What Are LISS Workouts & What Do They Do for Our Bodies?

by Natalie Kiser

You might have heard the term “LISS” and thought it was yet another new fitness trend that you needed to try. I know I did. While fitness influencers like Kayla Itsines have recently popularized the term, the fact is LISS, or Low Intensity Steady State, exercises have been around since, well, humans started walking. That’s because an example of a LISS workout is actually something as simple as walking.  

Young woman taking part in online

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“With LISS workouts you do a low intensity activity, like walking, at the same speed for a certain duration,” Adrienne Herrenbruck , PhD, a Certified Exercise Physiologist and personal trainer, tells SheKnows. “[Unlike HIIT] there aren’t intervals or increases in speed, but instead you tap into the physiological phenomenon known as ‘steady state’ meaning your body is able to meet the oxygen demands on your active tissues.”

Why should you incorporate LISS workouts in your exercise routine?

“LISS is a great way to increase overall energy expenditure in a way that is low impact and won’t negatively affect your strength training or gym workouts,”  Eric Bowling, a NASM-certified personal trainer at Ultimate Performance Los Angeles , tells SheKnows. “In fact, it can be a great tool for active recovery that can actually be beneficial.”

Bowling says LISS activities can increase your Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) — which is simply the energy used doing daily activities outside of structured exercise or gym work.

According to Bowling, NEAT is a huge part of the weight loss puzzle that many people overlook: “Your hour in the gym will only contribute so much to your daily energy expenditure, it’s what you do in the other 23 hours of your day which have a much bigger impact on your overall energy expenditure,” he says. “If you spend the majority of your day at a desk, in a car and then on the sofa watching Netflix when you get home, your energy expenditure is likely to be pretty low, and so it’s far easier to gain weight.”

  However, if you’re active, says Bowling, as in you walk to work, walk the dog when you get home, and are busy doing chores, getting groceries or playing with your children, your energy expenditure and calorie burn are likely to be far higher.

LISS workouts help make exercise less stress-inducing

According to Herrenbruck, LISS workouts are a great way to increase the amount of movement we get each day without increasing the amount of stress on our bodies. “Often times we only associate stress with things such as work, school, relationships, etc. However, exercise itself is a stressor,” she says. “So, in high-stress environments it does not benefit us to also have high stress exercise. Instead, balancing our stress with LISS movement can decrease our levels of cortisol and give us the benefits of movement without increased levels of stress.”  

Adds Bowling: “If you have multiple stressors such as a busy job, family, lack of sleep and strength training, extra intense stimulus like high-frequency HIIT can start to break you down and act against you.”

Bowling says workouts like HIIT performed more frequently than 1-2 times per week, and executed with the correct intensity, can be tough to recover from.

“So LISS is a great option for most people, particularly anyone who is maybe too out of shape to start with HIIT training initially,” he says.

The reliability and accessibility of LISS are reasons why Herrenbruck likes to implement LISS workouts in her clients’ routines.

“For most populations a combination of strength training and LISS is the healthiest and most effective method of scheduling workouts,” she says. “LISS has become more popular recently because people are beginning to see the negative side effects of too much stress from working out. HIIT was very popular over the past decade due to it’s ‘fat-burning’ ability, however many people over-work themselves with HIIT and are unable to stay consistent.”

Her top recommendations for LISS activities include: leisurely walking, easy hikes, biking around a neighborhood or doing indoor cycling, taking the dog for a walk, swimming laps, and rowing.  

With LISS, says Herrenbruck, activity can become very sustainable. “And,” she adds, “Consistency and long-term sustainability are the most important factors when it comes to developing a healthy lifestyle.

It’s a simple exercise method with multiple benefits

Who can resist going out for a gentle walk, bike ride or swim in the name of good health?

“LISS has multiple benefits, and it is not taxing on your body and is easy to recover from,” says Bowling. “It may even enhance your recovery in between weight training sessions, getting blood flow and improving nutrient delivery to damaged muscles.”

Another bonus? There is no limit to how much LISS you can do, as it’s so easy to recover from. “This means it’s a great tool to use for increasing your energy expenditure, particularly if weight loss is your goal,” says Bowling. “Then there’s just the simple benefit of getting outside in the sunlight and fresh air, which makes LISS great for stress relief and clearing your head if you have a busy life.  

Sounds like one workout we definitely want to add to our LIS-T.

A version of this story was published February 2020.

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