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The Truth About Fat Loss: HIIT vs. LISS

The following is a guest post from our friends at Prodigy Performance Nutrition.

Cardio is nearly every athlete’s worst enemy. Besides the fact that most people simply just don’t enjoy it, we hate the idea of potentially losing the muscle gains for which we’ve worked so hard. 

Inevitably, however, we’re all forced to do cardio at one point or another, thinking it’s the only way to lose any excess fat we might be carrying. This is true for athletes like bodybuilders and average Joes just looking to lean out.

One major question we get asked a LOT is whether someone should be doing HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or LISS (Low Intensity, Steady-State.) This debate has raged on for decades, and nobody can seem to agree what’s better.

We’re here to break it down for you.

Definitions

Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) cardio is exercise performed for a long duration of time at an aerobic pace, allowing you to breathe a little easier. Whether it’s 60 minutes on the treadmill or a long bike ride, any exercise that you commit a long duration of time to will fall into this category.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), on the other hand, is performed at set intervals of high intensity, anywhere from 10-60 seconds, divided up by low-intensity recovery periods.

Which is Better For Fat Loss?

Both have been touted as the way to “burn fat” over the years. However, there are a couple of myths that we need to bust before we continue this conversation:

  1. The “Fat-Burning Zone.” We’re sure that you’ve probably seen this around the cardio equipment at your gym, and it probably informs you to stay in a specific sector of heart rate for the most optimal fat-burn rate…

The fat-burning zone doesn’t exist. Although working at this heart rate zone will metabolize fat, it’s not metabolizing fat exclusively. You do tend to burn more calories from fat during LISS exercises. But you can metabolize fat throughout the day doing HIIT, which leads us to the next myth:

  1. The “After-Burn.” Because you are performing a HIIT exercise, you rev up your system so much that once you finish, you’re going to continue burning calories hours after your exercise.

This is true to an extent, but not to the extent that people believe. While intense exercises do cause an afterburn effect, the amount of calories burned after your workout is pretty insignificant.

So, which form of cardio is most effective at fighting off fat? The answer is, NEITHER! First of all, fat loss happens in the kitchen. You can’t out-train a crummy diet, nor can you lose fat with one. When it comes to exercise, however, numerous studies suggest that weightlifting is the most efficient exercise to cut fat…and yet people still insist on hitting the treadmill for hours upon end without touching a single weight.

What About Athletic Performance?

Okay, so what if fat loss isn’t the goal? What if you’re striving for pure athletic performance? The answer is…neither! Again! There are benefits to EACH form of training.

HIIT is extremely time-efficient: you can go in and get your cardio workout done in 15-20 minutes. Furthermore, it’s challenging and fun – the higher levels of intensity will keep you focused and have you feeling triumphant by the end of the workout since the intervals can be a bit difficult. 

There are also studies that show that HIIT can have a broader positive impact on athletic performance. If you’re an athlete that plays a sport like football, basketball, MMA, or anything of the like, then you should probably favor HIIT. Think about it: these sports actually require you to perform in short-long spurts of hard physical labor. Thus, it would make sense to train in a form of cardio that reflects your sport. HIIT is your bet when it comes to high-intensity sports that require jolts of energy expenditure. Likewise, if you’re not an athlete, and just an individual who is short on time (or impatient,) then HIIT may be the way to go for you as well, since workouts can be completed relatively quickly.

However, there are still plenty of athletes (especially bodybuilders) who perform LISS as their preferred form of cardio. That’s perfectly acceptable too. If you prefer lower-intensity workouts, and some people do, then LISS is your most viable option. LISS carries the the additional benefit of having a lot less of a risk from suffering an injury. Although it may take a bit more time to achieve the same results as you would a typical HIIT cardio workout, the goals you make for yourself can be just as attainable when performing LISS.

What matters, ultimately, is picking a form of cardio that you enjoy doing. If you hate running, you probably shouldn’t take it up because you think it’s going to help you lose fat or perform better. The same can be said for sprinting: if you hate it, you’re not going to stick to it for very long!

Sample Workouts

No matter what kind of cardio you want to do, here are some sample workouts to try out:

Simple Treadmill/Cycling HIIT

  • Begin by lightly jogging/spinning for about three minutes as a nice warm-up. The pace shouldn’t be too intense, you’re just trying to get the blood flowing.
  • For the next 10 minutes, rotate between performing 20 seconds of intense sprinting/cycling, followed by 40 seconds of light jogging/spinning again for recovery.
  • Afterwards, cool down again by doing another three-minute interval of low-intensity work.
  • If 10 minutes is too much for you at first, back off! Start with 5 intervals, even 3. Just respect your level.Once you’re able to do this for 10 minutes straight, feel free to add some additional minutes of intense-cooldown work.

Basic Circuit Training

Perform the following exercises one after another, with no rest between exercises, following:

  • Burpees
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Jumping Jacks or Double-Unders

Start by doing three sets of 10 reps of each, then 15 reps, then 20 reps. Don’t take any breaks until you’ve gone through all three sets. This workout can be done with basically any exercise of which you’re capable of performing higher reps.

LISS Exercises

LISS workouts are much easier to explain. If you’re walking, swimming, cycling, or jogging at a reasonable pace, then congratulations! You’re doing LISS! Just make sure that you are actively keeping up with the same pace from start to finish. It may take a bit longer than most HIIT exercises, but it can be just as effective if you truly commit to it!

So, what’s your favorite form of cardio? What are your favorite workouts? Let us know in the comments below!

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