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Steady State Gains - Keeping Intensity on the Down Low

Do you train low intensity 'cardio'? You should!

When was the last time you moved purposefully at a low intensity for more than a few minutes? And when was the last time you went for a leisurely walk? Walking, cycling, swimming, and other low intensity, steady state type ‘cardio’ offer powerful health and longevity benefits which most of us desperately need. Our human ancestors walked somewhere between 6 to 16km a day, and most of us today probably don't even walk 1km!!

The unfortunate news is that even those of us managing to fit training sessions into our day, still probably don't get enough movement for optimal health. In our time poor modern world, the efficient 30 or 45 minute session really doesn't come close to helping us overcome being sedentary for the rest of our day. This is why so many 'fit' people struggle with health, pain, weight loss and other chronic health problems, because moving for 45 minutes a day, isn't enough.

Extended periods of sitting / stillness can compromise muscular-skeletal function, cellular health, cardiovascular function, and fat metabolism – negating many of the benefits of training. Primal Endurance, Mark Sisson

What many people need more of is low intensity movement, or what we used to call physical activity. Essentially it’s not about how intensely you move, or how much ’structured’ movement time you can add into your day/week. It’s more about how much low intensity movement you can add, and spread throughout your whole day. Moving every hour for 5 minutes, will probably elicit more results than 30 minutes at once when it comes to cellular health, hydration, circulation, fascial health, inflammation digestion and lymphatic flow.

Katy Bowman says it eloquently, when talking about those who train regularly, but ultimately lead a sedentary lifestyle. 'From a cellular perspective, you are largely a couch potato, with an assortment of cellular structures that are hardened and mis-shapen from too much stillness.'


Sub Maximal Intensity Steady State (SISS)

SISS training is a steady heart rate, meaning the heart rate stays in the ‘aerobic zone’ below the lactate threshold which is roughly below 85% of heart rate max for most people. In terms of heart rates, this might range from an intensity of 60-75% heart rate max. A typical sub max steady state session can last up to 120 minutes, but could be a quick 10 minute walk around the block, a 10 minute low intensity movement program, or a 30 minute bike ride.

A sub maximal steady state heart rate is quite comfortable, and easy to maintain. This level of effort used to be measured by the ‘talk test' whereby the exercise was so easy, that you could have an easy conversation without going breathless. Examples of SISS training would be walking, an easy jog, rowing, cycling, swimming laps, dancing or a low intensity circuit. Anyone who is familiar with traditional gym training would equate SISS to a cardio based warmup at the gym before a weights session. Many people like to think they are doing SISS with sports like running, swimming, or aerobics, but the reality is that most people are more likely doing high intensity sustained steady state with these activities unless they are incredibly efficient!

SISS can be done in a gym environment by selecting a lower intensity through the workout. We encourage SISS sessions for those who score low on their daily readiness to train, those who want to train several times a week, anyone chronically stressed or unwell, or those who are after weight loss.

A great example of an hour long session where a client maintained a sub maximal steady state.


Sub Maximal Steady State Benefits

  • Rhythmical and enjoyable movement

  • Improvements in circulation, digestion, lymphatic flow

  • Cognitive enhancement and executive function (exercise stimulates adult neuroplasticity and neurogenesis the birth of new brain cells and enhancement of neural inter-connectivity)

  • Improved aerobic endurance

  • Stress reduction and less wear and tear as opposed to high intensity

  • Enhanced recovery from higher intensity training sessions

  • Reduced chronic disease risk

  • Enhanced blood pressure

  • Reduced inflammation

  • Fat loss (oxygen is required to burn fat)

  • Improved mood and mental state

  • Better energy levels and reduced fatigue


What's The Best Way to do SISS?

Firstly you need to monitor intensity. Not everyone can do that based on perceived exertion only. Having used heart rate monitors extensively for 4 years, we have seen time and time again that people claim to feel fine when their heart rate is surging high, and others can’t get their heart rate up or down, based on their readiness to train, their overall efficiency and lifestyle factors. Consequently we recommend using a heart rate monitor, even if it’s just initially so that you know what it feels like to perform steady state training.

Here are some examples of how you can add more SISS to your routine.

  • Go for a walk with a friend or dog

  • Listen to a podcast while you walk

  • Get out in nature and walk along the beach barefoot or venture in the Forrest

  • Design a simple movement circuit and keep the intensity low under 75% of your max heart rate

  • Sign up to move it or lose it for a 10 minute body weight circuit

  • Try our low intensity classes like TRX, de-stress de-fuzz, ViPR express or yoga flow

  • As Many Rounds As Possible (AMRAP) is a drill often used for high intensity training, but it can be fun to perform a series of exercises at 10 reps each, at a low intensity continuously for 5-30 minutes.

  • Find ways you can walk a little more in your daily life, park further away, walk to public transport, or just take regular movement breaks to walk around your workplace.


An Efficient System

With our overly sedentary culture, heart hurting behaviors and negative lifestyle factors, many people struggle to keep their heart rate low with SISS workouts. When we try to implement SISS phases in classes, many people feel impatient at having to move slower, with lighter weights or less intensity to maintain SISS. A sign of an efficient system, is being able to increase workout output (think bigger weights or range of motion) at a lower intensity. The more you practice, the more you can achieve in these lower training zones, as your heart becomes more efficient. 'Primal Endurance' by Mark Sisson is all about training athletes to work at these lower training zones so that they can burn fat for fuel, rather than glucose, thereby being able to increase endurance, results and power at a lower intensity, and reduce catabolic stress to the body.

Anyone can get their heart rate up, it's really no big challenge. But performing a workout and being able to keep your heart rate in a low zone steady state - now that's impressive. Maintaining SISS means that circulation, cellular health, nervous system health etc are functioning optimally, and that the stress of movement isn't driving up the heart rate intensity.

Cardiovascular fitness is the ability to challenge the heart and certain muscles to perform extreme athletic efforts. Cardiovascular health is the ability to efficiently delver oxygen to 100 percent of the cells in your body - Katy Bowman

Katy Bowman of ‘Move Your DNA’ proposes that ‘movement, like food is not optional; that you have been receiving the signals of movement hunger in response to a movement diet that is very low in terms of quality and poor in terms of quality – meaning you aren’t getting the full spectrum of movement nutrition necessary for human function. Chances are, you are either lacking movement nutrition entirely, or you are eating mounds of movement snickers without ever reaching for a full movement kale salad.’

So go on, head on out today for a nice stroll in the park, and give your body the gift of low intensity steady state nourishment. It'll add years to your life, perk up your mood, compliment your current training protocol, and make you feel great!


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