To Your Health
July, 2011 (Vol. 05, Issue 07)
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Blast the Fat!

By Chelsea Cooper, MPA, CPT

The question of how to burn fat effectively – the right way – has been posed for decades. Over that time, it's been answered many different ways.

I am going to assume that you are trying to burn fat so you can lose weight. Let's look at how the body burns fat and calories effectively, as well as address a few myths or assumptions about burning fat. Then I will recommend a few fun exercises to help you burn those calories.

In order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than your body consumes and uses on a daily basis, pure and simple. Exercise is one of the main ways to burn fat calories. When it comes to weight loss, keep in mind that what counts is how many total calories are burned, not necessarily where the calories come from. To lose weight, you have to burn calories.

A popular myth is that there is a specific range of heart rates in which you must exercise to burn fat. Even many cardio machines have a "fat-burning zone" on their panels, which encourage people to exercise in their specific heart rate zone. Have you ever wondered if you really have to exercise in a specific heart rate zone to lose fat?

Since more fat is used at low exercise intensities, people often assume that low-intensity exercise is best for burning fat, an idea that has given birth to the "fat-burning zone."
Below is a chart that gives you an example of calories burned, fat-burning percentage and calories burned from fat. You choose which exercise you think would benefit you the most in weight loss.

Activity Calories Burned Fat-Burning Percentage Calories from Fat
Watching TV for 20 min. 40 calories 60 percent 24 calories
Walking for 20 min. 100 calories 65 percent 65 calories
Jogging & sprinting for 20 min 250 calories 40 percent 100 calories

I am assuming that you picked jogging or sprinting even though it has the lowest fat percentage, but the calories burned are the highest. And that's what matters most when you are trying to lose weight. Which of the three exercises would get your heart rate up? Yes, it would be the jogging or sprinting, but according to the "fat burning zone" it would probably keep you walking for 20 minutes.

So the popular myth about staying in your "fat burning" zone is just that – a myth. If I watched television my fat percentage was 60 percent but I only burned 40 calories total compared to jogging or sprinting where I burned 250 calories although my fat percentage was only 40 percent.

Your body is similar to your car. You put fuel in your car so that it will take you to your destination. Your body does the same, but it uses a few different types of fuel. It can burn sugar (carbs), it can burn fat, and if it doesn't have any excess sugar or fat, it can actually burn muscle tissue (which we want to minimize as much as possible). How much you burn of either type of fuel depends on your exercise methods and habits such as what you eat before you head to the gym. For now, let's focus mainly on different exercises that will help you burn fat. But know that your eating habits have a direct effect on fat burning or lack of.

A great way to burn fat and lots of calories is through interval (circuit) training. Interval training breaks up the work with periods of rest. Not only does interval training allow you to improve your fitness quickly; it is also more effective than continuous exercise for burning lots of calories during exercise and increasing your after workout metabolic rate. Studies have shown that "after burn" and interval training (circuit) can last up to 36 hours after. (This basically means you are still burning calories at a higher rate when you are finished than normal).

Here are some fantastic interval training exercises that will help you burn calories and lose weight:

Circuit/ Interval Training

Perform the exercises in these circuit routines consecutively (pick a routine) with as little rest as possible between exercises; then repeat the entire circuit 3-4 times with 30-45 seconds of rest in between if needed. You can also time yourself and try to improve your time each round.

Circuit #1

  • 20 Push ups
  • 20 Squats
  • 20 Mountain climbers
  • 20 Jumping Jack

Circuit 2

  • 20 (10 per leg) Lunges
  • 20 Siff Squat
  • 20 Dips on chair or bench
  • 30 Second run in place/high knees (repeat)