Everything You Need To Know About Heart Rate And Exercise: How To Burn Fat Faster

With heart rate monitors a standard feature on stationary bikes, treadmills, and any sort of wearable fitness accessory… it can sometimes feel like we’re just supposed to know what heart rate is and how fat burn and heart rate are linked.  


But, truth is, unless you’ve studied sports science, it’s not quite that simple.


And many of us are going about our day-to-day fitness regime, without really knowing the role that heart rate plays in exercise.


What is it about heart rate that can make our exercise more effective? 


It is really a great indicator for knowing when to stabilize intensity for fat burning power? And is there really a connection between fat burn and heart rate — does one increase the other?


This article is the ultimate guide to heart rate for fat burn. We will review the latest fitness and health research to describe the importance of heart rate for fat burning and your overall health, and clear up myths about the connection between fat burning and heart rate. 


Ready? Let’s go!

What is heart rate? 

Heart rate, also referred to as pulse rate or simple pulse, is the frequency at which your heart beats over an established period of time. 


In other words, it is a count of how fast your heart is beating, measured in the number of heartbeats per minute (bpm). 


Knowing your heart rate can help you measure your fitness level. As a general rule, being able to maintain a lower heartbeat when you are exercising means a better fitness level. 


Besides exercise, your heart rate is affected by the air temperature, your body position, your emotions, your body size, and whether you use any heart-rate altering medications.


It’s also important to know that irregularities in your heartbeat can signify a heart condition, or other health issue. But should you go to check your heart rate one day and it sounds a little off, try not to worry — normally, other symptoms will arise before you can tell if your own heartbeat is irregular. Any concerns at all though, just go and get your doctor to check it out.

How do you measure your heart rate?

The best places to measure your own heartbeat are:

  • Wrists
  • Side of your neck
  • Top of the foot
  • Inside of your elbow.

The simplest way to measure your heart rate is usually on your wrist or neck. You’ll need a watch with a second hand or a stopwatch. 


At the start of a minute, start counting your heartbeats. Count the number of heartbeats you feel in a minute and, there you have it: your heart rate. 


When you are at rest and calm, your heart rate is called your resting heart rate. The other zones are moderate heart rate, target heart rate, and maximum heart rate — as you’d expect, the more you move, the more your heart will beat, pushing you from resting to moderate, then target to maximum. 


Your target heart rate, which we’ll describe in detail in the next section, is your ideal heart rate to reach your fitness goals and depends on your age, sex, activity level, and resting pulse. 


The target heart rate is the root of the idea of a “fat-burning heart rate”. 

Why does your heart rate change when you exercise? 

Your blood carries oxygen, water, and nutrients. When you exercise, your cells need a steady supply of all of those things in order to keep up with the additional energy you are burning. As a result, your heart beats faster and stronger to meet your cells’ needs. 


As your fitness level increases, your cells become more efficient at using the nutrients and oxygen your blood can deliver. Additionally, your heart becomes stronger so it pumps more blood with fewer and less-intense beats. That’s why your fitness level can be correlated against the speed of your heart rate when exercising.

What is your target heart rate?

The American Heart Association has developed a table that calculates target and average maximum heart rates based on the age of healthy individuals. As you’ll see, your target heart rate is between 50-85% of your maximum heart rate, and your maximum heart rate is calculated based on your age. 


Of course, this table is just a guideline. It’s important to talk to your doctor and/or physical trainer about your specific heart rates. 


Age

Target HR Zone 50-85%

Average Maximum Heart Rate, 100%

20 years

100-170 beats per minute (bpm)

200 bpm

30 years

95-162 bpm

190 bpm

35 years

93-157 bpm

185 bpm

40 years

90-153 bpm

180 bpm

45 years

88-149 bpm

175 bpm

50 years

85-145 bpm

170 bpm

55 years

83-140 bpm

165 bpm

60 years

80-136 bpm

160 bpm

65 years

78-132 bpm

155 bpm

70 years

75-128 bpm

150 bpm

Source: American Heart Association (5)

What is a fat burning heart rate?

If you ask your trainer, they’ll probably say that a fat burning heart rate is the rate at which your body breaks down (oxidizes) most fat for energy. It is also referred to as the maximal fat oxidation rate (MFO), which is the point at which most energy from fat is burned. 


In theory, the fat burn heart rate, or "fat-burning zone” is between 67.6 and 87.1% of your maximum heart rate. In other words, it is on the upper end of your target heart rate zone — somewhere between moderate intensity and high intensity exercise, e.g. a steady run, where you’re sweating and breathing more heavily, but can still hold a conversation. 

Is the ‘fat-burning zone’ fitness fact or fiction?

Some people dispute the “fat-burning zone”, saying that while your body burns the most fat during moderate exercise, this isn’t all that effective for weight loss. 


And that makes sense, really.


When you are doing moderate-intensity exercises — the type that put you in the ‘fat-burning zone’ — you tend to burn fewer calories than if you did a high-intensity workout. Because, after all, you’re moving less. 

So it’s not that the fat-burning zone isn’t real — but it is only part of the picture when it comes to heart rate for weight loss.


If you’re looking to drop a couple of kgs, you’re best off following a fitness routine that combines fat-burning moderate exercise, with high intensity workouts for greater caloric expenditure.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

So leaving the ‘fat-burning zone’ aside, how do you design a workout for fat burn and weight loss?

Loosely speaking, you’ll burn more fat when your heart rate is around 70-80% of your maximum, and then burn more calories when you’re at 80-90%.


And whilst, as we said earlier on, your heart rate during exercise will depend on your current fitness level, there are a number of workouts you can do, to target these heart rate brackets.


For fat burn between 70-80% of your maximum heart rate:

  • Warm-up for a few minutes to prevent injury. Start with some light to moderate exercises like gently jumping rope. 
  • Mix in some moderate cardio exercises, e.g. 10 minutes on the cross-trainer, 10 minutes of jogging on the treadmill, 10 minutes on the rowing machine.

To amp it up, and burn more calories, you can reach 80-90% of your maximum heart rate by:

  • Choosing exercises that involve the whole body. Bodyweight exercises are effective for this (think pushups, squats, and planks), especially HIIT (high intensity interval training) rounds of short bursts of exercise.
  • In general, if you are starting out, the work-rest ratio is 2:1 for a HIIT workout. Work for 20 seconds at top intensity, then rest for 40 seconds, or work for 30 seconds and rest for 1 minute. As you improve your fitness level, you can gradually lower the rest time. Monitor your heart rate so that it is in the upper end of your target heart rate.

Over time, your workouts should get harder, but you should feel stronger and more resistant. This is how you know your training program is working.


And always remember to take time to cool down and stretch after each workout, to avoid injury. 

Lastly, it’s not just about what exercise you do... but what you eat as well

Remember that effective fat burn isn’t only about exercise. You should place special attention on diet and any supplements you might need — increased protein intake, carbohydrate balance, and other nutritional support are important for an effective fat burning regime. 


Of course, what you eat will also support you in the calorie-burn part of your workout too. And a  balanced, healthy lifestyle is a great place to start.


But, in particular, many people who are exercising for fat burn end up falling short on protein through a normal diet. If you’ve been taking your fitness routine up a notch or two recently, and have started to experience some of the symptoms of protein deficiency, then you could benefit from a protein supplement. 


Additionally, specific amino acid supplements like carnitine may support a fat loss program that is based on balanced nutrition and exercise. 


If you need any further guidance on eating for an active lifestyle, or finding the best protein supplement for you, then head over to our blog. We’re all in this together!

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