Fat Burning Zone… old news.


Me jumping rope. Not the fittest, not the lowest body fat, but very functional and burning a TON of fat in my downtime.


Recently my wife ran into a neighbor who had started using a personal trainer.  She commented to my wife, “I guess I have been doing it all wrong!  So now I am walking on the treadmill more, and less running.  Need to keep my heart-rate down, and not let it get too high.”  My wife didn’t want to discourage her in any way, so she just said “oh” and changed the conversation.

Personally, I am all about changing the way people do things, and if there is a little pain in knowing that you are about to make a big mistake, I OPEN my mouth!  What our neighbor was referring to, was the fat burning zone.  Her personal trainer was telling her, “Your heart rate is too high, and you are burning muscle and not fat.”

Now this statement is TOTALLY true.  When your heart rate is high, you are burning carbohydrate and protein for fuel, not fat.  Fat is kind of like wet wood, if you can picture yourself in a “I need FIRE or I am going to die” situation, and you have a pile of wet wood, dry kindling, and gasoline to burn.  Which will you choose?  Obviously the gasoline is a really good choice.  Your body acts similarly.

As heart rate goes up, the brain says “I need to keep up with this activity” which means that it needs to burn the EASIEST fuel possible.  So it will burn the carbohydrate in the blood stream (sugar = GASOLINE) first, as those stores are exhausted; you then move to burning protein by breaking down protein in muscle tissue to create sugar in the blood stream (protein = dry kindling).

As your heart rate goes down, your brain says “aaahhh, I can relax, not much need for energy, why don’t I see if I can get that wet wood going?” So you start burning fat.  This would then have someone conclude, that the best way to GET THIN, and get rid of excessive body fat, would be to train at very low intensity, over very high time, and thus you would burn the greatest body fat.  However, this theory is WRONG!

Real quick before I go on, I am a Doctor of Chiropractic, which means I have studied physiology quite extensively.  I have a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology, which means I have studied physiology quite extensively.  I have two peronal training certifications, one being the more recent CrossFit Level 1 certification, and I am a partner in a CrossFit gym… these last three mean that I have experience of application.  So when I say WRONG, I mean dead WRONG!

This is why, and follow this closely… If the percentage of FAT burned is 100%, and you are walking 2 miles over 45 minutes, burning 200 calories, then you burned 200 FAT calories during the active phase of exercise; and at that pace, the individual is “recovered” immediately following exercise.   If the percentage of FAT burned is 25%, and you do 30 – 135# clean and jerks in under 3 minutes, then you recover, then you run 400M, do 21 kettlebell swings at 55#, and 12 pull-ups, three times through in 7 and a half minutes.  You have just burned over 400 calories in the active phase of exercise (100 from fat), and around 900 calories will be burned in the recovery phase of exercise (we’ll say an average of 50% fat for this example), which equals 450 calories of FAT in recovery.

So in 10 minutes of exercise, followed by about 45 minutes of recovery, you burn 1300 calories total, and though the percentage of fat burned is way less, you burned a whole lot more still!  Better yet, who do you think burns more fat in a typical day of rest?

  1. A thin man who at 6’0″ weighs 160lbs.  He is in decent shape, and his body fat is 18%.

  2. A fit and lean man who at 6’0″ weighs 195lbs.  He is in great shape, and his body fat is 10%.

It might seem like the first person would burn more fat.  He has more to burn, so why not?  When the truth is the second individual, who obviously has MORE MUSCLE mass.  The reason is because the thing that burns fat at rest is MUSCLE.

I point this out, because in the two examples of exercise above, the walking produces very little muscle growth, where the intense exercise produced a TON of it.   So producing muscle will make you thin, moreso than trying to trick thin into happening.

OK, I’m done beating the point in.  The conclusion is clear, intense exercise is better for everything including fat burning, so stop walking as slow as you can go, and throw some running into the middle of it.  My 66 year old mother does, and she is better off because of it.

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