How to Reach the Fat-Burning Zone during Exercise

Hey Angels and Alphas,

With the current pandemic sweeping the world right now, many people are worried that they’re not getting the adequate amount of calorie-burning in their regimen. With gyms closed everywhere, our options remain working out at home, or outside whenever possible. For this reason, this might be a great time to learn something new about how our bodies actually burn calories and what type of exercise gets us into the “fat-burning zone.”

A common misconception you might hear is that the harder you work out, the more fat you burn. That’s not necessarily the case. The truth is, fat burning happens at a lower intensity than most people realize.

This means that even if you’re doing your best to sweat it all out at the gym, you might actually be losing an opportunity to lose fat. That’s why we need to find our personal sweet spot where our bodies begin to burn fat during a workout.

But how do we find out what our heart rate is during a workout?

Due to advances in wearable technology, and the fact that pretty much every treadmill in every gym has the ability to track your heart rate (although it just as well may not give you a really precise answer), finding your heart rate during training sessions has become easier.

Your smartwatch or treadmill monitor can give you a rough estimate of your heart rate as you work out, and some people have even gone as far as wearing chest straps.

Okay, so we know where to find that information, but what do we do with it?

Generally, your heart rate boosts as your workout gets more intense. That’s why measuring your heart rate is actually a pretty good gauge of your workout intensity. But in some cases, it might not be that reliable. For example, if you haven’t recovered properly, your heart rate might be higher than usual. And if you’re working in a hot gym on a summer day, your heart rate will generally be higher than if you were to work out in a cold environment.

So how do we find that fat-burning sweet spot?

To calculate the perfect heart rate increment for burning fat, we must first find your maximum heart rate.

And though there are many ways in which you can measure that through technology, a golden rule for measuring your max heart rate is this simple formula: 

Your Max Heart Rate = 220 – your age multiplied by 0.66

The Chinese Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that this is the most precise way to calculate your max heart rate without the use of any technology.

For example, if you’re 25-30, your estimated maximum heart rate is approx. 200.

And once you know that, you can start calculating individual heart rate zones. They will be your guide as to how intense your workouts should be.

Your fat-burning zone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, should be about 65-75% of your max heart rate for moderate activity while maximizing fat burning. So for our example, that would be somewhere around 130-150 beats per minute.

Fun fact: Most weightlifting workouts stay in this range as well. And so do moderate-intensity endurance workouts.

What if we go above that rate?

When you decide to give a workout your all and go into high-intensity ranges, that’s usually around 75-90 % of your max heart rate. The problem here is that sometimes it’s difficult to track heart rate accurately, and the difference between a workout of 160 bpm and one of 170 bpm is massive.

Keep in mind that some of the technology you’re using may include different heart zones, but we’re sticking to what the experts at the CDC agree on.

On that same topic…

A Finnish scientist actually discovered a better and more accurate way to use your heart rate during exercise.

Have you ever heard of the heart rate reserve? It was created by Finnish scientist Martti Karvonen, and it’s regarded as one of the most accurate ways to determine exercise intensity based on heart rate.

Here’s what you do.

You lie down and relax for a few minutes, put on a smartwatch or fitness tracker, and measure your heart rate. If you don’t have any of that, you can measure your pulse the old fashioned way. This is known as your resting heart rate.

Next, after you’ve determined your resting heart rate, you take your max heart rate, and you subtract your resting heart rate.

For example, if you’re 25-30, and we assume that you have a resting heart rate of 60, then your “heart rate reserve” will be 160. (200-60)

Finally, you take that number, and you multiply it by one of the following:

  • Less than 30% for very light exercise
  • 30–39% for light exercise
  • 40–59% for moderate exercise
  • 60–89% for vigorous exercise
  • 90% or above for full intensity

With this formula, you’ll be able to find your target heart rate during a workout and get a clear vision of what intensity level should be focusing on.

For example, your heart rate reserve is 140. If you want to do vigorous exercise, multiply that number by .6 and by .89, and you’ll get a range of 84-124.

Then, add your resting heart rate to both sides of that number (in this case 60), and you’ll receive the most accurate range for high-intensity exercise – 144-184.

While this might look a little complicated, it’s by far the most accurate way we have of finding your target heart rate (without you know, all the fancy lab equipment.)

Once you know that target heart zone, use it to adjust your workouts. Use your smartwatch or chest strap to change intensities as you move forward.

Use the lower and upper end of that spectrum and implement them into your interval training. Increase intensity until you reach 184, then drop down to 144 and give yourself a break. Stay in this range, and you’ll learn what high-intensity training is all about.

Choosing a workout…

When it comes to reaching your fat-burning zone, the approach will be different for every workout. Runners, for example, need to do intervals of running faster. Gym-lovers might need to ramp up their intensity with a drill or superset.

The possibilities are endless, but know this – following these heart rate zones and using them in your workouts is one of the best ways to ensure safe, healthy, and productive training.

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