity Steady State
Pros: Can contribute nicely to weight loss and maintenance over time. Easier adaptation for overweight and/or unfit
Cons: Longer duration of time to complete the workout.
Duration: 40- 60 minutes, 2-4 days per week
HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training (a.k.a. SIT – Sprint Interval Training)
Pros: Time efficient, burns calories/fat effectively while maintaining muscle mass.
Cons: May be too intense for overweight and/or unfit individuals. Need to acclimate first.
Duration: 4-20 minutes done in intervals (work/recovery ratios, or fast/slow bouts), 3 days per week.
HISS – High Intensity Steady State
Pros: Burns calories/fat as effective as HIIT and uses slightly less intensity effort.
Cons: Takes longer duration than HIIT, but less time than LISS. Also more intense than LISS.
Duration: 30-45 minutes steady at the highest intensity you can tolerate, 2-4 days per week.
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