The Truth About the Fat Burning Zone


Do you exercise because you want to lose weight? If so, you've probably heard, or been told, that for best weight loss results you should work in your "fat burning zone" which is about 60% to 70% of your maximum heart rate or at a light to moderate intensity.

While lower intensity workouts are great for beginners and for great for building endurance, you need to work harder for some of those workouts if you really want to lose weight.

The Truth About Your Fat Burning Zone

The thing is, the body does burn a higher percentage of calories from fat in the fat burning zone or at lower intensities. However, at higher intensities (70-90% of your maximum heart rate), you burn a greater number of overall calories, which is what matters when it comes to losing weight. The chart below details the fat calories expended by a 130-pound woman during cardio exercise:

 Low Intensity - 60-65% MHRHigh Intensity - 80-85% MHR
Total Calories expended per min.4.866.86
Fat Calories expended per min.2.432.7
Total Calories expended in 30 min.146206
Total Fat calories expended in 30 min.7382
Percentage of fat calories burned50%39.85%

Source: From The 24/5 Complete Personal Training Manual, 24 Hour Fitness, 2000

In this example, the woman burns more total calories and more fat calories at a higher intensity. This isn't to say that low intensity exercise doesn't have it's place.

In fact, endurance workouts should be a staple of a complete fitness program along with shorter, higher intensity workouts or interval workouts, which are a great way to burn calories and build endurance.  To figure out your own target heart rate zone, you can use an online calculator or follow these detailed steps for calculating it on your own.

Structuring Your Cardio Workouts

So, if you want to lose weight, what should a cardio program look like?  A general schedule would include workouts at a variety of intensities within your target heart rate zone.  If you're doing 5 cardio workouts a week, you might have one high intensity workout, one lower intensity workout and then two somewhere in the middle.

Sample Cardio Workout Program for Beginners

Let's say you're a beginner and you're trying to figure out just how to put together a cardio program that lets you slowly build endurance while getting you a little out of your comfort zone, which will help burn more calories.

Where do you start?  I like to have my beginners do moderate interval training - Practicing getting just out of your comfort zone a little at a time so that you don't have to spend an entire workout miserable, yet you still challenge yourself.

Below is a sample program with about 3 days of cardio and 2 days of walking.  Another great option is to get a pedometer or activity tracker to keep track of your steps on a daily basis.

MondayBeginner Interval WorkoutUp to 21 Minutes
TuesdayLow Intensity Walking10-20 Minutes
ThursdayCardio Endurance WorkoutUp to 35 Minutes
SaturdayInterval Training Level 2Up to 25 Minutes
SundayLow Intensity Walking10-20 Minutes


More Cardio Workout Program for Weight Loss

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