Building Endurance by Working Out in the Fat Burning Zone

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been experimenting with lower heart rate training than I usually do in my workouts. Some people call it the “Fat Burn Zone”, although I’m still not convinced that it is burning “my” fat. I do know, however that it is easy to keep going with exercise. I am not watching the clock. Exercising in this zone, I don’t feel tired or worn out in the least.

The idea is to work out at the level of exertion where your heart rate stays at the aerobic level called the fat burning level. If you exercise just a little harder, you begin to breathe harder, your heart pumps harder and you’ll enter the cardio level. Really push it and you’ll go into the peak level.

Cardio Vs Fat Burn

The vast majority of my running and group exercise workouts over the years have been at cardio/peak levels, which burn a greater percentage of carbs/sugar and less of a percentage of fat. These type of workouts also burn a ton of calories – both carbs/sugar and fat -there is no doubt about that.

While doing workout in the fat burning level feels like I’m not doing enough to be considered working out, I find that I can keep going a very long time and not get at all tired.

The idea of building a strong base by focusing on endurance and working out at the fat burning level is supposed to increase your ability to do more work while still keeping your heart rate at the lower level. Over time, the heart gets stronger and you can do more with your rate in the low level and your speed increases.

If you’re interested in learning more about this type of endurance training, you may want to listen to some of Dr. Phil Maffetone’s work. He has a lot of information about it – videos, podcasts and articles. Besides improving endurance and performance, it has other benefits. More time in the fat burning zone aids recovery from high impact exercise, helps reduce stress and provides protection from metabolic syndrome. I really like this method of exercising because I’m looking for increased endurance.

While doing my indoor cycling classes, I’ve been using my FitBit watch to monitor my heart rate. During most of the classes I find I easily enter into the cardio mode when the fast music comes on. I have to focus and slow down to stay in the fat burn mode. It’s hard to keep it steady, but I’m getting better.

The MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) formula is 180 minus age. Because I’m 61, my goal heart rate number is to workout at around 120 beats per minute. (Dr. Maffetone has you add and subtract numbers based on exercise history and health as well.)

I have found that it is very hard to hold a steady heart number when you’re working out! Good music especially makes me want to go faster and harder, plus going harder is habit. It is what I’ve been doing for years!

Staying in The Fat Burning Zone

Here are some of the ways of thinking that have helped me to stay in the Fat Burn Zone:

  • Focus on my breathing
  • Try to keep two counts in and five counts out
  • When I have to open my mouth to breathe out, slow down
  • If the music speeds up, keep focus on the breathing
  • When walking up a hill, slow down
  • If indoor biking, take off some resistance
  • Last week I put my phone on the bike so I could monitor the phone instead of my watch and I was able to hold it more steady.

It is not about “no pain, no gain.” On the other hand, it’s not too often that I find my heart rate has dipped too low and I have to speed up, but sometimes that happens when I daydream.

Although it’s only been six weeks, I’ve also found that I am enjoying doing more exercise than I used to at a time. In fact, I am liking two hours rather than 45 minutes or an hour. I feel stronger and am noticing that I can go harder with less effort. I’m interested to see when I get back to biking outside if this experiment has made a difference.

Have you experimented with heart rate training? What has been your experience? Which heart rate monitor do you use? Do you feel like this is all just too analytical for getting exercise? Let me know your thoughts.

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