When people say they’re doing cardio, they often refer to jogging or running. Your heart is throbbing; you’re gasping for your breath; and you’re drenched in sweat. These experiences are what we often associate with cardio. What if I told you that simple, medium-pace walking is also considered cardio? It’s not just cardio, but it’s a highly-effective form of exercise that helps trim that waist and keep you leaner long-term.
What Is Steady State?
Let’s get scientific for a hot minute. There are two types of cardiovascular exercise—aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic exercise is performed at a low enough intensity that oxygen is sufficient to energize your muscles. Anaerobic exercise, however, is performed at a higher intensity which requires glycogen stores or sugar to fire up your muscles, since oxygen takes some time to get distributed throughout your body.
Steady state or LISS (low-intensity steady state cardio) is an aerobic exercise which means the repetition of the same movement for long periods of time while maintaining a stable, moderate heart rate, typically around 40-60% of your max heart rate. For most people, that’s about 120 to125 BPM heart rate. Examples of LISS are walking, cycling, and swimming. Since all are somewhat light to medium intensity, you can do this for prolonged periods of time, starting at 20 minutes and increasing to 45 to 60 minutes per session, and even more eventually. I recommend you do this in first thing in the morning, not having eaten anything, so you burn purely fat.
You may have heard of steady state’s more popular and vigorous, counterpart—HIIT or high intensity interval training. This is typically short bursts performed at 90% of your maximum heart rate, followed by short breaks to recover. Sports like basketball, and workouts like circuit training and Tabata are considered HITT. Because of its intensity, it’s recommended not to do more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time.
The Rewards Of Steady State
There’s a reason why intense exercise is so popular—you burn fat in a shorter time; it’s challenging, hence, it’s never boring! With that said, there are number of advantages LISS has over HIIT, and here are my top ones:
Beginner friendly – If you are able to walk, ride a bike, or swim, you’re able to steady state—easy as that! This helps build endurance, but doesn’t require much of it to get started.
Faster recovery – Steady state cardio is easier to do, hence it’s not too taxing on the body. That’s a good thing because it requires little to no recovery time in between sessions. And if you do HITT and you are sore after a few intense workouts, doing some LISS can help speed up recovery in between those as well and lessen the lactic acid build up.
Builds endurance and grit – LISS is great for developing your aerobic fitness level and increasing your cardiovascular endurance. It essentially makes your heart stronger and better equipped to do its job through long bouts of physical activity. Whether you’re a normal Joe or an athlete, steady state cardio teaches how to endure, both mentally and physically, any type or length of the workout.
Promotes consistency – Since it is not as demanding as HITT, the ability to stick to it is quite high. It’s still exercise and you’re giving your body the physical activity it needs, but since it requires little effort to start, and little recovery in between, there’s less excuses not to keep it going!
Now, Which Is Superior?
It depends. Both HIIT and LISS are incredibly effective forms of exercise, so choosing what is the more superior form of cardio, depends on your individual goals.
I’ve been running races and marathons for about six years now, and I’ve always considered myself a runner. I love running—the thrill of races, the openness of the community, and the ability to eat carbs! And I have an even more profound love for group HIIT classes which I do with friends.
As I mentioned before, HITT runs off of glycogen and sugar, so it gives you a little (just a little!) more leeway in having carbohydrates in your diet. With that said, I have recently fallen in love with steady state cardio. I’ve been doing it almost every morning for the past eight months—it’s my morning workout/meditation, so it starts my day off right. Also, it’s helped me get in the best shape of my life. In just the eight months, I’ve gone from 29.9% body fat to 19.1%. Of course, that is coupled with a healthy diet and resistance training, but I am able to consistently eat clean and lift weights because I’m not running so much.
Running for me is invigorating, but also tiring, and makes me crave and eat more unhealthy carbs than I would like. I still do HIIT here and there for the social aspect, but one thing is consistent—I’ll walk every morning. That works for me, and I believe that will work for me even ten years from now.
Now, find what works for you. I recommend you give steady state a try for at least two weeks and see if that’s what’s superior for you.