Low-Intensity Cardio Training: What Is It & How Does It Work?
You might already be familiar with the benefits of HIIT — but what about low-intensity cardio training?
There’s a common misconception about exercise — that it has to be intense for it to be effective. And while there’s no doubt that other types of cardio are beneficial, the great thing about low-intensity cardio training is that it can help to improve your overall health and fitness in a gentler and more accessible way.
Low-intensity cardio is included in each of the Sweat programs. 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 also referred to as low-intensity steady-state, or LISS. It’s when you work out between 57%–63% of your maximum heart rate for a steady and sustained period — typically for 30 minutes or more, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
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!
How does low-intensity cardio training work?
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), low-intensity cardio increases your aerobic capacity, or your body’s ability to use oxygen during exercise. In turn, your body is able to break down carbohydrates and fats for fuel, strengthen your slow-twitch muscles and transport oxygen more effectively to your muscles.
During lower intensity exercise, your muscles rely on energy from a combination of oxygen, carbohydrates and fats. Over time, your body becomes more efficient at using these energy sources ACE says — which means you’ll be able to physically work for longer periods of time.
Low-intensity cardio also helps to strengthen your slow-twitch muscle fibres. These are recruited during most daily living activities that require low-level force production, a 2001 article on “Muscle Fiber Types and Training” published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal explains. Strengthening these Type I muscle fibres helps to improve the efficiency of how the body uses oxygen during aerobic exercise.
Benefits of low-intensity cardio training
Mayo Clinic in the US recommends cardio training to lower your health risks and improve your quality of life. Low-intensity cardio can help to strengthen your heart, lungs, muscles and bones — just as it would after a more intense session.
Low-intensity cardio training also calms the nervous system so you’re ready for a great night’s sleep after your workout.
Other benefits of low-intensity cardio training include:
- Provides an endorphin rush (feel-good chemicals that are released by your brain) to help boost your mood
- Reduces stiffness, pain or injury through lower impact movement
- May help to manage or prevent health concerns including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease
Who can do low-intensity cardio training?
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 easier on your joints, you can swap your HIIT for cycling, use the elliptical machine, swim or even try a water running class!
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.
Examples of low-intensity cardio training
There are many forms of low-intensity cardio workouts you can try. They can be performed at the gym or at home — even 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, you can try:
- Walking or easy hiking trails
- Ocean or outdoor pool swimming
Yoga can also be a good form of low-intensity cardio.
During low-intensity cardio, your aim 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.
How often should you do low-intensity cardio training?
Cardiologist Ben Levine, M.D. from UT Southwestern Medical Centre in the US says “there is no ‘only way’ to do [exercise]” — a well-rounded fitness routine will look different for each person.
However, Levine does recommend varying your training styles and intensities regularly to avoid overuse injuries. Because low-intensity cardio training won’t put a lot of strain on your joints, you can do it on most days, 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 as important and can be exactly 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!
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.