How to maximise your fat burn while exercising

Disclaimer: Please note that this article is research based and some of the views and findings do not conform with the CSN Diet.

Ever noticed how a tough workout makes it feel like your heart is trying to jump out of your chest? For some of us, climbing a set of stairs has the same effect, but hey, I’m not here to judge.

How to maximise your fat burn while exercising

Exercise increases your heart rate, but did you know that you can use this to your benefit?

What happens to your heart when you exercise?

When you exercise, everything in your body works a bit harder. Since most of your body functions require oxygen, your body needs even more oxygen when you start your workout.

Your lungs provide your body with oxygen and help it to get rid of waste gas, which is called carbon dioxide. 

Your body is constantly sending signals to your brain to inform it about the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. 

Your brain will then send signals to the muscles involved in breathing, and adjust your breathing rate depending on how active you are. 

While exercising, your breathing can increase 40 to 60 times a minute, because your muscles need more oxygen to keep up with the increased demand.

This is why your heart starts pumping so vigorously. Blood is pumped by the heart, and it picks up oxygen as it passes by the lungs, from where it is carried through your body in the bloodstream.

Why do fit people have heart attacks?
Every so often we hear of someone dying from a heart attack while they were exercising. And upon seeing that you can’t help but wonder if exercise is really that good for you.
What is really behind this phenomenon? It’s actually not as mysterious as it seems. 

As we know, you can manage your heart health by making healthy lifestyle choices such as not smoking, exercising and eating healthy. 

However, if you have an underlying heart condition, a healthy lifestyle will benefit you, but likely not cure you. 

You can’t ignore your genes, and your cholesterol and blood pressure is always a factor – and these can affect you even if you are of normal weight.

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to stay healthy, but overdoing it, as with most things in life, can be dangerous.

Too much sudden exercise can cause problems in some people. In these cases the blood pressure is affected or the heart rate goes too fast. 

If the athlete then has underlying coronary artery disease, blood pressure issues or weakened heart muscles, there will be an increased risk of a sudden heart attack or stroke. 

What are heart rate zones?

Heart rate zones range from your resting heart rate to your maximum heart rate during a vigorous workout. Your maximum heart rate is the highest number of beats per minute when you are exercising at your hardest.

Heart rate zones can help you calculate the intensity and efficiency of a workout by calculating what percentage of your maximum heart rate you are using while you work out.

Different heart rate zones have different benefits, so knowing them can help you to achieve your unique goals.

These are the five most commonly described heart rate zones:

The resting heart rate zone (50-60%)

In this zone you are still taking things easy. Exercises like walking, golf, warming up or cooling down will happen in this zone. You won’t burn a lot of calories in this zone, but it can still benefit you.

Daily exercise in zone 1 is good for general heart health and helps with high blood pressure.

Training in this zone also helps your body become more efficient at delivering oxygen to your muscles. Over time, this helps you to exercise longer and harder. 

The moderate zone (60-70%)

In this zone you are doing moderate intensity activities, such as slow jogging. You are still not burning a significant amount of calories, but you are improving your endurance. 

Training in this zone is sometimes called heart rate training, and it’s the lowest zone used for training purposes. 

Seeing that it is not super intense, most people can keep up this level of training for a long period of time, and enjoy great benefits from it. 

Training in this zone reduces your risk of injury, improves insulin resistance, speeds up recovery time after heavier exercise and increases the amount of oxygen your body can utilise. 

The more oxygen your body can use, the more physically fit you are. This means that you get less tired doing the same type of exercise.

The aerobic zone (70-80%)

In this zone your workout is becoming quite intense, with exercises such as running, cycling, weight-lifting or swimming. In this zone you will burn more calories in a shorter amount of time.

This zone improves aerobic fitness and strength. It also improves your overall endurance, cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength.

The anaerobic zone (80-90%)

Now you are doing intensive exercises such as running fast, fast cycling or lifting heavy weights. You may begin to feel out of breath and your body starts burning carbohydrates for energy.

In this zone your body starts producing lactic acid, which is what causes your muscles to ache the next day. Regular exercise in this zone will help your lactate threshold to increase, leaving you less sore after exercise.

The max heart rate zone (90-100%)

This zone includes exercises that push your body to the limit, such as running at full speed. You won’t be able to stay in this zone very long.

How to calculate your fat-burning heart rate zone

Achieving a specific heart rate puts you into what is sometimes called the ‘fat burning zone. This is considered the heart rate at which you lose the most fat.

The fat burning zone is estimated to be between 64% and 76% of your maximum heart rate (the number of heartbeats per minute when your heart is working at maximum capacity). 

There are certain factors that influence where your fat burning zone will be:

  • Your maximum heart rate decreases as you get older. This means that your fat burning heart rate zone will be lower.
  • Fitter people will have a higher maximum heart rate and a higher fat burning heart rate zone.
  • Men usually have a higher maximum heart rate and therefore a higher fat burning heart rate zone than women.
  • If you are overweight you could have a lower maximum heart rate and fat burning heart rate zone. 
  • Some medications can lower your maximum heart rate and fat burning heart rate zone.

Exercises of low to moderate intensity are usually within the fat burning zone. 

When you exercise, your body uses fat and carbs as fuel. Which fuel gets used depends mostly on the amount of effort you are putting in.

When you exercise at a lower intensity about 60% of calories burned are fat, and the rest carbohydrates. 

When you increase the intensity, your body starts using carbs in the form of glucose and glycogen, and you are not in the fat burning zone anymore.

You can calculate your own fat burning zone using two equations. The first will give you the lower end of the range and the second will give you the higher end:

Maximum heart rate for your age x 0.64 = lower end of fat burning zone

Maximum heart rate for your age x 0.76 = higher end of fat burning zone

You can’t, of course, do the above calculations without knowing your maximum heart rate. This is fairly simple:

220 – your age = maximum heart rate

How to stay within the fat burning zone while you exercise

Determining your fat burning zone doesn’t help much if you don’t actually know how fast your heart is beating while you work out. So how do you measure your heart rate while you exercise?

One method is to simply count your beats per minute. Take a quick break from your workout and take your pulse for 15 seconds. Multiply the number of beats by four, and you will have your beats per minute.

Wearable devices like heart rate monitors and smart watches are very useful for tracking your heart rate, and some cardio equipment such as treadmills can also track it for you.

Now you can determine whether you are in the range you are aiming for. If not, adjust the intensity of your exercise. 

Tracking your heart rate is an efficient way to ensure you get the most out of your exercise routine. 

However, if you suffer from diabetes or you have more than one risk factor for heart disease, it’s a good idea to chat to your GP about exercising safely. This is especially a concern for men over 45 and women over 55.

Final word

Exercising within the fat burning heart rate zone is not a shortcut to weight loss. Wanting to shed extra kilograms always has to do with burning more calories than you consume.

You will burn more calories if you exercise at a higher intensity than the fat burning zone. But if this is difficult for you, you might not be able to keep up your exercise routine.

Training in the fat burning zone is a handy tool to explore if you are looking for a way to exercise that you will be able to enjoy and benefit from in the long term.



Hi, my name is Karien Nel and today I’m 37kg lighter than the day I started my weight loss journey with CSN Diet.

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