If you've ever been on a cardiovascular machine (treadmill, elliptical, bike, and etc.) no doubt you've seen the graph with various heart rate zones and their descriptions. One description that irks me is the "fat burning" zone. Some machines even have programs named, "fat burner". In this article I'll tell you why fat burner = time burner!
First, I applaud fitness equipment manufacturers for including the heart rate zone charts on their machines. The average person probably has no idea what zone s/he may want to aim while exercising. Providing these small graphs at least gives some information to people in which to start their daily fitness session. A little background: most graphs are based on the "Karvonen Formula" - to get your predicted maximum heart rate, subtract your age from the number 220. Now, to get your heart rate zone, find 60% of that number and 90% of that number; this is your target heart rate zone. Here's the calculation for someone 50 years old: 220 - 50 = 170 beats per minute (bpm); 60% = 102 bpm and 90% = 153 bpm.
Now that we have a little more background, let's get to the gist of this article. As mentioned, many of the heart rate zone graphs on cardiovascular machines have the phrase "fat burning" listed in the lowest zone of the chart. Also, many machines have a "fat burning" program. The premise here is that at lower heart rates, our bodies utilize a higher percentage of fat for energy. It sounds really good, doesn't it? Well, as you read this article and I write it, our bodies are using primarily fat for the energy to do so!
Now, a quick quiz for you: how do you lose fat weight? Hopefully, you answered, "expend more than I consume" or something close to that. With that in mind, wouldn't you want to expend the most calories in the quickest time possible? If you're like many of my clients, you said, "of course, I hate working out, I want to get in and get out"! Let me show you something that's mind blowing:
Exerciser 1 does "fat burner"workout - heart rate kept at 60% of maximum for 40 minutes; calories burned/workout = 182
Exerciser 2 does "endurance training" workout - heart rate kept at 85% maximum for 25 minutes; calories burned/workout = 195
If each exerciser worked out the same number of minutes each week for 48 weeks, exerciser 2 would expend 18,720 calories more than exerciser 1. So, check this out:
3,500 calories = 1 lb of fat; Exerciser 2 has burned over 5 lbs more fat (18,720 divided by 3,500) than exerciser 1!
The exercise manufacturers mean well, they really do. And, if someone hasn't exercised in months, years, or, at all, of course, the lower heart rate zone is more wise and probably more practical. However, for many people, the "fat burner" program and/or heart rate zone turns out to be nothing more than a time burner. So, let's increase that intensity, lose more fat, look better, feel better, and "get in and get out" so you can go have fun doing the things you love!
Trevor Gould, M.S., ACE Certified
Always consult a physician before starting an exercise program. Hypothetical calories burned by exercisers 1 and 2 above were obtained by information on fitday.com.