Slow down if you want to shape up
Forget high-intensity interval training - this is an exercise trend we can actually get on board with
The past couple of years have seen gym bunnies go crazy for high-intensity interval training (HIIT), whether it's full-throttle spin classes soundtracked with thumping EDM remixes or sweat-soaked boxing workouts favoured by Karlie Kloss and Gigi Hadid. But those feeling daunted and beaten-down by punishing exercise regimes can take refuge with a new workout trend gaining traction among influential fitness gurus.
Introducing LISS, which stands for 'low intensity steady state' and is reportedly just as effective as a near vomit-inducing HIIT session. It's all about making less effort on the exercise front, if you can believe it, and we are all ears.
So what is LISS? It involves undertaking a low-intensity cardio workout, where you maintain the same pace for a set period of time. So far, so relaxed. It's a workout that calls for 30-60 minutes spent exercising at roughly 60pc of maximal heart rate effort, compared to the repeated bursts at 85-90pc for a shorter period that HIIT demands.
If you are already a fan of walking, swimming or cycling at a moderate level, then you are already a LISS enthusiast.
It may have been drowned out by intimidating HIIT drill sergeants, but one of the most vocal advocates for the resurgence of LISS is Australian personal trainer Kayla Itsines, who boasts an impressive 6.4 million Instagram followers and a successful series of Bikini Body Guides. For Itsines, the lure of LISS lies in the 'after burn effect', whereby your body can still burn off fat even after training.
"This is completely different to HIIT, which focuses on quick bursts of cardio followed by a rest period," Itsines has said. "This type of cardio raises your heart rate fast and can cause an after-burn effect." Another benefit of the low-intensity workout is that it's more likely you are going to keep with it for a long period of time. "LISS is easy to stick to," Itsines added. "I prefer to complete it outside by taking the dogs for a walk or listening to some music."
Also, as it's a much lower level of workout, you do not need the same recovery time as with other programmes and can practice LISS on a daily basis.
Recent research from the University of Bath found that steady-state training delivers the same benefits as gruelling HIIT exercises. Over the course of three weeks, a group of people completed five workouts a week, with half of them exercising intensely and the other half taking a more moderate approach. The end result? Both groups lost the same amount of weight.
Our own Operation Transformation guru Karl Henry is also a supporter of LISS and says it's a perfect workout for people who might be afraid of the demanding levels that come with high-intensity training.
"I'm a big fan of low-intensity steady state exercise," he says. "We know that the benefits can be just as good from the low intensity as the high intensity. Currently, high-intensity interval training is very popular, it's in fashion, but a lot of people are scared of it, and it frightens a lot of people away from exercise. Both will work, but the key thing is finding the one that works for you."
Still, Henry stresses that if you are too lax in your approach to LISS, it will have little or no effect as a workout. For him, getting to the point where you are just about out of breath but can still hold a conversation is crucial.
"Even though it's low intensity, you still have to work hard enough to get the results," Henry says. "Once you're getting slightly out of breath, the body is taxed enough that you'll be getting the benefits - endorphin release, fat burning, all those benefits will kick in."
For anyone who has fought their way through a torturous spin class, it should come as no surprise that the majority of people find low-intensity workouts more alluring.
Another study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine in 2015 measured the effects of HIIT versus LISS and found that there was "no particular advantage for very high-intensity training models". The report concluded that a mix of both levels of intensity was best practice, stating: "perhaps variety in the type of exercise is as important as the type of exercise per se".
And if you haven't yet gotten to grips with your New Year fitness regime (it's March, but who's counting?), then LISS is a perfect way to start off.
Indeed, at Henry's personal training classes, everyone begins at a LISS level of training.
"We start any beginner client on low-intensity training before we bring them to anything else, and not just because it reduces the injury risk," he explains.
"If people are coming back from an injury, it's the same thing: we start them on low-intensity exercises and build them up from there - the key thing is you want people fit for the long-term rather than just a flash in the pan.
"We get them doing fast walks, swims, cycles and hill walks. Those are things they can do outside of the gym and in their own time, so it becomes really accessible. Any health plan should be built for long-term health rather than the quick-fix solutions that are very much en vogue at the minute."
For the best results possible, Henry recommends mixing up levels of intensity, introducing various forms of exercise and not becoming complacent in any one form of practice.
"I think anyone's general health plan should be a mix of high-intensity and low-intensity work that is longer in duration - one-hour fast walks, cycles, hill walks," Henry concludes.
In addition to the physical benefits, he points out the added mental and social aspects of a LISS routine: "There are fantastic benefits in terms of stress relief, and offering a family activity or a social experience with friends, which you can't really do with a 20-minute HIIT session."
And it's not just fitness experts that are shouting from the rooftops about the benefits of low-intensity exercise, GP Nina Byrnes agrees that any type of exercise is good for your physical and mental health.
"There's lots of evidence that shows that any movement has huge benefits for people both health wise and with mental health," she says.
"Getting out there and getting exercise releases natural endorphins and that can come from just a walk." We're sold.