If you’re trying to lose weight, then you’ve probably heard of the fat burning zone. Even though this term is generally used interchangeably with cardio, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should only do cardio in order to burn fat. In fact, the idea that you burn more fat while doing steady-state cardio at a lower intensity—such as jogging—than while doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts—such as sprinting—isn’t supported by scientific research.
Here is what you need to know about the fat burning zone.
What is the Fat Burning Zone?
The fat burning zone refers to a level of intensity during exercise at which an individual burns primarily fat for fuel, instead of carbohydrates. It’s very important to note that it doesn’t necessarily mean you will lose weight at that intensity.
According to Colorado State University, studies have shown that individuals who exercised in their fat burning zone actually lost less weight than those who trained at a higher intensity. When individuals exercise in their fat burning zone, they burn more calories per minute than during exercise done at a higher heart rate because they keep their heart rate lower and train slower and longer overall.
The best way to lose weight is by mixing up between both low and high intensity exercise throughout the week. You will be speeding up your metabolism and you’ll be burning a lot of calories.
Fat Burning Zone Basics
The fat burning zone refers to a level of exercise intensity that allows you to burn a high percentage of calories from fat instead of glucose, or carbohydrates. The fat burning zone for running and cycling typically ranges between 50 and 70 percent VO2 max (your estimated maximum oxygen consumption). If you weigh 150 pounds, then running at 8 mph at 50 percent VO2 max would be equal to 56 minutes per mile (11 minutes per kilometer). At 65 percent VO2 max it would be equal to 48 minutes per mile (9.6 minutes per kilometer). While you’re in your peak fat-burning zone while exercising at 65 percent, keep in mind that your training heart rate will increase as well.
Why Is the Fat-Burning Zone So Popular?
The fat-burning zone, or target heart rate, was initially proposed by exercise physiologist Dr. Kenneth Cooper to help people reach their peak fat-burning potential during exercise.
Using Dr. Cooper’s program, you would increase your heart rate in 10 beats per minute increments until you reached a comfortable (but strenuous) level of exertion and then maintain that level for 20 minutes. Many people have used Dr. Cooper’s plan with great success over time; however, in recent years experts have criticized his methods and provided new evidence as to why they do not work as well as originally suggested by Cooper himself or should no longer be considered an efficient way to lose weight or get fit.
How Does a Heart Rate Monitor Help You Achieve Your Fitness Goals?
Heart rate monitors are effective tools for fitness. By using a heart rate monitor, you can perform workouts that burn fat and build muscle efficiently.
A heart rate monitor (HRM) allows you to train in your fat burning zone. Targeting a specific range of beats per minute ensures that you are getting maximum results from your workout. You can wear your HRM on your chest or wrist; either way will accurately count your heartbeats.
Your device may also have a calorie counter that tracks how many calories you burn during each workout. The number of calories burned is calculated based on factors such as age, weight, gender and exercise intensity level. If the device doesn’t have the option of you inputting this information, you shouldn’t rely on the accuracy of the calories burned.
Best Heart Rate Monitor Reviews
- CooSpo Heart Rate Monitor Bluetooth ANT+ with Chest Strap for Running Cycling Gym and other Sports
- Wahoo TICKR Heart Rate Monitor, Bluetooth/ANT+
- Garmin HRM-Dual – Premium Heart Rate Monitor Chest Strap, Real Time Heart Rate Data via Bluetooth Low Energy, ANT+, Black
4 Practical Ways to Burn More Calories
- Take a walk during your lunch break—even if it’s cold outside. Just 25 minutes of brisk walking can burn between 150 and 350 calories, depending on your size and how fast you move.
- Park further away from where you work or shop and opt for stairs instead of escalators or elevators whenever possible. If you’re in good shape, incorporate some jogging into your walking routine as well; just 10 minutes of jogging every day can burn off another 100 calories or so (you’ll lose weight faster).
- Use more body weight exercises at home or in a gym rather than relying on machines to lift weights for you—think squats, push-ups, sit-ups, etc., rather than leg presses or chest presses. If you’re trying to lose weight quickly, higher intensity workouts are better.
- Eat less sugar and refined carbs (like white bread, pasta and white rice). Refined carbs can have adverse effects on fat burning because they tend to be rapidly absorbed by your system, producing rapid spikes and drops in blood sugar levels (aka cravings). Over time those rapid blood sugar peaks can lead to insulin resistance—when your pancreas works overtime just produce enough insulin so that your cells stop taking up glucose from your bloodstream because it’s already there. When you’re insulin resistant, your body has a hard time converting excess calories into energy for physical activities—instead, those calories get stored as fat. So try to avoid anything with added sugars (even fruit juices), cut down on highly processed grains like white rice and pasta, eat more whole fruits and vegetables instead of drinking juice or sweetened coffee drinks with breakfast.
The Bottom Line on Fat-Burning Zones
In short, fat-burning zones are a myth. The only thing that matters when it comes to fat loss is your total calorie intake—and what you do with those calories. The reason fat-burning zones are useless for weight loss is because your body can’t actually decide how to burn any one particular macronutrient (protein, carbs or fat). Your metabolism processes all macronutrients at different rates and in different amounts based on what it needs at any given time. When you eat more calories than you burn, all of those extra calories get stored as body fat regardless of whether they came from protein, carbs or fat.
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, be sure to check out the Nutrition2change weight management and nutrition course.