Let’s get LIIT

What it is and why it’s worth a try.
Published August 3, 2020

You’ve heard of HIIT – high-intensity interval training – but have you heard of its more chill sibling, LIIT?


Low-intensity interval training is very similar to high-intensity interval training – they both have periods of more intense activity and periods of less intense activity or rest. The difference is that LIIT’s high-intensity moments are less intense than HIIT’s.


As such, LIIT is well suited to beginner exercisers, people who haven’t worked out in a while, seniors, and those recovering from injury.


LIIT, also referred to as high-intensity low impact training (HILIT), is one of personal trainer Jill McKay’s favourite workout methods.


“I’ve said for years, ‘high intensity does not need to mean high impact!’” says McKay, who runs Maryland-based Narrow Road Fitness, which provides fitness and nutrition programs for use in local churches and community organizations.


McKay has experienced first-hand the benefits of low-impact exercise in the aftermath of injury.


“As a runner who had a bad trail fall, I suffer from a herniated disc and hyper-mobile SI joint [sacroiliac, at the base of the spine], which translates to low back/hip pain. … Instead of focusing on what I couldn’t do any more, I learned to focus on what I can do,” McKay says. “Impact is painful for many people.”


She explains LIIT or HILIT workouts have all the benefits of EPOC – excess post-exercise oxygen consumption – which means “your body continues to burn calories at a higher rate, even after the workout is complete.”


LIIT training is also exciting and keeps people from getting bored, McKay says. This helps prevent plateauing – when your body gets used to doing the same workout and you stop progressing or seeing results. You are also more likely to work out consistently if you continuously mix up your routine.


As for the connection between effectiveness and impact level, don’t discount “low impact” or “low intensity” as “low effect.”


“Your body needs some impact,” McKay says. “It’s good for building bone density and strengthening your pelvic floor … however, for general good health, it really doesn’t matter if you step up onto a six-inch step or jump onto a 36-inch box. The goal is to challenge your body to try new things, move in different planes of motion – front and back, side to side, diagonally.”


Moving your body in different ways, McKay says, keeps your smaller, supportive muscles strong, helps with balance and keeps your brain aware of where your body is in relation to the world around you (also called proprioception).


“Our body is designed to move – even when we have chronic pain,” McKay says. “By keeping workouts lower-impact, it opens up a fun, functional method of fitness to a great number of people who previously felt left out. [It’s also] a great break from impact for athletes who need to keep their endurance challenged but take it easy on their joints.”


Tabata and circuit routines are great options for LIIT workouts, McKay says. The important thing is to get out of your comfort zone for a brief or moderate period of time, then return to a more comfortable (active recovery) pace, she says. For example, complete five to 12 repetitions of an upper body strength exercise, then hold a plank or go for a walk around the room during your “rest” period.


The easiest way to give LIIT a try is to join a class so the instructor can guide you.


“Learn to listen to your body and what your body is telling you. Some discomfort is expected, but the goal of fitness is to feel better, not worse,” McKay says. “Too many people I see are in the self-punishment cycle.”


She says sometimes LIIT classes are like learning a foreign language at the beginning. “Once you get more comfortable with the exercises and the class structure, you will feel more confident. Often people feel overwhelmed when starting something new, and that overwhelm pressures them to quit before giving it enough time to feel comfortable.”


McKay recommends trying LIIT for a month or so before you decide if it’s for you. But above all else, remember that consistency is key.


“The most important exercise is the exercise you do on a regular basis,” McKay says.