If you’ve ever set foot in a gym, you’ll have heard of the fat burning zone. Posters on gym walls detail how you calculate your personal fat burning zone, and heart rate monitors are built into machines, telling you whether you’re in the magical fat burning zone. It sounds enticing, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want to burn fat? But is the fat burning zone effective? Is it the most effective way to lose fat? And should you focus on the fat burning zone for your cardio, aerobic and fitness routine?
Studies conducted in laboratory environments have proven that when working out at 60-70% maximal heart rate (i.e. endurance training or long slow duration cardio) our bodies use a greater proportion of fat for fuel.
Science has proven it, so there’s no argument there.
Burning fat for fuel does not equal losing your belly, shedding your bingo wings or trimming your saddle bags. Burning fat for fuel simply means that instead of using carbohydrates (or glycogen stores) or protein, your body is using fat (or fat stores) to fuel its activity.
But fat loss and weight reduction primarily depend on burning calories. The particular type of fuel your body uses to power your workouts is less important. Interval training, circuit training and resistance training will all burn more calories overall than working out in your fat burning zone. And as
an added bonus (depending on how much you love exercise), the workouts are shorter!
Just remember that if you choose to go with interval training, you have to work hard during the intervals! If you’re not honest with yourself and push yourself during work intervals, you’re only short changing yourself!
When to use the ‘fat burning zone’ (let’s just call it steady state cardio)
There is still a time and place for the fat burning zone. If you want to increase your endurance, you have to train using endurance exercise. This means maintaining sub-maximal effort over a sustained period. So if you want to improve your long runs, you have to do regular long runs. If you want to cycle through a long road race, you have to get out and do long rides on your bike.
Training frequently is key to your health and fitness. So if you hate burpees or sprints and you’re more likely to head out for a long run, then do it! You’ll burn more calories doing steady state cardio than you will sitting on the couch avoiding a dreaded interval session. This post isn’t about the “best” type of exercise, it’s about whether the fat burning zone burns more of the fat on your body.
The benefits of steady state cardio
Endurance exercise greatly improves your heart health, and reduces your resting heart rate. It will also burn fat, strengthen your muscles, reduce stress and contribute to disease prevention.
Steady state cardio is therefore an important component of a complete training routine, but it shouldn’t be the only type of exercise you do! Combined with interval training and resistance exercise sessions, steady state cardio or “fat burning zone” training is beneficial. If you love long runs, you get a rush out of long cycle rides, and you’re more drawn to endurance activities, then I absolutely 100% support steady state cardio.
However, I do take issue with the misconception generated by “Fat Burning Zone” training labels. Don’t force yourself to spend an hour in the “zone” on the elliptical, cross trainer, or treadmill just because you think it’s the best way to blast through your fat trouble spots!
The take home message
The most important aspect of your training is that you find something you enjoy and that you train regularly. Do what you love, and you’ll work harder, stick to it, do it more consistently and see more results in the end. I’m a strong believer that exercise should be enjoyable- so do what you love, and do it often.
What’s your favourite form of cardio?
Have you been tempted into the “fat burning zone”?