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This Is the Ideal Heart Rate Zone if You Want To Burn Fat

Discover how your heart rate zone can help melt unwanted fat.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

Reality check: If you want to burn fat effectively, you must first understand heart rate zones. Why, you ask? Well, because doing grueling workouts and pushing yourself as hard as possible are surefire ways to burn out. While these strategies may help you shed pounds initially, they're not sustainable in the long term. Research indicates they can lead to rebound weight gain after weeks or months of hard work. The secret sauce to sustainable fat-burning is finding that sweet spot during exercise where your body burns the most fat. That's why we spoke with an expert who shares the ideal heart rate zone to burn fat.

Your heart rate zone is a range where your heart beats at a certain percentage of its maximum rate, and this zone varies depending on your fitness level, age, weight, and health goals. But if you can target your ideal heart rate zone, you can maximize your fat-burning potential and put yourself in a much better position to achieve your weight loss goals.

To determine your ideal heart rate zone for fat burning, it's crucial to know your maximum heart rate, which is roughly 220 minus your age. From there, you can calculate your target heart rate range for aerobic exercise, like running, cycling, swimming, and more. Monitoring your heart rate during exercise can help you stay within this zone and optimize your fat-burning potential.

We spoke with Tracie Haines-Landram, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and nutrition coach with Barbend, who weighs in on the ideal heart rate zone if you want to burn fat and shrink your waistline. Read on to learn more. And when you're finished, don't miss how to Walk Your Way to Weight Loss in 4 Weeks with This Workout Plan.

What is a heart rate zone?

heart health concept

"A heart rate zone is a range of heartbeats per minute (bpm) that corresponds to a specific intensity level of activity," explains Haines-Landram. "Heart rate zones are typically determined based on a percentage of a person's estimated maximum heart rate (MRH)."

According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, these zones include "very light" (less than 57% of MHR), "light" (57 to 63%), "moderate" (64 to 76%), "vigorous" (77 to 95%), and "near maximal to maximal" (greater than 96%). These zones help ensure you're working at the right intensity for your fitness goals, whether it's weight loss, endurance, or improving cardiovascular fitness.

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What is the ideal heart rate zone for fat burning?

fit woman on the elliptical, concept of worst exercises for weight loss

The ideal heart rate zone for fat burning is often called the "aerobic zone," which is around 70 to 80% of your maximum heart rate. Your body burns fat rather than carbs as its primary fuel source at this intensity. According to an older study, exercising in this zone for extended periods can help your body burn fat more efficiently.

"During low to moderate-intensity exercise, a higher percentage of calories burned comes from fat stores than carbohydrates. This has led to the common belief that exercising in the fat-burning zone is most effective for losing body fat," says Haines-Landram. "However, while a higher percentage of calories burned during exercise may come from fat at lower intensities, the total number of calories burned is lower than in higher-intensity workouts. Additionally, higher intensity exercise can lead to a greater total calorie expenditure and more significant improvements in cardiovascular fitness and overall health."

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What are the best exercises for achieving your ideal heart rate zone?

woman jogging in the city by water

The best exercises that elevate your heart rate into the aerobic zone include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and cardio machines like ellipticals or rowers. Interval training, which alternates between high-intensity bursts and recovery periods, can also be effective for maximizing fat burn within your ideal heart rate zone.

Haines-Landram says, "Most exercise modalities can be tailored to fit a range of heart rate zones. You can modify factors such as speed, incline, resistance, and rest periods to make an exercise more or less intense."

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How do you find your ideal heart rate zone?

starting heart rate monitor before jogging

To determine your ideal heart rate zone, Haines-Landram says to first get clear on your health and fitness goals, whether it's weight loss, heart health, performance, or following medical advice. While working out in the fat-burning zone can help some (e.g., beginners or those with health concerns), it might not be the best way to lose fat or boost fitness for others.

Haines-Landram recommends sticking to a balanced exercise routine with various intensities, including moderate and high-intensity workouts, for optimal fat loss and overall health. Also, wearable tech devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers now make monitoring your heart rate and adjusting your workout intensity easier. Ultimately, creating a calorie deficit through diet and exercise is crucial to healthy fat loss, regardless of your workout intensity.

Adam Meyer, RHN
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100% plant-based athlete. Read more about Adam
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