The Fat Burning Zone Myth
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “you need to spend x amount of time on the treadmill to get in the fat burning zone!”.
Sadly, the concept of the “fat burning zone” has been severely misconstrued.
In this article, I will discuss what the fat burning zone is, how it has become a myth within the fitness community, and how you can apply this concept – properly, to your workouts.
First of all, the fat burning zone is commonly thought of a range in which your heart rate should be within for optimal muscle burning. This heart rate range differs depending on your age, weight, and height.
The problem with this concept is that people believe the fat burning zone is achieved through long, low intensity cardiovascular activity. In fact, your body burns more calories and therefore more fat, during high intensity cardio training.
This is where the fat burning zone myth gets complicated, because while long, low intensity training will burn more fat, it will burn less calories than high intensity training. This is why people get sucked into exercising on the treadmill for hours on end – because they want to stay in this “fat burning zone”.
These individuals should actually be performing short, more intense activities to burn more calories and conserve muscle mass. Think of it in terms of marathon runners versus sprinters – both have a very low percentage of body fat, but the sprinter has more muscle mass. This conservation of muscle mass leads to an increased metabolism and the lean, athletic look that so many people want.
With this being said, a smarter and more efficient fat burning method is high intensity interval training. This method has been shown to burn 5 times as much fat as long steady state training. High intensity interval training is usually performed for 15-20 minutes and involves alternating periods of rest with periods of work.
For example, you could start with a minute and 30 seconds rest and 30 second of work. Alternate these periods until you reach 15 minutes of total exercise time. On the treadmill, a work period will be around 85-100% of your maximum effort, whereas a rest period will be around 40-50% of your maximum effort – or a sprint compared to a light jog or walk.
Because this method is quick, it does not force your body to turn to muscles for energy. Instead, fat is used as fuel and more calories are burned as a result. As I mentioned, more muscle mass means a faster metabolism.
On average, maintaining 1 pound of muscle burns 50 calories each day. As you can see, muscle is a valuable tool in your weight loss journey. If weight loss is all about calorie intake and calorie expenditure, then you should really focus on the total amount of calories you are burning each day and not some “fat burning zone”.
Hopefully this article has helped explain why the fat burning zone is a myth and why you should add high intensity interval training to your workouts. Remember, efficient fat burning will come from persistence and hard work!