Monday, June 8, 2009

The Fat Burn Zone -- Does it exist?? Busting through a Plateau

Hello there! I get a lot of questions about whether or not there is such a thing as the "fat-burn" zone...more specifically, is there a particular heart-rate range that an individual should exercise in to most efficiently burn fat? Science has proven that there is such a zone, through numerous studies, called the Aerobic Base (AB).

The Aerobic Base quite simply represents the body's ability to utilize fat during exercise--one thing to keep in mind is that the body wants to use, it needs to use fat, it has to use fat--that is why we store it! The first step to any exercise program is to find and then increase one's AB and to train muscles to burn fat. Working out above or below the AB will prove less then beneficial and will result in less-than-anticipated results.

As a trainer I see numerous amounts of people working out in the gym, sometimes for hours on end, without achieving results. Why is this? Are you having the same problem? Have you reached a plateau in your workouts? The thing I find most common amongst gym-goers is the repetitive nature of their workouts. Same amounts of cardiovascular exercise; same amounts of weights, sets, and repetitions; same boring exercises.

Have you ever heard the expression that "insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?" This statement is ultimately true with the human body. You see, there is a phenomenon within all bodily functions that is known as the "path of least resistance"; that is, the body will find ways to do things (subconsciously or without you knowing it) to get the job done. This holds especially true within exercise and fitness.

Again, from science, we know the body utilizes 3 main fuel sources (edible) including carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Generally speaking, when you first get on a piece of exercise equipment (i.e. treadmill) you initially burn fat and carbohydrates (mostly). As you go along on your treadmill journey and your heart-rate increases you shift into a fat-burning mode (Aerobic Base). Once your heart rate gets too high your body goes into a state of survival and begins to burn proteins (and muscle, too). If your goal is to burn fat and tone up, wouldn't it make sense to find that specific Aerobic Base and work around it? It's about working smarter, not necessarily harder.

Two main things I mention to folks when I first start training them is: 1) find your fat-burning zone or Aerobic Base. You can do this one of two ways; you can go through a Metabolic testing system (kind of like a stress test at a doctor's office) to get specific numbers--your local gym should offer this service or you can go to to find more information/locations that offer this. This Metabolic test will yield exact numbers to shoot for and should be testing periodically as your Aerobic Base changes. The second way to find your Aerobic Base is to take your age and subtract it from 220. Multiply the result by .7 and .8 and that is a good "guess-timate" of your fat-burn zone. Again, the formula is:

220-age = x;
x multiplied by .7 is low end of fat-burn zone
x multiplied by .8 is high end of fat-burn zone

There! You now have a good starting point as to where your heart-rate should be during exercise to utilize and burn the most amount of fat efficiently. (On a side-note, your heart rate can be tracked utilizing a monitor, such as a watch, on the machine itself, or old-school taking your 10-second heart rate and multiplying by 6.

The second thing I recommend to folks when first training them is to implement training variables into there workout. Simply put, you want to alter intensity, tempo, repetition and type. Intensity is the workload (weight) you use; Tempo is the speed at which you perform the exercise, and repetition would refer to the sets and repetitions you perform each exercise. Generally speaking, when attempting to tone up and lose weight, you want to do more sets and reps and less weight. Type is also crucial--alter the way you do your exercises. Mix it up with standing vs. seated, one-leg vs. two-leg, etc.

I hope this gives you a basis for starting your exercise program. In the near future I will be posting more specifically ways to vary your workout and get started in your track to fitness. I will also be posting more specific ideas to bust through plateus that experienced exercisers might have reached.

Take care!