Many times I have had people ask me about the fat-burning zone that is programmed into the cardio machine that they are using. They choose this particular option because they hear “fat burning” and automatically think their body-fat will fall right off them while using this option. However, after a few minutes of exercising, many times they feel like they’re not doing much of anything.

Now if you are a beginner, lower intensity exercise is a great place to start, but if you feel that you are ready to kick it up a notch, the fat-burning zone just might be renamed “I’m going to spend the next 3 hours on this treadmill” zone. Here is the reason why…

Our bodies are designed to use a majority of certain macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and protein) as fuel for energy during certain levels/intensities of activities we perform every day. We use mostly fat during low intensity exercise, (light walking, etc.) and carbohydrates during higher intensity exercise (running etc.) In fact, as you are reading this, you are most likely using fat as your main source of fuel to provide the energy needed for proper functions in your body.  However, if you are sitting down, you and I both know you’re not burning many total calories. In reality, this is what really matters if you’re looking to lose weight… total calories in vs. total calories out. Focus on total calories burned, rather than the percentage of fat used in those calories.

So if your chillin in the fat-burning zone while on a stationary bike, you are in fact burning mostly fat, but the total calorie expenditure is so low that you’ll need to spend a lot of time slowly peddling in order to produce the same calorie burn for a typical higher intensity cardio workout. I don’t know about you, but I value my time and would much rather go at a higher intensity and expend more total calories in a shorter period of time.

A great starting point for the beginner/moderate exerciser is to be in the best of both worlds. A balanced training zone that requires some storage body fat for energy, while still burning high amounts of total calories in a 30 – 60 min cardio session. A general rule would be to exercise about 65% – 85% of your maximal heart rate. In most cases, an estimation of your maximal heart rate can be calculated using a simple formula of 220 minus your age and 65% – 85% of that number. For example, I’m 28 years old. 220 – 28 equal 192 beats per a minute. This is my predicted maximal heart rate. Now my target heart rate if I want to be within 65% – 85% would equal about 125 – 163 heart beats per a minute during exercise activity. This is the range I want to be in during  my cardiovascular workouts. Remember however, that this formula is an estimation. If the intensity is not challenging enough to you, then go harder! The real key is changing up your exercise routine often and not letting it become so predictable that your body doesn’t have to adapt to the stimulus you place on it. The bottom line: If you feel like you’re not challenging yourself, then you’re probably not! Now get out there and move!