Which Types Of Exercise Burns Fat The Quickest?
There are several good types of cardio training that one can use to burn fat, such as walking, running, cycling, swimming and rowing. As a matter-of-fact, skipping rope is the best at burning calories at over 1,000 per hour.
However, there are some factors other than type of activity to take into consideration that making burning fat more efficient and are worthy of exploring – namely intensity and duration.
To burn fat requires a lot of oxygen as fat is converted into usable energy through a process called oxidation. So the goal is to get the heart rate and breathing up to a level that gives the body enough oxygen through intensity and to keep it there long enough for maximum fat burn through duration.
A method used by several trainers is called HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training. At its core is an aerobic activity done at an alternating pace between a fast and moderate level. For example, usually the ratio is 1:2 meaning the high intensity is half as long as the moderate intensity. This alternating cycle has to last long enough, and challenge the body enough, to get it to convert fat into energy – usually a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes, although as you get fitter can last from 30 minutes to an hour.
To keep from overworking the body, it is necessary to know your maximum heart rate (220 minus your age) and the percentages of that number at both the moderate and high intensity. At a moderate intensity, a target heart rate (THR) should be 55% to 75% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). So for a person age 55, their THR would be 165. Fifty-five percent to 75% of that number is 90 and 124 respectively. At high intensity, it jumps up to the 90% mark or 149. Most machines in gyms have heart rate monitors or you can buy and wear your own.
Using cycling as an example, a routine would be cycling at a THR of 75% for two minutes and then quickly increase the THR to 90% for 30 seconds to one minute. Then slow down to a THR of 75% again. Keep up the alternating pace for 30 minutes. In the beginning it will be difficult, but as you gain endurance, you’ll find it easier to go longer in the low intensity range than when you first started.
One advantage of the HIIT concept, besides the immediate burning of fat is the after burn or increased metabolism up to 24 hours after training. And as it takes three times the calories to sustain muscle as it does fat, you’ll end up burning more calories as you pack on muscle – even at rest.
How Exercise Intensity Affects How Much Fat You Can Burn
To understand how exercise intensity affects calorie burn, use the analogy of a car burning fuel. It burns much less fuel, and results in a higher miles-per-gallon (M.P.G.) at 45 mph than it does at 65 mph. The same thing happens when exercising; you burn far more calories exercising at a high intensity than you do at a lower one. Plus, there is another benefit, but more on that in a minute.
Of course it isn’t possible for most people to exercise at a high intensity for very long. The best course is to vary intensities between high and either moderate or low. Generally, a 2:1 lower-to-higher-intensity ratio works best once trained-up.
For example, if you like cycling, you can alternate between pedaling at a low intensity for two minutes and high intensity for 30 seconds for a total duration of 30 minutes. Low intensity is anywhere from 55% to 70% of your maximum heart rate (220 minus age). High intensity is 80% to 90% of MHR (maximum heart rate). This variable intensity rate can apply to most aerobic activities, such as running, rowing, swimming in addition to cycling. So if you want to vary your activity, just apply the ratio to the activity you are doing.
It can even apply to strength training. For example, perform three sets of 15 repetitions per set at 55% to 70% of 1RM (RM is the amount of weight one can lift for one repetition). Then kick up the weight to 80% to 90% of 1RM and a set of 8 repetitions before dropping back down to the lower intensity.
As noted earlier, there is an added calorie burn associated with high intensity exercising. It is called after-burn or Excess Post Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). Simplistically, it is an increase in the number of calories burned post-workout from 12 to 24 hours after. In short, the body has to work harder to replenish energy stores used during the high intensity phase of a workout. It does this through an increase in the basal metabolic rate or metabolism at rest.
Another way to permanently increase your basal metabolic rate is to increase muscle mass. It takes 2 calories to support a pound of fat, but three times that amount (6 calories) to support a pound of muscle. So the more muscle one packs on (within reason of course), the more calories burned while at rest. This is another reason why strength training should be added to your workout routines.
When an increase in muscle mass and EPOC are combined, the additional number of calories burned can be significant. If female, don’t worry about “bulking up”. Because of hormonal differences, you can tone up and define your muscles, but you won’t get huge muscles. However, you can still benefit from an increased calorie burn just from toning and burning body fat.
Can High Intensity Exercise Really Burn Fat?
Before we answer that, let’s first define high intensity exercise training. Normally it is written as HIIT which stands for High Intensity Interval Training. When the term was initially coined, it meant exercising at a high rate for a short period of time, then resting for a period of time, usually twice as long as the high intensity exercise period.
Over time, it has changed and now usually means alternating between very intense bouts of exercise with exercise at a lower intensity throughout the duration of the exercise period, still at the 1:2 ratio. A runner for example would sprint for 30 seconds followed by 60 seconds of walking, then 30 seconds of sprinting again, and so on …. The same concept can apply to almost any cardio-type training, such as swimming, an elliptical trainer, stationary bike, or other types of training that allow for varying speed or resistance.
Not long ago, exercise physiologists thought exercising at a constant state but at a lower intensity was the best method for burning fat. Even today, most pieces of exercise equipment show the “fat burning zone” at around 60% to 70%. However recent studies found a combination of low and high intensity training is the best all-around workout for burning fat. Why? A couple of reasons.
One, HIIT over time allows a normal height/weight person to work out longer, thus burn more fat. Why is this? As a person gets fitter, their VO2 MAX, or the body’s ability to use oxygen, increases making it easier to exercise longer. For example starting out, you may only be able to run a 10:00 minute mile at 70% VO2 MAX. However, as your fitness level increases, your time at the same VO2 MAX level decreases to say 9:00 per mile. Assuming you run for the same amount of time, you’ll cover more distance, thus burn more fat.
Second is the after-burn effect called EPOC (excess-post exercise oxygen consumption). HIIT increases your metabolism not only while exercising, but up to a full 24-hours post-exercise, meaning you are still burning more calories up to a day after HIIT than you would be otherwise if you had exercised jut at a low intensity.
Now studies consistently show that a combination of high and low intensity training is best for maximum total fat burn after the initial train-up period. Between increased endurance and EPOC, today’s HIIT overall is the best way to consistently burn fat and hence lose weight.
Does the Length of Your Workout Affect How Your Body Burns Fat?
The answer to the question is “yes”, but the interesting part is how it happens. To fully understand that part, we first have to discuss how calories are burned.
Up to 85% of the calories burned on a given day have nothing to do directly with a workout. These calories are the ones burned through two processes called basal metabolism and digestive metabolism. The other 15% are burned through exercising. So if that few calories are burned through exercising, how can the length of a workout affect how a body burns fat?
First it has to do with anabolic metabolism which involves the breaking down of fat through a process called oxidation and using it as energy to fuel the body after glucose and glycogen are consumed. So the longer the workout, the more fat is broken down and used for energy.
And it has to do with building more muscle. The body has stem cells in it, in particular satellite stem cells found in muscle tissue. At any time, given the right conditions, these can change from stem to actual muscle cells. The right condition is working a muscle, or group of muscles, to failure – to the point that the muscle will no longer do what you want it to do. In the case of weight lifting, it is the point when you can’t do even one more lift repetition.
Don’t forget your heart is a muscle too and also has satellite stem cells. To turn those cells into muscle, it too must be exercised (not to the point of failure of course), but to a point where it is working harder than when at rest. And this same theory turning stem cells into muscle cells applies to most muscles.
Let’s go back to basal and digestive metabolism – the process that burns the most calories in a day. For your body to support one pound of fat, it needs to burn 2 calories per day, however that calorie burn jumps by three times when it comes to the calorie burn needed to support an equal weight of muscle.
By tying the two theories together, it becomes more clear how working out longer burns more fat and builds more muscle. So by burning up some fat and packing on some muscle, your body is burning more calories now, even as you sleep, then it did before. The more muscle and longer workouts, the more calories burned per day.
What Is Polarized Training?
It is a distribution of training intensities that concentrate more time at low intensity, very little time at a moderate level and some time at a high intensity. However, it differs from High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) because less time is actually spent at the high intensity level.
In practice, most researchers agree the actual percentage ranges at the various intensities are:
• 75% to 80% low
• 5% to 10% moderate
• 15% to 20% at high
Now that we know what it is, why would we want to implement it into our training routine? Because it builds sustained endurance unlike most other training programs. While many types of athletes can gain endurance on this program, polarized training seems to work the best for triathletes.
Assuming you would like to use the polarized training as your training method, you first have to know where you are at before you can plan where you need to go. The easiest way to evaluate how much time you spend at each intensity is by using percent of maximum heart rate, also known as target heart rate. Low intensity target heart rate should be below 80%; moderate in the 80% to 88%; high above the 88% range (but usually not over 90%).
Simplistically, if you train 8 hours and 1of those is at high intensity, then your high intensity percentage is 12.5%. If 3 hours is at a moderate intensity, it is 37.5%, the remaining 50% is at low intensity. Now that you know how much of your time falls into each type of intensity, you can start to make gradual changes to get each one into its polarized zone, if not already there.
In our example, we see both our low and high intensities times are too low and our moderate time is too high. We need, for example, to increase our high intensity time to 1.5 hours (18.75%), raise our low intensity time to 6 hours (75%), which would decrease our moderate intensity time to 0.50 hours (6.25%). Now we are within the polarized range at each intensity level.
Keep in mind that most of the studies performed were done using elite or sub-elite athletes. More research is needed to see how this training method works at the non-professional athlete level. In the meantime, the values, times and percentages are good places to start. Because there is not a one-size-fits-all training program, adjust your program to how your body reacts to get the most benefit from this type of training.