Low intensity steady state exercise promises to be the simplest way to boost your fitness – 7 workouts to try

Don't skip the LISS...

A woman doing low intensity steady state exercise
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You’ve heard of hot girl walks and cosy cardio, but are you familiar with the term for the training style that describes these kinds of workouts? Low intensity steady state exercise, otherwise known as LISS, is the physical activity currently commandeering your social feeds.

Whether costumed as hot girl walks (the corresponding hashtag of which has upwards of 114k mentions on TikTok at the time of writing) or rucking (walking while wearing a weighted backpack), it’s essentially exactly what it says on the tin. And it’s a powerhouse where all-round health is concerned.

Much like Pilates, low intensity workouts aren't a new style of exercise, but they have undergone a bit of a rebrand, currently trending across social platforms in it's various forms. This marks a shift towards and collective embrace of slower-paced movement and wellness practices that suit our busy lifestyles, which we aren’t at all mad about. Its resurgence – particularly since it has so many merits spanning physical, mental and emotional health - get a firm yes from Team MC UK.

Loved by top trainers like Kayla Itsines and celebs including Rebel Wilson who, back in 2020, took to Instagram to tell followers why she loves LISS – specifically, walking – so much (“it's good to be out in nature [and] get that air into your lungs. I really, really love it, so now I do that all the time," she said during a live), it’s a type of movement that’s accessible to beginners and experienced exercisers alike. Read: you definitely don’t need a swanky gym membership to get going.

To give you a better idea of what LISS actually is and how you may benefit from incorporating it into your training routine, we asked Lucie Cowan, master trainer at Third Space, to break down the need-to-knows. And don't miss our guide to low intensity cardio, while you're at it.

What is low intensity steady state exercise?

There’s really nothing all that complex about low intensity steady state exercise – it simply involves maintaining a consistent, moderate level of intensity when exercising over a prolonged period of time. Think: walking, cycling or swimming. “Unlike high-intensity workouts that push you to your limits, LISS focuses on sustained, gentle movement, usually for 30 minutes to an hour,” Cowan explains.

The key, she says, is to keep your heart rate within a specific zone, typically around 50-65% of your maximum heart rate. “This level of exertion promotes fat burning without causing excessive strain on the body.”

LISS is less demanding on the cardiovascular system than HIIT, which allows you to maintain longer durations of activity. “It’s great for improving endurance, burning calories, and promoting overall cardiovascular health,” says Cowan.

What are the benefits of LISS?

The benefits of regularly doing LISS are vast and varied, from improvements in physical fitness markers to mental wellbeing. “To begin with, LISS helps strengthen the heart and improve your circulation, aerobic capacity and stamina,” Cowan says. “It can improve insulin sensitivity, help to regulate blood sugar levels, and reduce your risk of metabolic disorders, such as diabetes.” Training at a steady pace for long durations – the entire essence of LISS – also helps to improve your stamina and endurance.

While there’s absolutely a time and a place for HIIT, it’s not always the best choice of activity if you’re feeling overwhelmed by work or life in general, as it increases stress levels and can therefore put you at a heightened risk of injury. LISS, on the other hand, has been associated with stress reduction. “Engaging in LISS activities can help to promote relaxation, thanks to the steady, rhythmic nature of the exercise,” Cowan says.

A study by Anglia Ruskin University published just last month supports the link between low-moderate intensity exercise and improved mental wellbeing. It found that physical activity, in general, reduced anxiety by 26% and depression by 23%, and discovered a particularly strong connection between low and moderate physical activity and lowered risk of depression, including activities such as gardening, golf and walking.

And the benefits don’t end there. Low intensity steady state exercise is gentle on the joints, meaning it’s suitable for a lot of individuals – including those who live with joint pain or are recovering from injury – and it’s a widely accessible style of movement that doesn’t necessarily require much financial investment. It’s also a great type of exercise to try if you want to be consistent with movement. “Because LISS is less strenuous than high-intensity workouts, it’s easier to maintain a regular exercise routine without risking burnout or fatigue,” says Cowan. Overall, regular LISS exercise contributes to better physical and mental wellbeing, making it a valuable component of a balanced fitness regimen.”


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7 PT-recommended LISS workouts to try today

1. Walking

Wondering, is walking a good workout? Short answer: almost definitely, and the most basic of the workouts that classify as LISS, according to the trainer. “It’s simple yet effective, and it can be done almost anywhere, making it accessible to people of all fitness levels,” says Cowan. It’s very kind to the joints if you’re managing discomfort or rehabbing an injury, and it’s an easy style of exercise to progress or regress – (by increasing or decreasing speed, distance or gradient) depending on your requirements – over time. 10/10. Walking workouts and indoor walking workouts at the ready.

2. Cycling

“Cycling is a low-impact exercise that provides a great cardiovascular workout while allowing you to explore outdoor scenery or enjoy the convenience of indoor cycling,” says Cowan. If you reside or work in London, commuting via LimeBike could help you get your fix of LISS. Or, hunkering down on a bike in the gym with an episode of your favourite TV show or podcast sounds like a workout well spent, to us.

3. Swimming

Since the weather appears to be perking up a little lately, perhaps now’s an ideal time to don your cossie and take a dip in your local lido (or leisure centre!).

"Swimming is a full-body workout that engages multiple muscle groups while being gentle on the joints,” Cowan explains. “It’s particularly beneficial for individuals with joint pain or injuries, and offers a refreshing way to stay active during hot weather.” That’s assuming we have one, of course…

4. Elliptical training

If you enjoy gym-based training, but you’re looking to mix up your current routine, perhaps a spell on the elliptical machine might be for you? “It provides a low-impact alternative to running, while still offering a challenging cardiovascular workout,” says Cowan. You can easily adjust the resistance and incline to tailor the intensity to your fitness level, she adds.

5. Stair climber

Granted, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the stair climber is a great machine to use for LISS – particularly if you’re looking to build leg strength and endurance, too. “The stair climber simulates the action of climbing stairs, providing a challenging cardiovascular workout while toning the lower body muscles,” says Cowan.

6. Rowing machine

From top to toe, rowing engages multiple muscle groups, including the legs, back, arms, and core, making it a highly efficient full-body workout. “It’s low-impact, and offers a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance,” Cowan says. Of course, you can try your hand at IRL rowing (as in, in a boat), but you may want to hone your skills on a machine first.

7. Hiking

“If you have the landscape for it nearby, get out and enjoy nature while getting a good workout at the same time,” Cowan suggests. That said, a hilly city hike sounds equally enjoyable to us. “Hiking is so good for the body,” Cowan continues. “The varied terrain means you work in ways that are hard to achieve in the gym or on the flat London pavements.”

If the concept of hiking scares you, there are plenty of entry-level options, including soft hiking. Don't miss our guides to the best UK hikes and the best hiking boots, while you're at it. 

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Abbi Henderson
Health Writer

Abbi Henderson is a freelance journalist and social media editor who covers health, fitness, women’s sport and lifestyle for titles including Women's Health and Stylist, among others. 

With a desire to help make healthcare, exercise and sport more accessible to women, she writes about everything from the realities of seeking medical support as a woman to those of being a female athlete fighting for equality. 

When she’s not working, she’s drinking tea, going on seaside walks, lifting weights, watching football, and probably cooking something pasta-based.