How to Target Your Heart Rate & Get Into the Fat-Burning Zone

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How to Target Your Heart Rate & Get Into the Fat-Burning Zone

Most people believe the harder they work out the more fat they burn. Most people are wrong.

The truth is fat burning occurs at a much lower intensity than many of us realize. Which means, even though you’re sweating it out in the gym, you might actually be missing an opportunity to lose fat. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to find the sweet spot where your body begins to burn fat during your workout—instead of the snack you just had! Here’s how:

Step 1: Find Your Fat-Burning Zone There is a perfect heart rate zone tailored to each individual that burns the most fat calories. Stay below this zone and you aren’t maximizing the fat burn. Go above this zone and you’re only burning the food in your stomach, not getting rid of the body fat. And you might be surprised to learn the intensity level is fairly low, and you should aim to workout slightly longer at that lower intensity.

Here are three easy ways to calculate your fat-burning zone:

  • Figure out your max heart rate (Max Heart Rate = 220 – your age). And then determine your fat-burning range, which is 60% to 70% of your max heart rate.
  • Use a fitness app, like Wahoo Fitness, MapMyFitness, or RunKeeper, to calculate your 5 heart rate zones.
  • Do a Field Test or Home Test with the Wahoo Fitness app, which will identify your Burn and Burst Zones.

Step 2: Burn Fat, Not Just Calories You may have noticed that when you workout harder, the number of calories you expend creeps up. Making it easy to assume the higher the intensity the more weight they can lose. But, sadly, not all calories are equal—especially when it comes to fat loss! Getting your heart rate closer to your max heart rate might show more calories being burned, but you’re not necessarily burning fat.

In fact, when you hit higher level of intensity your body is most likely burning off the short-term stores of sugar and carbohydrates you took in during your last meal. (This explains why you’re so hungry after an intense workout!) To really target the long-term savings bank where your body stores fat, you need to opt for lower intensity activities that keep your heart rate in the fat-burning zone for longer.

Step 3: Choose the Right Workout Choosing a workout and intensity level to reach your fat burning zone will depend on your fitness level. If you are an avid runner, for example, you’ll need to run faster to reach your fat burning zone than someone just getting into running. Here are a few ideas for every fitness level.

FOR BEGINNERS Many everyday activities offer low heart rate, fat-burning opportunities. Some good ones:

  • Park at the back of the parking lot and walk to the entrance
  • Walk the dog instead of simply tossing him a ball
  • Ditch your car and walk or ride your bike to lunch instead of driving
  • When there are stairs, take them!

FOR RUNNERS Long, slow distance runs will keep you in the fat-burning zone for your entire workout. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Slow is the key word here. Keep your pace moderate enough to remain in your target heart-rate zone (60% to 70% of your max heart rate)
  • Consider doing a brisk walk at first—especially if you’re new to running. As your fitness level builds, you’ll be able to trade in your walk for a steady jog, without coming out of the fat-burning zone.
  • Aim to complete a long, slow distance run 3 to 5 times per week.
  • Don’t increase your weekly total mileage by more 10% each week. You run the risk of an over-use injury when packing on too many miles.

FOR GYM LOVERS For maximum fat-burning results, try this simple 1/3 routine.

  • Perform three cardio exercises for an equal amount of time—spend 10 minutes on the treadmill, 10 minutes on the rowing machine, and 10 minutes on the elliptical, for example.
  • Stick with a moderate intensity level, making sure to keep heart rate below Zone 3 or within the Wahoo Fitness Burn Zone (60% to 70% of your max heart rate)
  • Do this workout 3 to 5 times per week, and mix in different types of cardio exercises to keep things interesting!

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  • borba72

    But and what about HIIT? HIIT states just the opposite of what you’re saying in this article.

    • Nydia Yataco

      I agree. I feel like I have gotten great results with HIIT.

    • Camelia Langa

      I share your opinion. HIIT gives great results, and if what they say in this article is true, nobody would go to the gym or do cardio like crazy. Everybody would be loosing fat just by walking …
      Your misleading people with this article.

      • borba72

        Yeah. As far as I know this 60-70% stuff is outdated. Latest research indicates that HIIT is much more effective as to burn fat. More results in less time.

        • drm

          Research indeed suggests that high intensity training (HIIT) is a great alternative in terms of fat loss per time for already active individuals, but for sedentary individuals looking to get active it doesn’t look as promising. The positive effects of HIIT have mainly been found in already active individuals. The evidence is much less convincing for sedentary individuals. Furthermore, it has been shown repeatedly that sedentary people are more likely to stick with an exercise program of moderate intensity compared to a HIIT type program. Partly because the chance of injury is significantly lower in the ‘easier’ alternative. So for those who are a little less fit and looking to get into physical exercise it seems that the mantra “don’t go too hard” still applies.

          • iluvhou

            Your response is the only thing here I comprehend. Thank you!!

  • Jim Doss

    I have a hard time understanding this. I’m not new to diet and exercise and am in OK shape for a 58 year old. I hike and backpack often, but work from home, mostly in front of a computer. I weigh 170 and am 5’8″ – a tad over weigh around the middle (34 inches), which I’ve had a hard time trying to lose. I restrict my caloric intake to 1,500 calories/day. Anyway, I must have a high heart rate because I can get up to 113 bpm very easily (which is the max this article says it needs to be for max fat burning. My resting heart rate, right now is 74.

    • Kristen

      This article is a load of rubbish.

      • jay

        i think you just like saying the word rubbish, lol….

  • Roman

    Even though information presented in a very adequate manner, I have a difficulty agreeing with it. To me, it is on the lines of “breakfast is the most important meal of the day..”.
    I doubt that the body will switch from using easily available carbs in the bloodstream to ‘not so easily available’ fats from “long term storage” just because we are in 60% to 70% zone.

  • Ravi

    This is rubbish. When you work out, you burn calories. This is divided into “fat calories” and “other calories”. When you stay in the fat burning zone and burn 10 calories in a minute, 8 of that is fat calories. If you work out even more harder, you burn 15 calores per minute and out of that, 10 calories would be fat calories. The ratio of “fat calories vs other calories” changes, but you would actually burn more fat by working out harder.

    • drm

      I would love to see a reference for this statement. I clearly remember from my physiology classes that at high intensity the use of fat for energy production declines in an absolute sense, and that glucose (carbohydrates) becomes the primary energy source. I got to admit that these classes where over ten years ago so the knowledge might have progressed since then, but I highly doubt it based on a quick literature search (and based on the fundamental biochemical principals involved). Note that I am not saying that you won’t loose weight (fat tissue) through working out hard, but this is not because you are actually using much fat during the intense workout bouts, but during the rest periods and afterwards during recovery/repair. As far as I know that’s the best explanation so far for the succes of training programs such as HIIT.

      • Jeff Carnes

        You are correct. Anyone who trains for and runs marathons (such as myself) knows that keeping long runs slow is what burns fat stores. The harder/faster you run, the more muscle glycogen (i.e. carbs) you burn, not fat.

        • matt

          Hi Jeff question for fat burning I should keep my heart rate at 60 to 70 percent of max and exercise for a longer period of time..

          • Jeff Carnes

            Yes. There are many, many resources that discuss why marathon runners do long runs. I understand the basic concept behind them (as pertains to fat vs glycogen usage for fuel) but I would suggest researching it further if you would like more detailed information on it.

  • Mr Informed

    What a load of misinformed rubbish! Unless you’re a company wanting to sell heart rate monitors?

  • Kiwigirl

    There are some truths here BUT the harder you work the longer it takes to recover. You continue to burn calories in recovery. The harder you work the more time you spend in this post exercise “fat burning” zone.Go hard people

  • aslynch

    This is the opposite of everything I have ever read about fat loss.

    • National Masters level

      I would agree with MFP. I am a competitive Bodybuilder and at 67 competing in national NPC shows. Although I never turned Pro, I have many friends who have. These friends include current Mr. Olympia contenders and past Champions. All of the IFBB pros that I know follow the same low intensity fat burning Cardio at 30-60 minutes on an empty stomach while cutting for shows. Their Condtioning is superb at these shows (although the body fat % are too low to keep for more than a week or so). They compete at 2-4% BF. The differnce is they as well as myself, use resistance training 5-6 times a week with heavy weights at a fairly quick pace. No not HIT, the sets are performed quickly but the heart rate is allowed to return to normal resting rate between excersises ( that’ excersises not sets). You will loose wit HIT, but the result will be a significant muscle loss along with the fat loss much of it coming in the epoc state Created by the HIT.

      • RobRex2010

        The 2% body fat figure you claim for these “athletes” is now and always has been a myth. More likely it is closer to 4 to 6%. Your composition must include 2.5% body fat for your brain to function..oh yeah, when you take into consideration that neither the IFBB nor the NPC (In whose contests I, too, have competed) do NOT test for any drug, these diuretic using, steroid shooting, Human Growth hormone belly swollen competitors’ brains probably aren’t functioning.

  • korycranford

    Seriously? I bet you could find this article posted somewhere in planet fitness next to the tootsie rolls and pizza.

  • Rob Blissett

    I have to agree with most people here that have added their comments. Seems like old school information. I totally pictured the chart hanging up in my high school gym that showed age vs heart rate and the ‘zone’ you should be in while doing cardio. For someone just getting back into fitness or someone doing it for the first time there is merit. But to look like the super fit models at the beginning of this article, I’m guessing HIIT is probably part of their regiment. A lot of team sports are already like that when you think of it, none more so then hockey I would think. On for a few minutes, full out, off for a few.

  • Cjay Tejidor

    In a general sense, your body uses fat for energy at lower intensities, even at rest. And you burn more ratio of carbs at higher intensity activities. But what i don’t agree with is that at higher intensities you are burning the food that is in your stomach. Your glycogen stores depend on the levels of carbs you’ve had yesterday and days before. The reason why HIIT is effective is it burns through glycogen along with the usual fat that you burn when not in the middle of a full out sprint, and burns more calories per minute than non high intensity. The more calories you burn in exercise helps get you to a caloric deficit. In terms of that fat actually coming off from body storage is the amount of time spent in a caloric deficit…so you can be walking and walking and walking, burning mostly fat calories…but without being in a caloric deficit, you are burning fat from foods consumed. If you are in a caloric deficit, you could be eating 100+ grams of fat on the daily and getting shredded, as shown in a Keto style diet

    • Cjay Tejidor

      so what type of fuel is being burnt isn’t as significant as your own preference of activity + awareness of caloric balance in the context of your fitness goals…track your macros people! I myself prefer moderate intensity moderate volume weight lifting, moderate fat, higher carb, moderate protein diet. I’m 5’11 155 lbs 9 percent bodyfat, currently been on a deficit for a month eating 2300 calories, average 70g fat 300g carb 140g protein

      • Cjay Tejidor

        I am an “ectomorph’ build so i prefer higher carbs because I can handle it, and when I tried a high fat high protein low carb, I got lean but felt flat and not full, also I used to incorporate a lot of fasting but I realized in my second year of tracking my food, I get just as lean as fast as long as my deficit is there and i hit my macro goals

      • Cjay Tejidor

        and if anyone cares, I burn about 2200 calories if I lay down in bed or the couch all day, 2800 on an average day including the days i lift, and 3200 or so on a lifting day plus a few hours of walking around or dancing, burnt about 4600 cals one day at a Coachella festival, and 2500 calories on a day I dont lift, but I didnt just stay sedentary…and this data I have is from fitness trackers and heart rate monitors from Polar

      • Savannah Slawson

        How do you know how many calories you are burning at rest?

        • Mestro scannagatti

          I don’t know how he does, I tell you how I do.

          Heart rate computer. I have have a Polar FT60 with strap monitor and the GPS bracelet. I recently bought a GPS watch, the Garmin Fenix with one of its accessories which is the heart rate strap and gave the Polar to my wife.

          She couldn’t get rid of her stubborn belly fat for over 3 years, with the Polar she lost it in 1 month. It tells you your routine and maximizes your fat burn heart rate.

  • nouri

    I have to admit…I am a big fan of HIIT. I do it three times a week for half an hour each time, and I am maintaining my weight of 152lb……go hard.

  • Ryan

    C’mon MFP, if you are going to put up a “fitness tip” to sell HRM’s, at least disclose that in the beginning. This is garbage. Stop perpetuating these fat-burning myths. If you are actually going to promote the Burn Fitness Zone from Wahoo, describe how it can be an important part of a training program (i.e., base training), don’t just focus on those ridiculous myths that make “fat loss” the only way to weight loss and make “burning carbohydrates” look like a bad thing. Intensity increases EPOC, which also helps weight loss. If readers actually want to understand more about this Burn Zone from Wahoo, just go to their web site – this stuff from MyFitness Pal is a joke.

  • SHAPEperform

    What a crock! Using an optimal fat burning zone is fine for anyone who wants to train daily without pushing their fitness levels up or without causing soreness. Older individuals (like my mum in her 70s) should mostly do this type of work when they hit the gym or go out on their bike etc. and it is certainly most suitable who have certain health conditions. However, if someone had 30 minutes to train, maybe on their lunch break then they should certainly train at a moderate or higher intensity. 3 x 10 mins on 3 machines is hardly likely to cause too much soreness so ramp it up and go hard. Yes during the exercise you may not ‘burn’ many fats, but sitting around for the next 2 hours at your desk you surely will. Using extra fuel (from fat) to recover body temperature and replenish muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores, will lead to a significant increase in calorie expenditure throughout the day… and as you sleep. lets say you expended 250kcal working at a low intensity for 30 minutes your additional expenditure after exercise may only be 100kcal. However, if you pushed hard you may expend 350kcal and expend about 200-250kcal sat at your desk. It will also push your fitness to higher levels meaning you can burn many more calories each time you train! All you need to do is have some willpower and eat the right foods to counteract the additional hunger you may experience! I will happily take someone through a VO2max test and work out their optimal fat burning zone but unless you are training for an ironman or doing a recovery session the day after a hard workout I am hardly likely to get you to work in this zone!

  • decy

    Hi guys, I’m Regt to figure my fat burn optimum. Ok here us my quandary, if I use 220-age etc….I have to workout somewhere in 110bpm. I’m in my 32 year of triathlons, I’m reasonably fit… I’m 51. I can run for hour and half at about 155-165 range…. (running, and similar numbers for long periods on bike), Recovering under min n half to 110+/-…. So how do I workout a ideal burn for me??

  • 454mikey

    I do HIIT and strength training only and workout less than half the time of boring cardio. I,m 62 y.o.a and have less than 12% body fat. But it all starts with the proper choices you make in your diet. I no longer eat wheat, soy, sugar, and most dairy.

    • 52Liv

      what do you mean by most dairy? what dairy do you eat?

  • Sam J-Allen

    Good afternoon, I am a full time physical training instructor and highly qualified in nutrition and exercise for weight loss. The truth is all of these statements have a degree of truth in them although not once has calorie intake been mentioned in the article. If you understand that 1lb contains 4077 calories and that a steady state run will require “on average” depending on the size and composition of the individual around 15 calories per minute at a moderate pace which totals 900 cals per hour of roughly 12k distance then you can see that having to run 54k to utilise 1lb of fat is crazy, then not even factoring in that even when in the mythical “fat burning zone” you will on average only use a mix of 60% fat 40% sugar/glucose “carbohydrate” so from this you can see to utilise 1lb of body fat requires much more distance than 54k. Eat less rubbish/Eat more nutritous foods/exercise because you enjoy it and be active daily. I could keep going on about this and have much more info if anyone is interested altho please don’t kid yourself into thinking that exercise is the answer, it’s a small part of the whole equation. Best of health.

    • Sam J-Allen

      Excuse my predictive text errors. I’m joining in whilst away from my computer. 🙂

      • Sam J-Allen

        Also, another way to look at this outdated information is that the main reason why this information exists is to simplify training and to help all levels and abilities of participants to get involved. If you are motivated by “go hard or go home” then you’re probably someone who loves to push your limits. Although imagine someone who is an exercisephobic just getting started and they go to the gym or train with you, they won’t walk for days and will never attend again. They are the type of person who should definitely follow the above info combined with a healthy calorie controlled lifestyle which means eventually they may progress to the “super dangerous status” we all work hard for. Keep up your hard work people and remember, if you train hard for 1 hour and utilise 1000 cals at a mix of 40% fat 60% Carb or 600 cals low intensity training at 60% fat 40% carbs you still use more fat training at a higher intensity and will have “on average” a 20% increase in metabolic rate over the next 24-48 hrs when training at high intensity.

  • BuzzPreston

    Misinformation like this makes it difficult to believe anything from a for profit corporation. It displays a willingness to ignore truth in favor of financial gain. This is all to common in 21st Century America. Be skeptical. Use multiple sources for verification anytime you get a “tip” from a company like Wahoo.

  • physioprof

    There are some inaccuracies in this article. I think the author should be citing sources if they’re representing themselves as credible resources. Nothing was said about EPOC following intense exercise, the author failed to recognize that a smaller % of fat used from a larger caloric burn can still use more fat when compared to a lower caloric burn, and they claim that burning glycogen leads to hunger after high-intensity exercise when sympathetic tone actually suppresses appetite.

  • Jb

    This information is so outdated. HIIT allows you to burn for fat after your workout. The purpose is to turn our bodies into 24 hr fat burning machines. MFP the information you put out baffles me sometimes.

  • Artist

    Sounds suspiciously like a way to get people to buy their HR monitors to me, but then again I did major in advertising, so maybe I’m just jaded.

  • Genevieve Clare

    At first I was impressed by this article as it has helped me understand why the fat burning programs on cardio machines are never as intense as I like. I mostly always ditch the slower pace and go for something more intense. After reading the comments I’m a bit confused. Is this outdated and does this mean that HIIT training targets short term fat? Which is better to do to burn fat?

  • John T Fitness

    Truth: at 60-70% max HR your calorie burn will come more from fat than carbs. Truth: at 80%+ max HR you will burn more total calories and thus more fat calories. Here’s the math: at 70% max HR your calorie burn will be approx. 66% fat and 34 % carbs (that’s why they call it the fat burning zone). If you walk for 20 minutes at 70% max HR you may burn 100 total calories, or 66 fat calories. If you increase your workout intensity to 80%+ of your max HR, in the same 20 minutes you may burn 200 total calories, but the percentage that comes from fat drops to only 50%. Guess what? You just burned 100 fat calories at 80% max HR which is more than the 66 fat calories you burned at 70% max HR. That’s why people who subscribe to the myth of the “low intensity fat burning zone” don’t get the results that people doing higher intensity training get.

    • Jeff Block

      But if you are on a low carb lifestyle/diet, then the higher intensity will break down muscle which I understand will be used before digging into fat stores. I wish/hope that isn’t true because I prefer moderate/high intensity workouts but everything I read seems to tell me that.

  • Carlene Jernigan

    to complex

  • I thought that myfitnesspal was better than this rubbish. I recommend your site to my clients, we use your calorie counter and your recipes. This “fat burning” zone artcile is a just a Wahoo advertisement. I will be very careful in what I recommend from your site in future. If you wanted to burn the same amount of fat in a 60-70% heart rate controlled session as you wopuld in a HIIT session – you’d be walking for hours, carrying your shopping bags miles, gardening for days and parking the car in the next state!

  • MKE gal

    “Go above this zone and you’re only burning the food in your stomach”

    Since you can never burn the food in your stomach for energy to run the body,
    it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you move.
    Food has to be inside the body (absorbed out of the digestive tract) before it can be used for energy.

  • Paddy

    ‘Your misleading people with this article’
    I agree with this comment. HIT is where it’s at. Much more efficient use of time considering our busy lives. Why would you run for an hour trying to keep you heart rate at a steady 115bmp when you can HIT the pool, do 15 mins of training, elevate your heart rate to 130 and burn far more fat. Even if you do burn some muscle who cares – you body will be so much more efficienct that all you’ll need to do is look at a bench press so regain a little bulk.

  • I will try these tips for sure. These tips will be helpful for a lot of people like me. Looking forward to more informative articles like these.

  • I’d HIIT that

    I’ll have to agree that HIIT helps build lean fast twitch muscle and builds stabalizers but the harder you go does not necessarily mean you’re going to continue to burn an absurd amount of calories for long after your Workout is over. If you have stubborn fat in your midsection then try 30-60-90 minutes in your target fat burn Heart rate and if on an empty stomach even better. Ramp up to HIIT and eventually you’ll be doing hour long HIIT workouts 2-3 times a week, pushing your HR closer to max for the slight increase in EPOC. End result, no stubborn belly fat, fast twitch stabilizers and lean, cut, definition. I don’t do HIIT to Body build, strictly for athleticism and cutting. I reference the article below.

  • Monique Velez

    A few of my health professors stated that the first thirty minutes of a max heart rate work out burns carbs, and once you pass the 30min duration you begin to burn fat. I have not yet researched this claim, nor tested it, so I am not sure how true this is. Would anyone know about this claim, or can add to it?

  • Kevin

    I personally do both, hiit and lower intensity jogging, and I lost a lot more far a lot faster doing slower heart rate cardio. I do kickboxing, and both ways are good in a different ways. But I did lost over 30 pounds in less than 3 months many times doing slower intensity jogging than doing HIIT. But I get more results overall doing HIIT. So I do this lower intensity rarely just to give me a swing and for a short time because the body get use to it anyway afyer 2-3 months and you lose the small benefits, losing fat fast. So tjen I jump back in my regular kickboxing program and do HIIT and continue to burn fat and get alk kinds of benefits!