One of the most common questions related to ellipticals and treadmills is the difference between the fat burn and cardio zones. These two zones are displayed on the graphics of the machine.
There are many people wondering which one is adequate for fat loss. This is why we will do our best to explain how each works, as well as if there is any difference in the results.
The so-called fat burn zone means that throughout your workout, you have worked at around 55-65% of your max heart rate, which in most cases is a fast walking pace. The cardio zone is set at 75-80% of your maximum heart rate and is considered to be more effective when it comes to overall weight loss results.
With the fat burn zone, you may be using more fat fuel, but you are not going to be burning as many calories. The average is around 200 per hour.
On the other hand, the cardio zone doesn’t just burn glycogen reserves; it also burns double the number of calories. Additionally, your metabolism is boosted and continues to work at a higher rate even after the workout.
In our opinion, the cardio zone should always be chosen over the fat-burning zone. However, to elaborate on this opinion, we will go through the most important points related to these workouts and debunk a couple of myths.
What type of exercise is the most effective. Over the course of the past few years, elliptical machines, as well as treadmills, have become widely popular.
Fitness instructors around the world claim that using these machines for 30-45 minutes a day will do wonders when it comes to burning fat. It is a fact that these are a great solution if it is cold and you can’t go outside for a run.
However, during the spring and summer seasons, we see running and swimming as healthier and more effective workouts. Let’s take a look at some of the most important things you need to know about fat burning and cardio.
Let’s get right to it!
The Fat-Burning Zone Myth
Many people are more obsessed with tracking their heart rate chart on the treadmill than actually investing more effort into their workout. This is the fault of false advertising, as well as the design of these machines.
Most bikes and ellipticals have graphics that will instruct you on when you are in the fat burn or cardio zone.
The universal conclusion is that the first one can be translated into a workout intensity of 6 out of 10. This is considered to fall in the range of a medium-intensity workout and is nowhere near as energy-demanding as HIIT (HIgh-Intensity Interval Training), for example.
Still, this would be fine if people were not led into thinking that the fat burn zone is going to ensure better fat loss results than the cardio zone. This leads to people opting for workouts that are lower in intensity, which results in fewer burned calories and less weight loss.
In order to understand this, you need to be familiar with how your metabolism works in the first place. Even while you are not working out, your body is burning energy in order to keep you warm and up and running.
Keep in mind that the two main sources of energy are carbs and fats. Proteins are a structural macronutrient that builds muscles and contributes to hair and skin health.
You are probably wondering what energy source will be used first? As studies suggest, this depends on which you have more of.
Thus, if you have eaten a high-carb and low-fat meal prior to your workout, your body will probably start with the glycogen reserves.
This is where people get confused and think that the cardio zone will not result in burning stored fat. This is still going to happen, although your body will use carbs for energy at the same time, which leads to more burned calories overall.
Is it true that fat is used as a primary energy source for low-intensity workouts?
The myth that the fat burn zone is better for overall weight loss has to come from somewhere, right? The source of this myth is the biochemical process that happens in your body during homeostasis.
It is widely known as ATP, and it is used as a form of energy, but where does it come from? It comes from carbs and fats.
Numerous studies suggest that in order for fats to be turned into ATP, they need to be in direct contact with oxygen. This leads us to the conclusion that, during rest and mild physical activity, your body does a better job using fat as fuel.
This is due to the oxygen levels that are present in your blood. What your body actually does is find the most effective mechanism of fueling your brain and body temperature during homeostasis.
Considering that, it doesn’t come as a surprise that carbohydrates are seen as the primary fuel source for high-intensity workouts.
As we have mentioned above, your body has certain glycogen reserves. This means that, during a more intense workout, your metabolism is going to turn to directly burning carbs instead of turning fats into ATP.
What you should keep in mind is that this doesn’t mean that fats will be completely out of use. It just means that carbs are a simpler and faster energy source.
Additionally, a workout at which you are at 80% of your maximum heart rate results in less oxygen being ingested. Thus, it is perfectly normal that the amount of fat burned is not the same.
However, what matters is that you are actually going to be using more calories overall. At the end of the day, that is the key to effective weight loss – calories in, calories out!
Working Out in the Cardio Zone Burns More Calories
It shouldn’t surprise you that a higher intensity workout is going to result in more energy burned by the end of the day. The best example is comparing walking to running.
The first activity is low-intensity and may motivate your body into using fat as the main energy source. However, the amount of energy needed is going to be much lower.
This is because, during cardio zone workouts, both your respiratory and cardiovascular systems will have to work harder.
Firstly, your heart needs to pump blood faster to keep your organs functioning. Meanwhile, you will be breathing at a more rapid pace and with different techniques in order to take in more oxygen.
Look at it from this perspective – for the same amount of time, you can run double the distance that you would usually cover walking. This directly implies that you will be using more calories for this activity.
Bearing this in mind, if you want to lose more weight, the logical conclusion is that a cardio zone workout is going to be more effective. Staying in the fat burn zone will slow down your overall progress, considering the fact that the amount of energy used is not that high.
Achieving a Balance in Your Workout Routine
Our personal suggestion would be to strive for something in between if what you are looking for is a sustainable way of burning fat. This means that you should be combining a high-intensity workout along with some moderate exercise.
We see this as an effective combination. You will boost your metabolism into burning more calories and carbs, and your body will still use a significant percentage of fat as fuel, as well.
You will also prevent the chance of injuring yourself or getting worn out, which is quite common with high-intensity workouts.
Keep in mind that, along with your exercise regimen, you should also place focus on other healthy habits. This includes your diet, as well as your sleeping routine.
Make sure you are taking care to get enough rest and eat a well-balanced diet that is rich in macro and micro-nutrients. If you do not do this, you will not be able to make effective progress.
If you are just starting out, we think that this is the best workout program for you. Go for two high-intensity days, two moderate days, and a single low-intensity workout in the form of fast-paced walking for 30 minutes.
For example, you can do a cardio endurance workout on Monday and Thursday, while opting for interval training on Wednesday and Saturday. Tuesday and Sunday should be for rest, while you should use Friday to get the most out of your walking workout.
Effective Cardio Workouts
If you are looking to build muscle, then the cardio programs that we will be going through are not optimal for you. However, this doesn’t mean that someone who is trying to bulk up shouldn’t include any kind of cardio exercise.
Apart from being effective for burning fat, it is also essential for improving endurance. Plus, it is good for strengthening your cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
Again, the ideal program for losing weight is to combine a couple of high-intensity workouts with two moderate and a single low-intensity one. This way, you will be reaping all the benefits of both the fat burn and cardio zones, with the risk of injury being close to zero.
Luckily for you, there are a variety of cardio workouts, which means you will not become bored. We did our best to highlight a couple of the most effective exercises that we consider suitable for both beginners and those with better endurance.
This regimen is perfect for all of you that want to build muscle and improve endurance at the same time. Additionally, it is suitable for people who are not that motivated to run or spend their time on a treadmill.
Thus, this workout consists of switching between jumping jacks, skipping roles, push-ups, and pull-ups. It also includes barbell rows and mountain climbers, which will keep the break in between to just a couple of seconds.
Do a single set of these circuit exercises, then take a 5-minute break and repeat the whole process at least a couple of times.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
This is one of the best workouts if what you are looking for is to burn fat both during and after the workout. Your heart rate will be elevated to about 90%, which is why you will not want to engage in HIIT until you have built some kind of endurance.
It consists of fully engaging in a single exercise, like mountain climbers, for a couple of minutes, releasing bursts of energy. It is followed up by a short break, after which you move to another exercise.
While this exercise is usually related to weight and resistance training, it is actually quite effective as a cardio workout, as well. You will build strength in your core, as well as build endurance in your muscles.
This is probably the most effective anaerobic exercise, which consists of running at full speed for around 30 seconds. You will get your heart rate up to at least 90% while also activating the short twitching muscles that are crucial for endurance.
We did our best to highlight the difference between the fat burn zone and intense cardio. Modern workout machines may trick you into thinking that the low-intensity workout is better for losing weight.
However, we did our best to explain why it is not and why a combined high-intensity/moderate workout program will yield the best results.
Science has shown that the most effective way to lose weight is to get your heart rate up using high-intensity cardio routines at least 4 times per week. With the workout options we gave you above, you should be well on your way to a healthier body and a stronger heart.
So what are you waiting for? Pick your favourite exercise and get started! Go ahead and make us proud!