I belong to a gym that has a pretty sophisticated clientele. The gym is called Nyack Fitness and they promote personal training as the ideal way to develop your fitness and cardiovascular health.
But even at our gym I see people working out on their own in a way that is not as efficient or effective as it could be.
Most of us work out for the long-term benefits from being physically active, building muscle mass, and strengthening our cardio-respiratory health.
But let’s face it, we also want to burn a bunch of fat!
And there is nothing wrong with that. But IF you are going to use exercise as a fat-burning mechanism, you should be doing it the right way. Not the wrong way.
So how do you maximize fat-burning when you are working out?
Here are 3 tips that can you help you be a lean, mean, fat-burning machine around your workouts.
Do cardio fasting
Do smart cardio
Do some anaerobic training
Here is some more detail on each of these
Do Cardio Fasting
This means to engage in cardio exercise such as running, cycling, swimming, rowing, hiking, etc before you eat breakfast in the morning.
This is an old technique that body-builders use to drop body-fat weight quickly and shred up.
Ummmm….did you just read that carefully?
I’ll say it again, people use this technique to lose body fat and shred up!
I don’t know about you but for me that sounds pretty darn inviting!
And there is research showing that we do burn more fat when we exercise fasting.(1)
Now, if you are running a marathon or cycling 100 miles this is NOT a good idea.
I’m referring to any cardio activity that is less than 1 hour and is not super intense.
If you are playing a basketball game or rowing on the Hudson river for 3 hours, you probably need to eat!
I tend to recommend against lifting weights or doing any kind of strength training while fasting. Some people do great with this but others do not. Listen to your body. But in terms of the fat-burning effect, it may be offset by the muscle-burning effect of trying to lift weights without enough available fuel in the muscles or blood.
So be smart about it and if you feel lightheaded, dizzy, jittery, hangry, or otherwise miserable then please eat something!
But if you feel energized and you are able to do your cardio feeling really good, then go for it!
And of course, as I always say, “the proof is in the pudding”. If you start to regularly do cardio after your overnight fast and start seeing some fat loss, then woo hoo! If not, then maybe it’s not working for YOUR body.
Do Smart Cardio
What do I mean by this?
First and foremost I am strongly encouraging you to be aware of your heart rate and your heart rate zones while exercising.
When you train with a specific heart rate zone goal you are now working out with intention, rather than just burning calories for the sake of burning calories.
So you’re going to have to get a heart rate monitor and figure out your average resting heart rate to start.
This all may sound overwhelming but believe me, it’s worth it.
You are already spending time, energy, and most likely money on exercising. Don’t you want to get the best results possible in the most efficient way?
In this blog post I describe in detail how to measure your heart rate and determine your zones and I give you a sample cardio training for weight loss program in the different zones.
Rather than just working out willy-nilly or spending hours and hours each week on doing “cardio” how about being more productive and getting better results with intentional, targeted cardio training?
Sounds much better to me!
Do Some Anaerobic Training
This means train in the heart rate zones that correspond to where the oxygen supply you are breathing in is not enough to meet the oxygen needs of your body.
Once you have crossed what is called the anaerobic threshold your body has switched to not really having enough oxygen, and therefore energy, to sustain the activity. In other words, you are breathing hard and things are burning!
It’s good to spend some time in the anaerobic zones because boy do you burn some calories there!
The ideal way to do this (at least as we understand it now) is to do what is called “interval training”, where you are crossing back and forth between that threshold.
Research has found that high intensity interval training promotes fat burning significantly more than regular old endurance cardio training.(2)
You can get your anaerobic threshold measured at a gym if they do that sort of thing. But you can also just watch your heart rate and pay attention to how you feel. Once things are burning and you are really panting you are in the anaerobic zone.
For maximal fat-burning, you really want to be vacillating between aerobic and anaerobic while doing interval training, and this can be done in many different ways.
It doesn’t just have to be done on an elliptical. Strength training alone can cause your heart rate to rush and then slow down.
Jump squats are a great way to get your heart rate going and a simple 10-20 second rest in between sets can get you moving between heart rate zones pretty quickly.
However, I do strongly urge you to work with a personal trainer to get this down right. We all have unique needs and imbalances in our bodies and a good personal trainer can help you maximize your workout AND prevent injuries.
In general, please do consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise regime. And do not take the advice given here as an alternative to advice from a medical or fitness professional.
Jessica L. Bachman, 1 , * Ronald W. Deitrick, 1 and Angela R. Hillman 2. Exercising in the Fasted State Reduced 24-Hour Energy Intake in Active Male Adults. J Nutr Metab. 2016; 2016: 1984198. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5050386/