How to burn more fat during your cardio workout
No, reading doesn’t really make you fat, but at least I caught your attention. If you’re serious about fat loss, put down the magazine while you’re working out.
To optimize your fat burning during a cardio workout, you need to be exercising at a high intensity. If you are able to catch up on Brad and Jen’s relationship while working out, you’re not going hard enough!
To maximize calorie and fat utilization and be able to sustain it for a decent length of time, you should be exercising at about 75% of you maximum heart rate (MHR). To determine your MHR, subtract your age from 220. Take 75% of this and this should be your approximate heart rate, in beats per minute, while doing your cardio exercise. Chances are you will not be able to follow along in a magazine or book if you are maintaining this level of intensity.
If you don’t have the resource to measure your heart rate, there are some simpler methods to approximate your intensity level during exercise:
RPE (rating of perceived exertion): on a scale of 1-10 (called the modified Borg scale), where 3 is “moderately hard” and 7 is “very hard” (10 would be “make it stop now or I’m going to hurt you”), 75% would equate with a 5-6, or “hard”.
Talk-test: if you are walking or running outside with a friend, an estimate of proper intensity level would mean that you are able to carry on a conversation with your partner, but you should…have to stop about…every five or six words…to catch your breath. If you are able to rattle off the entire Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, you need to go faster or find a hill to walk up.
Ideally, you should spend a minimum of 30 minutes, a minimum of 3 times a week doing cardiovascular/aerobic exercise at this intensity. Keep in mind, however, that these guidelines do not take into consideration 12-hour shifts and 3 kids who need to go to 5 different places after school. Do not feel that if you cannot do the minimum recommended time, you should not do it at all. Something is better than nothing, so 2 times a week, or 15-20 minutes will still benefit you.
· The suggested amount of time is at your target heart rate. You should spend 3-5 minutes warming up (at a lower intensity level to warm your body up), and at least 5 minutes cooling down; decreasing the intensity level until your heart rate lowers to about 100 beats per minute.
· If you are just beginning an exercise program, or have only been at it for a short time you MUST start off slowly. For the first few weeks to a month, don’t even worry about trying to achieve a specific heart rate. Go slowly at a pace that you are comfortable at. Gradually increase the intensity by increasing speed or resistance (walking up hill). Don’t feel that if you are not working at the 75% range that you aren’t doing yourself any good. Remember that this target zone is for maximal calorie burning and that even at a lower intensity, you are still burning calories. Work up to it! You will feel better exercising for 30 minutes at 4 on the RPE scale than for 5 minutes at a 7.
Ignore the Charts
Some pieces of cardio equipment have charts or even blinking lights that show you if you’re in the “fat burning zone” or the “cardio zone” based on your heart rate. These zones are misleading. The thought behind them is this:
Every calorie utilized to sustain a function comes from the “burning” of both carbohydrate and fat. Your body is ALWAYS using a combination of fat, carbohydrate and protein for energy; so let that quickly dispel the old myth of “you need to work out at least 20 minutes in order to burn fat.” (That was going to be my next article). As the intensity of an activity increases, the percentage of fat to carbohydrate use per calorie is shifted in favor of burning more carbohydrates. Therefore if you exercise at a lower intensity, you will burn a greater percentage of fat then if you exercise at a higher intensity. WAIT!!! Although you burn a greater percentage of fat, if you exercise at a higher intensity, you will burn a greater number of total calories which will lead to a greater TOTAL amount of fat burned.
Not only are you burning more total fat than at a lower intensity, the only true way to lose excess fat is to expend more calories than you consume. A pound of fat consist of about 3500 calories. Therefore, if you were to expend 500 calories a day greater than the amount of calories you consume, you would lose a pound a week.
So those charts and zones on the equipment are telling you to keep yourself at a lower intensity level than the level where you should be.
Whatever your goals are, it is important to get yourself up and moving. The American College of Sports Medicine and the Surgeon General suggest that individuals should get 30 minutes of some form of physical activity every day of the week.
But if you are serious about exercise fat loss in particular, put down the magazine and pick up the tempo!
About the Author
Wesley Norris, CSCS
Wes is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He has a degree in Exercise Science and over 10 years experience working in Sports Medicine and Exercise Programming settings. Wes teaches for a National Personal Training Certification organization and is a highly sought-after speaker and authored many published fitness articles.