RK Tip of the Week|Using your Heart Rate Zones to get the best results

Posted on November 7, 2010


You’ve seen those little charts on cardio equipment that indicates if your age is X and your heart rate is Y then that falls into either a fat burning zone or a cardio burning zone. First of all, what the heck is a ‘cardio zone’? Any exercise that raises your heart rate (HR) & keeps it elevated for an extended period of time is cardio. So a ‘cardio zone’ really isn’t any real thing since it’s ALL cardio once your HR goes up and stays up.

Second, if you’re looking at that age-based chart, and you’re 39 – the chart assumes that you and Lance Armstrong burn fat at the same HR, since he’s also 39. Anyone want to try biking up the French Alps to tell me if you’re the same fat-burning fitness level as Lance? Didn’t think so. So don’t go off age-based charts to know if you’re burning fat.

There are also equations using numbers like 220-age to determine the best HR zone to exercise in. But why is there a “Best Zone” at all? Isn’t just getting your HR up good enough? Sure – walking around the block is better than sitting on your butt. But it’s not going to make your heart stronger, and it’s not going to burn bodyfat, or increase your endurance, or your speed. In reality, there are better HR zones – zones where you burn fat as a primary fuel source, and also HR zones where you will burn no fat at all as a fuel source. So while there truly isn’t 1 “best HR zone” – there ARE multiple different zones that, when utilized, create faster results and better performance.

I became certified as a Metabolic Technician – which means I can test a person’s Resting Metabolic Rate & their Exercise Metabolic Rate. Yep, you’ve got 2 metabolic rates, not just the one you think of when you think of calories in/out. And when I determine what yours are, I can train your metabolism to burn more fat during a workout, burn more fat while at rest, burn energy efficiently during a workout so you get faster/have better endurance, and teach you how to eat to have energy, lose weight & getting lean.

So when we got certified, Drew tested me so I’d have my metabolic rates, and I’ve committed to following my Metabolic program for 10 weeks to achieve my fitness goals. (In the past, I would get tested, but then would keep training the way I wanted i.e. fast & hard because that was fun & I didn’t realize the value I’d get from actually getting uncomfortable with my training so I could improve to become faster, stronger, leaner – just call me young and dumb back then – sigh)

 And in doing so, I never really saw my body start using more fat for energy. But now? Check this out – it’s a screen grab from my personal e-newleaf website where I can view/print/log my workouts & see exactly how I’m doing with my fitness goals!

Look at the pie chart on the right. In this workout, I saw that I burned 59% of my total calories from fat stores. My pie chart used to look like this. See that little sliver? That’s how much fat I used to burn – which one do you think will bring better results?





Learning to burn lots of fat during a workout does a few things:
1) get lean because you burn off excess fat
2) increase endurance so you can go longer with less stress or perceived effort
3) increase speed or power or recovery rate, depending on how you train your zones

So how do you burn fat effectively?  Make sure you do not follow any equation that assumes your age and gender are ideal markers for fitness. Check this out: In Health Magazine this month, they showcase a new equation to find out what a “womens’ best HR zone” is.

They say to “take your age x 0.88, then subtract that number from 206. Stay within 65-85% of that ‘peak HR’ to get the best results.” I did the equation on myself & here’s why this equation is a load of garbage: This equation puts my ‘peak HR’ at 180 – if they mean peak is like your max HR, this is off by more than 20 beats as I know my HR can reach 203 in extreme conditions. They then say to stay between 65-85% of that number, which puts my ‘best zone’ at 117-153.

Take a look at the actual chart from my Metabolic Test & notice that my zone 1, which is a warm up zone, doesn’t even begin until 153, the very top number of where the equation thinks I should workout! If I worked out within the HRs given from the equation in Health Mag, I’d never get into any kind of fitness shape. For me, Zone 2 is where I’ll burn lots of fat, Zone 3 is where I’ll push my threshold up & Zone 4 is used mostly for power training. Each persons’ HR Zones will be different, and the benefits in each zone will vary slightly based on the person’s fitness level as well. But if I just went off an equation, I’d be mistakenly exercising at way too low of an intensity for quality & timely results.

So the 1st thing for you to do is avoid following equations to determine your best HR zones for exercise. Then, the best thing you can do is get your Metabolic Profile done – if you live in the Chicagoland area, or are venturing here for a day, I can profile you & help you get set up with your training- visit the “Contact Me” page to request info. If Metabolic Testing isn’t in your near future, then the next best thing you need to do is get a Heart Rate Monitor so you can begin understanding exactly where your HR is during your current workouts. Taking this steps brings attention & focus to just how hard (or easy) you are exercising, and if that’s making a measurable difference in your fitness. If you’re not seeing measurable body fat losses in 8 weeks, or seeing measurable gains in endurance or speed in the same time frame, you’re not using your HR to its most effective end.

Your heart is your most personal & important piece of biofeedback information you can get. Use it to its’ fullest potential & get all the results you’re capable of!