Eat My Shorts ‘Fat Burn Zone’ — Debunking the Cardio Program’s Lies

Oooot-oooot!!! I’m not exactly sure how you’re supposed to spell that but it was the yell coming from Amy Poehler in Baby Mamma. The scene where she’s bouncing on the stability ball in birthing class and the lady asked who is going to, “Poison their baby with drugs just so that they can have a less painful birthing experience?”
pregnant mom
I’m feeling better again today, I’m still feeling tired and weaker than usual but, “If you’ve got an issue, here’s a tissue” right? Juuust kidding. 😛

So because I spent some quality time with the elliptical (with some Baby Mamma friends for distraction) I was able to stare at a pet-peeve of mine. Located on the display of the machine (and almost all others for that matter), listed as a program to choose: Fat Burn.

I brought this up a few days ago so let me really dig into this charade with my teeth today. Here’s the dealio:

The whole ‘fat burn’ cardio zone is really passe; I think it took off in the 90’s along with Fonda and leg warmers. The clif-notes version of the basis behind the theory is that your body uses different fuel sources depending on how hard you’re working out. When you go out and blast an interval workout your body needs fuel NOW so it will first go to burn anything you just ate and then turn to glycogen stored in the muscles. Glycogen, these theorists continue, is basically sugars.

The story goes that if you workout at a lower intensity, and your body realizes it’s not in such a rush for immediate fuel, it will ‘take it’s time’ and instead start to break down adipose tissue: read as fat. These ‘fat burn geniuses’ then equate this: oh, well burning fat must be better than sugar, so let’s workout so we burn fat and that’ll get us skinny.

There are so many things wrong with it all, but let’s just get to the point:

woman on treadmill

She's probably at a 'fat burn' level effort. 😉


*The fat burn on cardio machines basically aims to get you working out at a low enough level that your heart rate isn’t elevated above about 65% of your max heart rate. That’s about a quick walk to the corner if you’re late for the bus. You don’t have to have an actual heart rate monitor, so to put it into ‘effort level’ it’s where you’re not even really breathing hard…say a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10.

*To get cardiovascular benefits from exercise, think about what you want for your easy runs, you need to be at at least 70% of your max heart rate. Think like you’re running at a conversational pace; you can talk but you take breaks to breathe.

*We all of course don’t run JUST to lose weight, but to debunk these ‘fat burning guys’ we’ll say this: to lose a pound of fat you need to burn 3,500 calories. In the end, it doesn’t matter what ‘fuel source’ your body is using to burn those calories or where it gets it from the body; the bottom line is how many calories you end up burning. It’s all about input versus output people; burn more calories than you take in and *poof* you come in with a calorie deficit.

running on treadmill

She's actually running... 🙂


*SO…when you workout harder you burn more calories. Wow, rocket science. When you are meandering at a ‘fat burn’ cardio zone you just are holding yourself back and not working out hard enough. You jype yourself of cardiovascular improvements and if your goal was to lose weight you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Finally, fun fact, intervals and pushing yourself to go hard in tough workouts will actually rev your metabolism up even more. You’ll actually have what is called the ‘after-burn effect’ where your metabolism is elevated for hours after you are done working out. You get a slight after-burn after any cardio, but it has been found to be much higher and last longer after intervals, tempo’s, really tough efforts…talk to anyone after a tough track session later in the day and they’ll tell you they are hunnnngry. 🙂 (maybe not RIGHT after they are done, but later on)

It really comes down to effort. Running isn’t easy, but that’s why we love it. 🙂 I mean we all know the saying, if it was easy there would be no sense of accomplishment when we’re done. And even on the days we just have ‘easy’ runs, I mean we are still working…there is always that level of pushing ourselves to at least a moderate degree.

So…thank you for allowing me to vent a bit about these ‘fat burn’ zones, and hopefully if you see someone who is just starting to get into the whole workout thang, you won’t let them fall into the ‘fat burn zone’ theory trap…it’s really a twisted little diddy that’s doing nobody any favors. 😉

1) I had a little rant, do you have a rant this Wednesday about anything in particular?

2) Fat burning zone on cario equipment, air your grievances, or do you have a funny story about them?

3) Who else love Amy Poehler and Tina Fey? Funny girls. 🙂

Bookmark and Share

Related posts:

8 thoughts on “Eat My Shorts ‘Fat Burn Zone’ — Debunking the Cardio Program’s Lies

  1. I hate cardio burning machines…I don’t feel like they actually do anything. Maybe that’s my Wednesday rant. Ha! But otherwise, I think my rant is obnoxious people “I work with”…nuff said!

  2. Thank you Cait for this rant! It is the same with diet, it doesn’t matter if you go low-carb, high-carb or eat only under the moonlight while wearing a tin foil hat; it is always a simple matter of calories in versus calories out. It’s not hard, why do people have to complicate things!

  3. I agree! its calories in vs. calories out, man. Rocket science right there. I sometimes feel like if you can’t work out enough to get your HR up, you might as well not…but if you finish a workout out of breath and sweaty, your fitness will start improving AND, if you’ve got the fat to lose, you’ll lose it (provided you’re not refueling with a box of krispy kremes and a grande chai latte….)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*