Is Low-Intensity Interval Training a Better Way to Get Fit?

James Logie
Photo by Alex McCarthy on Unsplash

Everyone is familiar with high-intensity interval training, as it’s a great and effective workout.

But what is low-intensity interval training and what similarities does it share with HIIT?

People today want to work out smarter, and not waste any time in doing so.

Therefore, you’re seeing more of a focus on circuit training and intervals as people want the most effective workout in the least amount of time.

Low-intensity interval training adopts the same concept as its high-intensity counterpoint but as the name suggests; has less intensity.

It might be a great option for people who are nursing injuries, are older, or are new to fitness.

It might also be a great variation in your workout to switch things up and provide a different stimulus to your body.

Here’s the rundown on everything to do with low-intensity interval training or LIIT

What Is LIIT?

If you're familiar with HIIT, you know it’s an intense burst of activity for 20-30 seconds followed by a slower pace recovery period of around 90 seconds.

Low-intensity interval training follows that same concept of an increased pace offset with a lower intense pace.

It’s these continuing variations that seem to make our bodies respond well and get results.

Your body likes intervals and responds with some great changes in body composition, calorie expenditure, and hormonal profiles.

With low-intensity interval training, you will only need 30 minutes. The general workout would look something like this:

  • Start at a walking pace for 3-5 minutes
  • Perform a light jog, but not a sprint, for 90 seconds. You can also go into a more brisk walk for the 90 seconds if you cannot jog
  • Return to that original pace for 3-5 minutes
  • Continue this over the course of 30 minutes

As your fitness improves, you can make the recovery portion closer to three minutes but if you are just starting out; five may be better.

What Kind of Results Can Come From LIIT?

If you’ve been doing higher intensity intervals this might seem less intense, but there are some surprising similar benefits here.

Studies from Ohio State University published in the Biology Letters journal showed that the variations in walking/light jogging pace may burn up to 20% more calories than going at a steady pace.

This study from 2015 was one of the first to look at the metabolic cost of changing walking paces. It also shows how variation may make the body respond favorably.

They point out that you have to do things that feel unnatural to the body in order for an increase in calorie expenditure.

Your body wants to maintain balance or homeostasis--and variation keeps it on its toes.

Comparing LIIT To HIIT

It may seem surprising but both low and high-intensity styles of workout are effective for weight loss.

Research from Queen's University in Ontario found that high-intensity training may reduce waist circumference, weight loss, and improved glucose levels compared to those doing steady-state cardio.

These are the results we expect from this but what the researchers observed was that the workouts didn't have to be as intense as you may think.

When you picture HIIT training, you may imagine crazy bike sprints or performing burpees until you can’t stand but you may be able to back things off and still get results.

The lead study author, Dr. Ross Ph.D. observed that the higher intensity can be achieved by simply increasing the incline on a treadmill or having patients walk at a brisker pace.

In these studies, none of the participants even ran and still experienced these results.

How You Can Incorporate Low-Intensity Interval Training Into Your Workouts

Low-intensity interval training can fit in nicely after a strength training session to improve your cardiovascular health but also decrease body fat.

It can also serve as a nice break if you’ve been feeling really beat down from training or long days at work.

You might not like to think about facing the prospect of a super intense workout and ease things off a bit and that’s where LIIT training can be of benefit. And it will still get your results.

It can also work well on those days where you don’t have a lot of time and just want to get moving in the morning.

All you need is 30 minutes and your running shoes. It can also be helpful if you’re coming off an injury and looking to keep active but still be comfortable.

It can be great for older people who might not need the high-intensity of HIIT or people new to fitness wanting to start gradually.

Other Variations of LIIT

The research and studies have been done with participants involved in walking but this low-intensity interval concept can be applied to other exercises.

You can make this work for your favorite machines and styles of exercise.

Stationary biking can be used to create this same effect and is a great way to get variations in intensity.

You can start at a comfortable pace for 3-5 minutes before increasing the dial intensity for the 90 second period.

Traditional HIIT bike sprints go for 20-30 seconds so you’re not looking for that same amount of resistance and intensity but something more challenging for the 90 seconds.

This training can also be down on a rower where you start with a manageable pace before increasing the intensity for a duration of 90 seconds.

A rowing machine is a great form of cardio because it not only works your cardiovascular system but your muscular endurance system, too.

The good thing is you control the pace and intensity so the harder you row, the more resistance you will get.

This makes for a great exercise and workout that can be adjusted depending on how you are feeling on any given day.

You can even incorporate this style of training using swimming. You would just keep a regular stroke for the recovery phase and pick up the intensity - but not a sprint - for the 90 seconds before slowing it back down for 3-5 minutes.

Again, you only need 30 minutes so it makes for a more approachable workout.

Swimming is a great option if you are coming off an injury and want to avoid the resistance and impact on joints and ligaments on hard surfaces.

If you have knee or ankle problems, you can push yourself harder in the water than you would on land. Of course, anything injury-related needs to be discussed with a doctor beforehand.

Final Thoughts

As always, you should check with your doctor to make sure things are ok for exercise. This is just an introduction, and you should continue to do your own research.

Low-intensity interval training is very approachable but one that can still provide the sought-after benefits of HIIT.

As our insights into fitness grow it’s helpful to learn of the most effective ways to make the best use of your time, and still get results

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.


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