One of the most controversial concepts in the world of fitness and fat loss is that of the Fat Burning Zone. If you had asked a trainer 20 years ago at what heart rate you should workout, the answer would have been that you have to maintain the heart rate of the Fat Burning Zone to maximize your fat loss.
Today, this concept is fat from a consensus. In fact, some experts say that this is completely false and that people who train according to this “zone” will not achieve optimal fat loss results.
Expert trainer, Craig Ballantyne, even goes as far as including this as one of his top 5 Fat Loss myths. I happen to agree and in this article I’ll help you discover why training this way may not be what you really want to do… if you want to burn fat, that is.
What is the Fat Burning Zone
Working out according to The Fat Burning Zone involves doing medium intensity training that keeps your heart rate at approximately 60-70% of your maximum heart rate (often calculated by 200 – your age). At this heart rate, the percentage of fat calories burned of the total calories you burn is the highest.
This is why working out this way became so popular and millions were driven to do long and steady paced cardio to make sure they maximize the percentage of burnt fat calories.
Now, there are various formulas for calculating the heart rate required to be in the “zone”. I won’t go into the math because I’m more interested in the important points to really help you burn the most body fat and get as lean as possible.
I believe that long and steady cardio is not the best way to burn fat. Yes, it does burn calories and you can lose weight by doing long distance running or other cardio workouts. If you want to build your endurance like long distant runners do then this is the right form of workout. However, if it’s a reduction in body fat you’re looking for, then there are other better ways to do it.
Why is the Fat Burning Zone a Myth
This is a question of simple math but one that has confused a lot of people. It is true that of the TOTAL number of calories that you burn during a workout, the percentage of fat calories that you burn is the highest when in the Fat Burning Zone. However, if you do more intensive workouts, those that boost your heart beat above that of the “zone”, you can burn a lot more TOTAL calories and more of those will be of fat.
Let’s look at a theoretical example: say that you’re doing a workout in the “zone” and burn 500 calories in an hour. Of those calories, 50% come from fat. You’ve burned 250 fat calories.
You can also do a higher intensity workout and burn 800 calories in an hour. Of those, just 40% come from fat. This comes to 320 fat calories. 70 calories of fat more than what you achieved in the previous workout.
Even though the percentage was lower, because the total was much higher, the second workout burned more body fat for you.
The reason why workouts are higher heart rates burn more calories is that they are much more intensive. The difference in total calorie comsumption can be quite massive.
What Should you do to burn fat
By now you know that your focus should be on high intensity workouts and not on long duration, steady pace, workouts that keep you in the “zone”. To do that, you should focus on two kinds of workouts:
1. Interval training – This is a form of cardio that involves doing bursts of high intensity activity along with low intensity ones. This allows you to burn more calories and to reduce the overall workout time that you do. High Intensity interval training has become the foremost methods of doing cardio for many trainers.
2. Strength training - It is widely known that one of the best ways to boost your metabolism is to build more muscle tissue. Cardio workouts, which are the basis of the Fat Burning Zone myth, don’t build any muscle tissue and may even reduce it. To increase your muscle mass you need to spend more time doing strength exercises using weights and your bodyweight’s own resistance.
You can also combine intervals and strength training by doing circuit training and fast paced strength workouts. One of the programs that uses combination exercises is the Double Edged Fat Loss plan, for instance.
Resistance training also has an afterburn effect that long duration cardio simply doesn’t. This Afterburn effect lasts for 24-48 hours after the actual workout is done and continues the accelerated calorie burning.
Note: it should be noted that some program still make use of the “zone”. The Get Lean Program by Belinda Benn mentions the “zone” and actually recommends it. However, it also recommends doing interval training so it seems that the focus on the “zone” is becoming less and less common.
Any training is better than none. You can lose weight by doing workouts that keep your heart rate at the Fat Burning Zone. You’re still burning more calories than you ever would by just sitting on the couch.
That being said, there are more effective fat burning methods that are also more time efficient. Indeed, unless your goal is to improve your endurance, focusing on medium heart rate workouts is not the way to get optimal results.