One of the questions I am constantly being asked by my personal training and fit camp members is how do they know when they are in the fat burning zone. Also why does it seem that the intensity is really low if you are to go by the charts that you see on machines in the gym.
When training my 1-1 or fit camp personal training ladies in Manchester who want to lose weight I am not particularly interested in the “Fat Burning” Zone (well not totally, but that’s a post for another day).
It is actually the intensity of the exercise that I concentrate on during my personal training sessions.
While a lot has been has been made about the existence of a magical all consuming “fat burning zone,” it is actually one of the greatest myths around when it comes to exercising and trying to lose weight. It is actually based on science that is about 30 years out of date and we have move on quite a bit since then.
The myth comes from the fact that when you are participating in lower intensity exercise, like walking slowly on a treadmill, you are actually burning a higher percentage of calories from fat than from blood sugar (carbs).
In theory this all sounds great, but as most things that sound too good to be true there is usually a catch.
The first gap in the fat burning zone theory is that your body doesn’t care how you burn the calories or what fuel was used in burning them.
In simple terms your body gains or loses weight depending on whether or not you take in more calories than you burn or less calories than you burn.
In other words, in order to lose weight, you must eat fewer calories than you use, because at the end of the day food is just fuel and body fat is just stored fuel that has not been burned.
Therefore, what we need to ask ourselves is:
Is it possible that we can burn more calories by deliberately reducing our intensity in the gym to make sure we stay in this magical “fat burning zone”?
The obvious answer to this is no, but how many people do we see in the gym walking, or on an exercise bike reading a book. The simple truth is that you burn more calories by exercising for longer and at a higher intensity, not by slowing down.
The trick is to exercise at an intensity pace that challenges our bodies and, over time, increase the intensity as your fitness increases. (This sis exactly what we do at fit camp)
This will allow us to work harder over time and as a result burn more calories withing the same time frame in the gym. So getting fitter means you can work harder and you will lose more weight faster.
The second problem with the fat burning zone theory is that even if it was true that it was more important to burn fat calories than total calories, the “fat burning zone” supporters would still be way off the mark.
Generally how this works is that when you reduce the intensity down to burn more fat you might burn 50% of your total calories from fat as opposed to maybe only 30% if you exercise at a higher intensity.
However, you also burn less calories in total; therefore you burn 50% of a lower amount of total calories!
To understand this a bit better take a look at the below figures for 30 min of cardio exercise for a person weighing 95kg:
Low intensity exercise
- 50% Fat burned
- Total calories burned 120
- Fat calories burned 60
High intensity exercise
- 30 % Fat burned
- Total calories burned 200
- Fat calories burned 60
You can see that the higher intensity exercise wins on all counts, both calories burned and the amount of calories from fat. This is one of the reasons why we don’t do slow steady state cardio in our personal training sessions and boot camp sessions.
This article is by Liam Thompson, personal trainer based in Manchester City Centre. Liam specialises in helping people to lose weight through 1-1 or group coaching.
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