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I have a funny feeling that the title of this blog just threw every “feel the burn” fitness child of the 80’s into a small episode of shirt off the shoulder Flashdance mania.  But the statement needs to be said, the topic discussed, and hopefully clarified.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If you want to lose weight and burn more fat, you should exercise primarily using low intensity training so you stay in the fat burning zone?” Or something similar to that phrase? Many people believe this advice-and it is perhaps one of the biggest weight loss myths in the fitness world. If you don’t believe me, spend some time at the finish line of a distance race. I can assure you that every one crossing the finish line is not the lean mean fat burning machine that the fat-burning myth suggests.

Hear me out before you take off on a 60 minute/3-mile run hoping to remedy last night’s peanut butter pie.

The fat burning zone does exist. In other words, you body does use fat as one of its resources for fuel. Your body does use a higher percentage of fat as fuel at lower intensity that it does at higher intensity. However, using fat as a resource for fuel-or even using a higher percentage of fat as a resource for fuel-does not mean you will lose more weight by focusing on lower intensity/fat-burning aerobic activities.

How can this be? The problem lies in the total calorie burn, or in this case, the lack thereof.

If weight loss if the goal, then you must have a calorie deficit over a period of time. Total calories in must be less than total calories out. In other words, you must burn more calories than you consume.

When you concentrate your fitness efforts on low intensity exercises, a higher percentage of fat might be fueling your activity, BUT your overall total calorie burn will be lower. Simply put, 20 minutes of a low intensity workout burns less total calories than 20 minutes of a high intensity workouts.

You still do burn calories-just not the same amount of calories that you would at higher intensity. In spite of the lesser calories burn per minute, directing attention to aerobic conditioning is still a valuable part of a complete fitness foundation. Aerobic training contributes to many health benefits including developing endurance and acting as a natural anti-depressant through the release of endorphins.

So go ahead and blaze that trail for an hour or so!  Just be sure you create a balanced training program that includes higher intensity training for the heavy duty calorie burn and strength training for increased resting metabolism, especially if weight loss is your goal.

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One thought on “The Myth of the Fat-Burning Zone

  1. And let us also remember the after-burn. Low end cardio will give you minimal after-burn whereas an intense session will keep the burn going long after a workout.

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