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HIIT vs LISS Cardio Which Should I Be Doing As An Athlete?

Hello everyone! So, as we know very well the stay at home order has made training very difficult to do. You may also be having a lot of questions about how can I stay in shape with my conditioning, I’m here today to talk about the two main types of cardio and which one may be the best choice for you as an athlete for transferability.

First, let’s start off with explaining what these two types of cardio are. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is an exercise method where you are bringing your heart rate up to near maximal levels for short bursts of moments through the workout. This will use the anaerobic energy system in your body. These types of workouts are usually structured in the way of strength circuits, movement circuits, or while running or on a bike where you work at 100% effort for an amount of time then lower your work rate for an amount of time as well. 

Low Intensity Steady State type of cardio is your more traditional cardio workout. Like the name explains, it is the opposite of the HIIT or high intensity cardio, with LISS you are doing low intensity cardio over a long duration. Some activities that incorporate this include bike riding, running long distances, and rowing long distances. With this type of cardio, you are trying to work your oxidative energy system within your body to be able to perform long bouts of cardio more efficiently.

The Science Behind it 

With LISS, you will be reaching 45-65% of your max heart rate and will be using the oxidative system in your body which relies on fat storage. LISS will also increase your oxygen intake as well as strengthen your cardiovascular system. This gives you a stronger heartbeat and efficient pathway for blood flow and transfer. So, this is a good method for burning fat during your workout and increases your “breath” for long distance competitions. 

Now, with HIIT, you will be using an anaerobic system within your body. This means that your cells do not need oxygen to create energy because the stimulus you are giving your body is brief. This type of cardio is closely related to the conditioning demands you need in sports like hockey, soccer, football, volleyball and others because you need to produce max amount of power for only short bursts of times. HIIT is another very good method for burning fat. It utilizes the Excess Post-exercise Consumption (EPOC) effect. Some studies have found that the EPOC effect can burn fat and calories continuously post workout for up to almost 40 hours. In contrast, the LISS method will only burn fat and calories during the period of time that you are actually working.


Both options have proven themselves to be very reliable in getting to the goal of fat and weight loss. But now it’s time to give you some information for which method may be best for you! Some of the pros for LISS type cardio would be that it’s easier on your joints and muscles when compared to HIIT workouts. It is also safer to perform because of the pace you are doing it at. The intensity has a lower recovery time which means you can do it more frequently. It can even aid in speeding up muscle recovery times because of the boosted blood and oxygen flow through the muscles. Lastly, you will be increasing your cardiovascular conditioning in a sport specific manner if you are a long distance runner. 

HIIT brings to the table the advantage of efficiency. You can do a HIIT workout in as quick as 30 minutes, which for people who have a time crunch is very beneficial. Like mentioned above, you are burning calories after the workout, not just during it thanks to the EPOC effect. You will also be increasing your cardiovascular conditioning in a way that will be more beneficial to your actual sport if you’re not a long-distance runner. Lastly, with the sessions being shorter, your attention and willingness to do the always unfavored cardio will be more fun and enjoyable to some people. 


Now let’s talk about the disadvantages of both workout methods. LISS cardio is not time friendly. If you are someone who doesn’t have hours to spend at the gym to run, then this may not be the more efficient selection for you. With that longer session time needed, the motivation you may have to do it could be lost because of it. With LISS cardio, you also are only burning fat while you work out and the body will adapt quicker to the amount of work you do. This means progressive overload methods will be needed to keep seeing progress.

With HIIT, some of the disadvantages are that you need to have a somewhat solid aerobic foundation for these types of workouts. Because of that, you could be quickly fatigued if you are not in decent shape to start off. This could scare people off because of the intensity of the workout. HIIT also places a lot more stress on the body when being compared to LISS cardio. Most programs for HIIT are ballistic in nature which includes a lot of jumping and slamming of joints. You also will have a heightened risk of injury and increased recovery time with HIIT because of the amount of work you are demanding from your body in a short time frame.

How to choose between the two 

With all this information we now have about what benefits each method possesses, let’s talk about how to choose which one is best for you and your sport. We must look at the two methods and see which one fits more appropriately with the demands of the sport we play. For example, in hockey, a typical shift will last 45 seconds to 1 minute where you are only realistically working hard for 25-30 seconds of the shift. In my opinion, I believe when we are talking about player conditioning, the most effective way to condition yourself as an athlete is through HIIT full body training. It closely resembles a high intensity power specific sport and within the strength and conditioning world, efficiency is everything. I would rather have my athlete training closer to competition rather than training general qualities of cardiovascular fitness that won’t help them on the ice, court, or field. Now, that’s not to say LISS cardio isn’t a good option. LISS is a very proven method for people looking to burn fat and lose weight in a general and athletic population. I may use a LISS method in my programming when we're in a more general quality stage of training. For example, an Aerobic General Physical Preparedness phase right after the season has concluded can be used to reset the body and return it to homeostasis. But in the conversation of sports performance, I tend to favor HIIT with my athletes when it comes time closer to competition to get them in shape.

Here are some example HIIT workouts:

Sprint: 30sec./4min rest Sets: 4-6. Duration: 18-28mins

Short Sprint: 8sec/ 12sec rest Sets: 30-50 Duration: 20mins

Tempo Runs: 40 yard sprint/ Walk back to start Sets: Max Duration: till you have a 3 second drop off

Sport Specific circuit: 15sec/ 35 sec off Sets: 7-10 Duration: 8-10mins

Jake Nitsche  Strength And Conditioning Coach

Rule 1 Sports

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