by Deion Clifton
Shedding weight can be challenging, especially for those new to exercise or who may only do it sometimes. It takes work to get into a routine when 1. you’re not having a good time, and 2. the exercises are too much.
Many people have trouble losing weight due to difficulty finding a suitable training regimen. Those high-intensity exercises always seem to be the go-to method. You know, those crazy all-out workouts that leave you feeling SUPER exhausted? Yes, those! What if I told you other effective, less intense ways of training exist? And, better yet, they work!
If you’ve been looking for alternatives to high-intensity activity, you’re on the right page (and if you’re reading this at the HAC, then you’re in the right place)! Low-intensity exercise can be just as or even more beneficial than high-intensity workouts depending on the circumstance. Here’s how:
Compare & Contrast
Before we dive into the benefits of low-intensity training, we must touch on high-intensity training and compare the two. For every high-intensity exercise, there’s a less demanding modification. Intense activity often takes less time to complete because of how hard you push yourself. While you might finish a full-body HIIT workout in 20-30 minutes, a standard full-body workout with less intensive exercise variations could take much longer to produce the same calorie burn.
But which is more beneficial? Trick question! They’re both helpful for your health. However, it is true that when performing high-intensity exercises, calories burn faster because you’re exerting more energy and working at 70-90 percent of your maximum heart rate.1 This means low-intensity exercise would need to be performed for longer time spans if you expect to burn the same number of calories as in a high-intensity workout.
Let’s think about it; how does weight loss occur? Yes, various factors play into it, such as age, gender, or even medication. Still, dietitians and nutritionists will universally agree that there needs to be some caloric deficit. You must consume fewer calories than you’re burning. Whether you’re burning 200 calories from 20 minutes of high-intensity training or 200 from one hour of training, you’ve burned the same number of calories at the end of the day. The question that remains is whether or not you’re reaching a daily caloric deficit.
Benefits of Low-Intensity Training
However, the good thing about less intensive workouts is that they’re beginner-friendly. These exercises put less strain on the body and joints, and they won’t leave you feeling so exhausted.
Recovery time also significantly affects the amount of work you can perform in (or out of) the gym. Low-intensity workouts can be performed daily, while professionals recommend rest days between high-intensity workouts.2
The intensity rate of these workouts applies much less stress on the body, helping to keep joints and muscles healthy. This also affects your recovery time because there isn’t as much muscular damage (i.e., torn muscle fibers) that need repair.
Low-intensity exercise helps build muscle in surrounding joints and increases circulation to the muscles. This ensures they receive the nutrients they need to rejuvenate, making them more elastic. In fact, if you have any stiffness or pain, the steady and consistent pace of this activity can help to relieve stiffness and pain in joints and muscles.
It’s as easy as rowing, taking a leisurely bike ride, or even going for a power walk/jog. Whether you’re at the gym or in the comfort of your home, you can do it anywhere as long as you have the time.
These reasons are what make this form of exercise sustainable. Sustainability helps to create consistency, especially for those new to exercising. It’s good to start something you can create a pattern with, something enjoyable that can even be performed with a partner.
You can still push yourself to gain muscle and build endurance through low-intensity workouts. During this form of training, you’re working between heart rate zones two and three (60-80% – in the blue and green zones for MYZONE belt users).
Several forms of low-intensity workouts can be performed. Two of the most common are low-intensity steady-state (LISS) and low-intensity interval training (LIIT). Pilates, Tai Chi, and Zumba®, when performed at a lower heart rate, are other examples of low-intensity exercise.
LISS is just as its name implies – it’s a form of cardiovascular exercise that involves continuously doing low to moderate aerobic activity for a prolonged period. This form of exercise helps burn fat (some research suggests it may be even more effective in this area than high-intensity exercises4), is appropriate for all fitness levels, and assists with recovery after an intense workout.
Common examples of steady-state exercises include cycling, jogging, power walking, swimming, rowing, and using an elliptical. The aerobic exercise should consist of 30 to 60 minutes of continuous activity.
This form of less intense exercise has everything to do with how hard you push yourself. The Cleveland Clinic considers LIIT “the gentler cousin of HIIT.”5 By now, you may have realized that LIIT stands for none other than low-intensity interval training. Again, intensity is the main difference between HIIT and LIIT – exercises between the two are interchangeable.
However, HIIT is more taxing. Its premise is to work closely to your max heart rate. On the other hand, interval training is typically considered “low-intensity” at 70 – 80% of your max heart rate, reducing difficulty and risk of injury while increasing sustainability.
What does a LIIT workout look like? A cardio-focused LIIT session involves completing intervals at different intensities. For instance, jogging 200 meters through Tweeds Park, walking 100 meters, and repeating that cycle for two laps.
A strength-focused LIIT session might involve decreasing your average weight and doubling your reps. This will keep stress off your joints and ensure you’re still challenged. If you typically use 20-pound dumbbells and do ten reps of an exercise, for example, try using 10-pound dumbbells for 20 reps.5
The Bottom Line
Fitness has no clear exercise type that’s guaranteed to work for everyone. Some people may think high-intensity workouts are too challenging, while others may not find low-intensity activities challenging enough. There’s no winner or loser between high-intensity and low-intensity exercise – both have pros and cons. Finding the best type for you, your schedule, comfortability, and goals is what’s important.