Low-Intensity Cardio Training: What Is It & How Does It Work?
We’ve all heard about HIIT and the benefits it offers: a high-intensity, fast and calorie-burning workout. It’s extremely popular with good reason, but what about low-intensity cardio training?
A common misconception is that exercise has to be intense in order to be effective, but that isn’t correct. Case in point: low-intensity cardio training.
Low intensity cardio is a part of all of the SWEAT programs, it’s easy to complete and within most people's comfort zones
What is low-intensity cardio training?
Low-intensity cardio training is when you workout at approximately 50–70 percent of your maximum heart rate for a steady and sustained period.
Typically, a low-intensity cardio workout lasts 10–60 minutes.
Low-intensity cardio training is relatively low impact, while providing all the cardiovascular benefits of exercise without over-taxing your body.
Low-intensity cardio training can be utilised for warming up before and cooling down after resistance-training sessions. In addition, this style of training is well-suited to fasted cardio. It can also assist active recovery as it helps to improve blood flow and circulation to your working muscles.
You should be able to hold a conversation while completing a low-intensity cardio workout (making it the perfect social exercise!).
How do you calculate your maximum heart rate?
To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, if you're 25 years old, subtract 25 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 195. This is the average number of times your heart should beat per minute during max effort exercise.
If your maximum heart rate is 195, then for a low-intensity workout, you’ll be maintaining a heart rate of between 78 (40% of maximum heart rate) and 136 (70% of maximum) throughout the session to stay in the range of a suitable heart rate for LISS.
Learn more: How To Train With Heart Rate Zones
What isn’t low-intensity cardio training?
Low-intensity cardio training isn’t a race to get your heart rate up as high and fast as possible. It’s also not short bursts of intense workouts.
Unlike a HIIT workout where you’re alternating between high-intensity and low-intensity exercise or between high-intensity exercise and a short period of rest, low-intensity cardio training is a consistent and steady workout.
Even though you're training at a lower intensity, this style of cardio can still be challenging (depending on what activity you complete), but not to the extent that you’re pushing yourself to your absolute limit during your workout.
How does low-intensity cardio training work?
Low-intensity cardio builds your aerobic capacity. In turn, your body is able to break down carbs and fats into energy, strengthen your slow-twitch muscles and transport oxygen more effectively to your working muscles.
Your ability to store glycogen (carbs in the liver and muscles) increases which means your aerobic capacity increases. In addition to this, once your glycogen stores have depleted, your body is more efficient at metabolising fat for fuel.
Examples of low-intensity cardio training
There are so many forms of low-intensity cardio workouts to try!
Not only are they well suited to doing with a friend or partner, they’re also relatively low in cost, which makes them accessible and wallet-friendly.
If you do all your workouts in a gym (and want to stick with what works), try:
- Going for a long walk on a treadmill or stair-stepper machine
- Pedaling on a bike
- Hitting up the rowing machine
- Swimming laps of the pool
Alternatively, if you enjoy heading outdoors and getting some vitamin D:
- Go for a walk
- Hit the pavement with a light jog
- Swim some laps
- Try your hand at cycling
As tempting as it may be, don’t get your heart rate up too high when completing a low-intensity cardio training session.
The aim of the game with low-intensity cardio training is to train with a consistent intensity over a long period of time or during the whole duration of the workout, as opposed to going hard in some parts.
Benefits of low-intensity cardio training
Don’t underestimate the benefits that low-intensity cardio training offers — there are many!
A low-intensity cardio workout will strengthen your heart, lungs, muscles and bones. Everything that you’d expect of a tough session.
But a side benefit is that it will also help calm the nervous system and relax you, so you’re ready for a great night’s sleep after your workout.
Low-intensity cardio training works to:
- Improve blood circulation and increase blood flow
- Build cardiovascular endurance
- Build muscle endurance
- Lessen fatigue
- Burn fat
- Place less strain on your joints, ligaments and tendons — and therefore reduce the risk of injury
Who is low-intensity cardio training good for?
Low-intensity cardio training doesn’t discriminate — it’s suitable for everyone regardless of which stage of your fitness journey you find yourself at.
If you need to go easy on your body, perhaps due to fatigue or injury, low-intensity cardio training could be a great go-to. Swap your HIIT for a swim! This type of low-intensity cardio workout doesn’t place an enormous strain on your body, so it’s ideal for those who are looking for active recovery.
Finally, if you normally train at a high level of intensity, adding a low-intensity cardio training session to the mix can also be especially good for you, to complement an otherwise intense fitness routine.
Who isn’t low-intensity cardio training good for?
If you’re time-poor, perhaps the amount of time that a low-intensity cardio training session requires isn’t viable for you.
If you have little time to workout, perhaps a HIIT workout will better align with your schedule and allow you to reach your fitness goals.
Remember, everyone’s fitness routines and journeys look different! The most important thing is to find a form of exercise that fits in best with your lifestyle — and schedule.
How often should you do low-intensity cardio training?
The ultimate goal is to have a well-rounded fitness routine, and this will look different for each person.
You can actually complete low-intensity cardio training every day if you like! However, this could be supplemented with 2–4 HIIT workouts during the week, too, if that’s in line with your fitness goals.
Schedules can be packed and life happens — just do the best you can. If you have an off week, start fresh the following one. Don’t beat yourself up!
What’s stopping you?
Low-intensity cardio training is easy and yet has so many benefits!
With so many types of low-intensity cardio training available, why not give it a go?
Better yet, make your workout more social by grabbing a friend to workout with. Remember, you should be able to talk comfortably while doing a low-intensity routine.
Do you love low-intensity cardio training? What’s your favourite exercise? Comment below!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.