The Myth of the Fat Burning Zone

A very common question in the health and wellness industry is “what is the best way to burn fat?” 

As I’m sure many health enthusiasts have seen, most cardio equipment will contain a chart showing “the cardio zone” and “the fat burning zone”.  The cardio zone will recommend a higher heart rate for your age group while the fat burning zone recommends a lower heart rate.  In summary, we will use more fat as a fuel when oxygen is present, which requires a lower intensity or lower heart rate while exercising.  During high intensity exercise, we go into an oxygen deficit, which disables the use of fat as a fuel and forces our body to use sugars for fuel. 

So why would the fat burning zone be a myth then?  Well, the science above is only a fraction of the whole story. 

When maintaining a regular, healthy diet, our bodies will have some level of blood sugar as well as glycogen (the storage form of sugar) in our muscles.  During exercise, whether high or low intensity, our preferred source of energy is sugar.  So long story short, if sugars are available they will be used as energy instead of fat, whether working at a high or low intensity. 

So now you’re probably thinking, how do I burn fat?  Well, that's quite simple actually.  Several research studies have shown that exercising at a high intensity can allow for maximal blood sugar and glycogen depletion, an increased metabolic rate, and the release of lypolitic (fat releasing) hormones and enzymes.  The combination of all these factors will allow for an increase in our body's ability to use fat as a fuel following an exercise session.

In addition, movement-based rehabilitation performed at a high intensity has many more benefits:

  • Improves cardiovascular health
    • Increases oxygen consumption
    • Increases stroke volume
    • Decreases resting pulse rate
    • Increase HDL’s (good cholesterol)
  • Improves mood
    • Allows for the release of hormones/neurotransmitters that elevate mood
    • Allows for a sense of accomplishment after a challenging exercise session
  • Increases energy levels

Whether you are looking to lose excess body fat, or just rebuild physical dysfunctions and get moving safely again, try to engage in higher intensity. You'll feel the difference right away!