Low-Intensity Cardio Training: What Is It & How Does It Work?
You might have heard about the benefits of HIIT — a popular high-intensity, fast-paced workout — but what about low-intensity cardio training?
A common misconception is that exercise has to be intense in order to be effective, but while other types of cardio offer unique benefits, implementing low-intensity cardio training into your routine can help to improve your overall health and fitness in a more gentle and accessible way.
Low-intensity cardio is a part of every Sweat program. It’s easy to complete and within most people's comfort zones — making it the perfect fitness style for beginners, or to help you move again if you’ve taken some time off from exercise.
What is low-intensity cardio training?
Low-intensity cardio training is when you work out at approximately 50%–70% of your maximum heart rate for a steady and sustained period — typically for around 10–60 minutes.
This style of cardio can be utilised for warming up before resistance training and cooling down afterwards and is well-suited to fasted cardio. Low-intensity cardio 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!
What is the ideal heart rate zone for low-intensity cardio?
For any low-intensity workout, you should train between 50%-70% of 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 your maximum effort of physical exertion.
Therefore, if your maximum heart rate is 195, aim to maintain a heart rate of between 98 (50% of maximum heart rate) and 137 (70% of maximum heart rate) throughout the session to stay in a suitable heart rate zone for low-intensity cardio training.
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 muscles.
Your fitness improves as your ability to store glycogen (carbs in the liver and muscles) increases, and once your glycogen stores have depleted, your body becomes more efficient at metabolising fat for fuel.
Examples of low-intensity cardio training
There are many forms of low-intensity cardio workouts you can try. They can be completed in the gym or at home — even better, they are well suited to do with a friend or partner!
If you work out in a gym, some good examples of low-intensity cardio include:
- Walking on the treadmill or stepper machine
- Pedalling on the exercise bike
- Hitting up the rowing machine
- Swimming laps of the pool
If you enjoy outdoor exercise, try:
- Walking or easy hiking trails
- Ocean or outdoor pool swimming
Yoga can also be a good form of low-intensity cardio.
Your aim during low-intensity cardio is to train with a consistent intensity over a long period of time, or for the whole duration of the workout, as opposed to going hard in intervals as you would with HIIT.
Benefits of low-intensity cardio training
Low-intensity cardio will strengthen your heart, lungs, muscles and bones — just as it would after a more intense session.
But a side benefit is that it will also calm the nervous system so you’re ready for a great night’s sleep after your workout.
Other benefits of low-intensity cardio training include:
- Lowered fatigue
- Increased fat burning
- Reduced risk of injury as it can place less strain on your joints, ligaments and tendons.
Who is low-intensity cardio training for?
Low-intensity cardio training is suitable for everyone and any fitness level.
Some types of low-intensity cardio training are low-impact. If you need a workout that’s easy on your joints, swap your HIIT for a swim — this type of low-intensity cardio workout won’t place an enormous strain on your body, so it is also ideal for active recovery.
If you normally train at a high intensity, adding a low-intensity cardio training session can be beneficial, and complement an otherwise intense fitness routine.
How often should you do low-intensity cardio training?
Your goal should be to have a well-rounded fitness routine, but that will look different for each person.
You can complete low-intensity cardio training every day, or combine both low-intensity and high-intensity cardio training across your week if that’s in line with your fitness goals.
The Sweat programs typically suggest two to three low-intensity cardio days each week if you are completing resistance training and HIIT.
Always listen to your body — your rest days are just important and can be just what you need to take your fitness to another level.
What’s stopping you?
Low-intensity cardio training is simple and has many benefits — with so many options available, why not give it a try?
Make your sessions fun with a workout buddy, or take it outdoors on a sunny day!
What is your favourite style of cardio? Comment below!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.