What Is The Fat-Burning Zone?

Have you ever hopped on the treadmill and seen the “fat-burning” zone workouts? There is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about what this magical zone. Some people think that it’s the worst way to lose weight, others think that it’s the best, and then there are the rest of us 🙂

Anaerobic vs Aerobic

Let’s go a little bit into the science part of the wonderful fat-burning zone. Your body has two energy system pathways: anaerobic and aerobic.  The most important factors in which pathway you use is the intensity and duration of the exercise.  Anaerobic is just as it sounds, it is the energy system that doesn’t use oxygen in the energy creation process. You use this anaerobic pathway in short and intense bursts of exercise. The energy available for use during this short period of time is very limited and that’s why you can’t sprint for very long. This is not the “fat-burning zone” that we are talking about (although, it is important to understand the difference). Aerobic is the system that uses oxygen (or technically the oxidation of glucose and fat) as the main source of energy.

Fat-Burning Zone

When you exercise at a lower intensity for a longer period of time, your body wants to use fat as the energy source. Guess what? There is almost an unlimited supply of fat cells available for use during exercise #burnthatbutter. If your first few and last few steps are equally as difficult, then you know you are in steady-state cardio. Now there are a couple of different ways to utilize the fat-burning.In the strict “fat-burning” zone it takes longer to burn the same amount of calories as it would at a higher intensity. If you have some weight to lose (like real weight to lose… I’m not talking about 3 pounds here, I’m talking about 20, 30 or more pounds) then you’re going to want to mix a slightly higher intensity with the steady state (zone 1 and zone 2). If you’re at a healthy weight but you just want to slim down (aka you’ve lost weight but you’re still struggling with some major trouble zones) then you want to focus a lot more on sticking in the steady state zone (zone 1).

How To Know Your Zone

It is really important to figure out what zone you’re in. The easiest way is to check your heart rate and categorize it into either Zone 1, 2 or 3. First thing is to figure out your max heart rate: 220-age. So for me, this is 194. Once you know your max heart rate, you can figure out your zones.

  • Zone 1: 65-75% of max heart rate
  • Zone 2: 80-85% of max heart rate
  • Zone 3: 86-90% of max heart rate

Zone 1 is considered the fat-burning zone and the steady state zone that you are working towards if you need to slim down some problem areas. Zones 2-3 is highly anaerobic and much higher intensity. This higher intensity will help you burn a higher amount of calories, so ideal for those who have weight to lose.

You Need To Lose Weight

If you’re in a position where you want to lose some weight and get healthier, there are a few ways that you can get the job done. I suggest a moderate mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise in order to burn maximum calories without completely exhausting yourself. Here’s an example: Let’s say that you wanted to exercise for 20 minutes. You hop on the treadmill and walk at 3.0 mph. About 66% of the energy used is from fat and 33% (ish) is from carbohydrates. At this pace, you’re only burning about 100 calories for the 20 minutes. Now, if you wanted to change it up a little bit while still only working out for the same amount of time, the intensity would need to be bumped up. If you jogged at 6.0 mph about 55% is from carbohydrates and 45% from fat. Even though it is less % from fat, you actually burn more calories overall. Almost double in fact. So if you are wanting to lose weight, the more calories you burn, the better! Stick with a mix of a higher intensity and a lower intensity.

You Want To Slim Down

There are many of us who are wanting to slim down a certain body part. This usually happens when you’ve already lost weight but you still have some problem areas.  I am trying to slim down (my legs specifically) so I am focused on this type of workout. The key to this is to utilize the fat-burning workouts more often. Because exercise in the fat-burning or steady state zone burns a higher percentage from fat but fewer calories overall, means that you will need to exercise longer. The goal for slimming down would be to workout for at least a continuous 45 minutes (or more) every day. Because of the low intensity, you should be able to go a lot longer and it shouldn’t be very difficult. By staying in this fat-burning zone, you can slim down those problem areas while still getting in cardiovascular exercise.

Whatever You Choose, Choose Cardio

Whatever your goals are, it is crucial to just participate in some sort of cardiovascular activity.  Combine both different energy system pathways (anaerobic and aerobic) to get the most out of your workouts. Even if you have a specific goal, it’s a good idea to mix and match. You can stick with the plan that aligns best with your goals but don’t be scared to change. Bump it up to Zone 2 or 3, or take it down to Zone 1 for your workout.  Cardio workouts will help improve quality of life, work performance, reduce cardiovascular risks, and with anxiety. Take a step back and figure out what some of your goals are (physical, emotional, mental, etc) and then make a plan. If you’re feeling stuck and don’t know what to do, please write to me. I would love to help you out! If you want to read a little bit more about the benefits of cardio, read THIS because I go into a bit more detail. If you don’t want to run or bike and you are feeling stuck on how to get your cardio in, try this JUMP ROPE workout. It is a good one!

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