3 Fat-Burning 'Don'ts'

By Nicole Nichols, Managing Editor and Fitness Expert at SparkPeople

Whether you're trying to lose or few pounds or maintain your current weight, most exercisers are interested in "burning fat" during their workouts. Of course, the fat-burning benefits of exercise vary based on when and what you last ate, what type of workout you're doing, how hard you're pushing-and countless other factors. On top of that, you've probably heard a lot of conflicting advice about what types of exercises burn the most fat. We're here to set the record straight!

Here are three "techniques" you should avoid when you're trying to burn fat.

  1. DON'T "Exercise in the fat-burning zone." The fat-burning zone is-shockingly-still a very common workout mode on cardio machines. It is programmed to keep you working at a low heart-rate (intensity) level because at low-energy levels your body uses more fat as fuel. That's is true in theory, but in practice it doesn't work out so well. When it comes to weight loss it does not matter where the calories you burn come from, whether glucose in the bloodstream from a recent meal you ate or stored body fat. What really matters is that you burn as many calories as possible regardless of the source of those calories. And what burns more calories? Working harder (hence my tip from the video above).

  2. DON'T "Exercise on an empty stomach." It is NOT true that exercising on an empty stomach will cause your body to burn more fat. This is a continuation of what I explained above, that the source of the energy you burn doesn't matter when it comes to weight loss. And in many cases, if you are hungry and forcing yourself to work out without eating something first-simply to burn more fat-you are only shortchanging yourself. Your body needs energy to be available for optimal exercise, especially if you want to work hard, which really burns the most calories (and, subsequently, fat). When you're low on fuel (energy), you can't work as hard or as long and your workout suffers along with your calorie burn.

  3. DON'T "Lift light weights for lean muscles." Perhaps one of the best things you can do to unleash your body's fat-burning potential is strength training. And I do believe that any strength training is better than nothing, even if it's lightweight. But the idea that lifting light weights is going to give you better results or "smaller" muscles is only a half truth. Sure, without lifting heavier you will probably not get much stronger. But stronger doesn't mean "bigger" (very important!) and the less strength you have, the fewer calories you are burning while you read this blog, while you run and while you do just about anything.


    Muscle can help elevate your metabolism, and lifting weights to fatigue can also burn some serious calories-even after your workout ends. Not to mention that during weight loss, about 25% of the "weight" you lose could actually be lean tissue like muscle. Over time, that can wreak havoc on your metabolism and fat-burning potential. So pick up those weights at least twice a week and don't fear getting stronger. You'll cut that muscle loss that often accompanies weight loss in half, and it will only make your fitter, slimmer and healthier.

Related links:
Burn It Off: How Much Walking to Undo a Donut?
Does a Big Breakfast Help or Hurt Weight Loss?
Poll: Do You Eat Fat-Free Foods?


SparkPeople Fitness Expert Nicole Nichols is an ACE-certified personal trainer and AFAA-certified group fitness instructor. You can learn more about Nicole and her workout DVDs here.