Q: Hi Erika! Long time subscriber 🙂 I just want to know if the notorious “fat burning zone” exists or is it merely a myth? I get mixed reviews when doing research.
Uh…sort of. Let me explain.
There is myth surrounding the fat burning zone as most people understand it, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is – at least, in my mind – a fat burning zone that people should do their best to stay within.
The fat-burning zone, as far as most people know it, is the belief that slow and steady-paced cardio activity is the best way to burn fat. That, in fact, this is the best way to burn fat – slow-paced aerobic activity.
Your body is constantly burning fat for energy. Constantly. All darn day. The amount of energy (also read as “fat,” also read as “calories”) that your body burns will almost always correlate to the amount of activity that you complete within any given time frame. Barring some hormonal abnormality, there’s no way to change that.
During an intense workout, there is a point where your body will no longer use fat for energy, but instead switch over to burning muscle for energy. This is why you see avid lifters who simply don’t do cardio, because muscle is valuable and excessive challenging cardio will eat away at that. (Somehow, the “don’t do challenging cardio” meme was passed around, but the “lift weights! get muscle!” fell to the wayside. Hmmm.) The “punishment” for doing super-intense cardio isn’t “your body doesn’t burn calories as well as it does during your slow-paced cardio;” the punishment is “your body loses muscle,” which is just Latin for “now, your body doesn’t burn calories as efficiently outside of your workouts the way that it otherwise could.” Bummer.
Knowing your maximum heart rate (220-your age= your maximum heart rate) will help you better calculate your zones. For cardiovascular activity, staying between zone 1 and zone 3 (which is to say, working between 40% and 75% of your maximum heart rate) is your best bet… which is also why high intensity interval training is your best bet. It allows you to float effortlessly – jokes, jokes – between your zones, and get the benefit of the higher zones even though you’re only working out to that intensity for 30-60 seconds at a time. It helps you preserve muscle, while still burning fat by staying within that wide range of heart rates.
What is high intensity interval training?
I’m so glad you asked!
High intensity interval training is, quite frankly, training in intervals where you give 110% of what you’ve got for a chosen period of time and then rest for a shorter period of time. This is different from an activity that you’d participate in, giving steady effort and intensity, for a long period of time. High intensity interval training is more time-efficient, more effective and often serves as a great way to develop better cardiovascular strength.
Lifting with proper form, burpees, mountain climbers, circuit training…. hell, even some plyometrics or even some hard work in a weights machine can turn into a HIIT workout quickly and having you in [the good kind of] pain and thanking your lucky stars.
A successful HIIT workout has lots of different components to it, and if you want to get the most out of your half hour (or hour, if you’re so tough) then you do what you can to make sure you’re managing all of those components. And, let’s face it – “getting the most out of your hour” is a polite way of saying “produce results.” Everyone cares about effectiveness, because if your workouts aren’t effective then you’re not going to be producing results, in the form of a changing body. HIIT can definitely make that happen.