Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise is an integral part of a balanced workout routine. The numerous heart health benefits include better blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight management. It also lowers the risk for conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It’s one of the best things you can do to care for your heart. But how do you choose what kind of cardio is best for you? Let’s break down popular forms like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and low-intensity steady state (LISS). We’ll discuss benefits and differences to help you formulate a personalized plan.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a training form with bouts of near-maximal effort followed by a recovery period and is then repeated for several cycles. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)1, the benefits of HIIT include improved aerobic and anaerobic fitness, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity, cholesterol management, and weight management. It has gained popularity because of the benefits it can provide in a condensed workout. HIIT workouts are typically shorter in overall duration. They can be great training methods if you’re looking to increase your overall power and intensity. High intensity does not always mean high impact. You can tailor a HIIT workout to any fitness level. When participating in HIIT exercise, you should base the intensity on what you deem as high or low exertion. Gauge intensity during the workout using your heart rate or a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale2. Since HIIT workouts will have more heart rate variance, you should get the green light from your doctor before participating, as with any other new exercise programs. Due to the high level of exertion in these exercises, it’s important to prioritize proper rest and recovery in your weekly routines. If you’re a beginner to HIIT training, start with only one or two days per week and be sure to spread them apart.

Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS)

Low-intensity steady state, or LISS, is a type of training that involves performing an aerobic activity at a low to moderate intensity for continuous and more extensive periods. LISS exercise can be very beneficial for building cardiovascular endurance and stamina. If you’re training for a distance race, such as a 5k or a triathlon, you’ll want to include plenty of LISS training in your preparation. While it typically takes longer to complete, many people enjoy this form because the lower intensity is easier to maintain. The lower intensity also makes it more appealing for beginners. However, due to the repetitive motion present in LISS exercise, you should still vary your workout to avoid overuse injuries. Keeping workouts varied will also help avoid boredom that can come with continuous steady state-type workouts.

Finding The Right Combination

The right combination for you will most likely include a mix of HIIT and LISS. Whenever you alter your routine to include at least a day or two of each, then you’re keeping your routine varied. Workout routines with different exercises and styles can help us avoid boredom and plateaus in progress while minimizing the risk of overuse injuries. Consistency and longevity in your workout routine will be easier because of the variations. If there are days in your schedule that you’re tight on time, then adding a HIIT routine can be beneficial. A LISS workout is helpful as a lower intense, active recovery between HIIT days or when training for a long race. Think about your goals with exercise and use that as a starting point. Then, incorporate other forms to maximize the benefits of exercise. Even if you’re training for a marathon, a day or two of HIIT in your training schedule is great for increasing power and speed. Conversely, if you’re only sticking to HIIT workouts, you’ll find very quickly that your body can’t sustain that very long, and it would be advantageous to add some LISS training days to your schedule for recovery.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Guidelines3 recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio weekly. If you incorporate more low-intensity days, add more total time. If you add more high intensity in your week, lower your total minutes. Remember, cardio is only part of a balanced workout routine. Don’t forget that ACSM also recommends incorporating two to three days of strength training exercises for all major muscle groups weekly. If you’re a beginner to exercise, start slowly and gradually build up to these recommendations. Even a little bit of movement will always be better than none!

Always consult with your physician before starting a new exercise program.

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