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Which is best, HIIT or LISS?

Thursday, August 9, 2007 by  
Filed under Daily Blog


One of the longest running debates in the fitness community is over the “best” cardio style for fat loss. I still receive emails practically every day asking “Which is best, HIIT or LISS?” There’s always an active cardio debate or two going on in the forum, and I honestly don’t understand why. Well, that’s not entirely true. I do understand why people ask the question: those who are new to fitness obviously want to maximize their efforts and achieve the best results in the quickest amount of time, so they simply want to know what style of cardio is “best”. Fair enough.

First, I need to define HIIT and LISS for those who are not familiar with the terms.

“HIIT” is short for High Intensity Interval Training. HIIT cardio sessions are typically fairly brief (around 10-20 minutes, but they can also be longer or shorter) and utilize intervals of varying intensity. For example, one of my HIIT workouts is 16 minutes long, and for that 16 minutes I alternate between 45 seconds at a moderate pace (“active recovery”) and then 45 seconds going all out. If you really push yourself, it’s an incredible workout. HIIT is also great for improving your cardiovascular system. You won’t burn a tremendous number of calories while actually doing HIIT cardio, but what you will do is give your metabolism a huge boost which will last a day or two. During this time – the “afterburn” – the metabolic boost will burn a whole lot of calories. HIIT can be potentially catabolic (which means it can burn muscle), so in my opinion it should not be done in a fasted state.

“LISS” stands for Low Intensity Steady-State. A typical LISS session might be 30-50 minutes long, and it’s best to do it in a fasted state. During a LISS cardio session, a steady pace is maintained the entire time. Generally you want your heart rate to be around 65%-75% of your maximum heart rate. You can get a rough estimate of your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Using that formula, my max heart rate is estimated to be 182, but in reality it’s around 193 (I know this because I reach 193 BPM during my HIIT workouts). You’ll burn more calories during a LISS session than you will during a HIIT workout, but there’s not much of a metabolic boost once you are done.

So, which is “best”? After nearly five years of training, I’ve come the conclusion that both forms of cardio should be used. Each has its advantages, and using different kinds of cardio will also keep your body from adapting to what you are doing. I honestly believe the answer is that simple.

Academic types could tear into most of what I’ve written above and debate just about every point for weeks on end. Personally I’m not into that end of things. Debating these things might be exciting for some, but frankly I find it boring and tedious. I do know what works, though, and it’s not because I read scientific journals. It’s because I actually perform the work and see results.

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