The Fat Burn Zone Myth

Is the fitness industry on your side? Or does it just want your money? Everywhere I look nowadays I see slick marketing and spurious claims all designed to part everyone, from gym users to gym owners, with their money. Money, which saddens me to say, can sometimes symbolise someone’s hopes and dreams in a seemingly lifelong battle with their weight.

Do not be suckered in by programmes claiming to work you in the FAT BURN ZONE.They will not help you reach your goals quicker.

Every piece of cardio-vascular exercise equipment I’ve ever encountered (except the Concept rowers – pure class!) have had programmes labelled ‘fat burn’ or ‘weight loss’. These programmes are put on there to make the equipment more appealing to people aiming to lose weight – or if you think cynically; women.

Back when gyms were first opened they were male dominated, and marketeers needed a way to get women buying gym memberships. The answer? FAT BURN ZONES! “Join the gym” they said. “We have specialist FAT BURNING MACHINES, with FAT BURN settings!”. Cha-ching!! Women were suddenly enthused to use the gym, as their goals are typically more weight-loss centric rather than muscle-building centric. Now, I think its great that more people are encouraged to train, so women being in gyms doesn’t bother me at all (unless they’re stronger than me and hurt my pride). What I don’t like is people being sold a promise of FAT BURN, when in reality these programmes are no more FAT BURNING than any other activity in the gym. What’s more, there are a whole load of activities which would be more effective at BURNING FAT. In fact, I could argue that the FAT BURN programmes can lead to stalling someone’s fat loss endeavours.

I won’t go into the mechanisms of why training in the fat burn zone isn’t the most effective way of burning your fat, but I will back it up with some research. This study compared aerobic, or fat burn zone training, to higher intensity interval training and did the following:

Group 1: 20 weeks of ‘zone training’ – aerobic training in the so called fat burn zone.
Group 2: 15 weeks of high intensity interval training – training hard with rest periods

Group 1 burned more than twice the overall kcals of group 2, yet group 2 lost 9x (yes, nine times!) more fat than group 1.

Some points for you all:

• The fat burn zone is a myth. Burning fat is a far more complex matter than simply keeping heart rate at a certain level to encourage aerobic respiration
• The fat burn zone is a term made up by marketeers to get more women in the gym
• The ‘fact’ that you burn more fat when exercising aerobically (at a low enough intensity to allow oxygen to be used) is only true from a relative perspective, but not in absolute terms. If I train for 30mins aerobically, I may be using 60% fat as fuel. If I train anaerobically for 30mins, I may only burn 40% fat, but I burn more kcals overall (both during training, and recovering). I therefore burn more fat anaerobically, despite using less fat to fuel my movements. I also set my body up hormonally to be leaner and less fat as a result of hard, high intensity training.
• Fat burning is more complex than simply ‘burning off’ the calories you have consumed
• Encouraging your body to burn fat hinges on controlling the hormones that are responsible for our metabolism. You can do this with dietary control, stress control, and intelligent training
• In the gym, the best methods for ‘fat burning’ are heavy (relative to your own strength, not other people’s) weights and high intensity CV.
• Working in the fat burn zone can slow your progress down by increasing stress levels in the body (especially long duration CV which people tend to do when chasing a calorie target).
• If you do want to work aerobically, do so with a performance goal in mind. Work towards a certain distance running for example and then aim to improve on your time. Longer duration aerobic training is great for achieving performance goals of that nature (i.e. Long duration endurance) but not great for most people’s physical appearance goals.
• The fat burn zone should be relabelled as ‘low intensity training’. It’s great for beginners, and people who need to be careful where their heart rate goes, but that’s about it.

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