Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Heart Rate Zones

When I put people on cardio equipment (bikes, cross trainers, ellipticals, steppers, rowers) I tell them the heart rate I want them to achieve. And they look back at me as though I'm mad because they've seen a chart like the one here (in fact, it might even be on the piece of equipment they're standing on).

I may also mention I want them to ignore the bottom two zones entirely - well, less mention more cover it up with my hands and tell them to not even go there!

See, the point is, exercise is there to get you fitter, not necessarily to help you lose weight (the weight loss is secondary), and to get fit you have to push your heart rate above your comfort level - at least to the 70% of your max HR example I used in my last post. Even then, once you've been working out for a little while, 70% will seem too easy and you can push yourself further. The higher you push yourself during the workout (within reason: no fainting or vomiting please) the longer your metabolic rate stays elevated afterwards, which means your body is burning calories for longer than if you stayed in the Fat Burning Zone of under 70%.

The fat burning zone came into being because someone once worked out that the percentage of calories burned from fat was higher when your heart rate was lower. To burn fat, your body need oxygen, so the hypothesis was that if you push yourself too hard and start gasping for breath, the fat burning percentage reduces, this isn't entirely untrue...

BUT, it completely ignores the fact that when you work out harder, you burn more total calories...

If I was on the cross trainer for 20 minutes working out at 60% of my maximum heart rate, I would burn say 150 calories, half of which come from fat, so 75 calories from fat.

If I was on the same cross trainer working out at 80% of my max, I could burn 250 calories, but only 35% from fat. But that equates to roughly 87 calories!

Please bear in mind these are not accurate figures, they vary from person to person, but they're a good guide to explain why you should be pushing yourself a little harder.

65% or lower - you're able to talk non-stop about last night's TV, all of it from 7pm to 10pm - TOO EASY
70 - 80% - random sentences, taking a pause in between to catch your breath - CARDIO/BEGINNER
80 - 90% - gasping, unable to talk, but feel great and happy to continue - INTERVALS/ADVANCED
90 - 100% - almost maximum effort - INTERVALS/NOT FOR BEGINNERS

A mixture of heart rates between 70 to 90% is probably the best bet for most people - remembering that if you feel dizzy or faint, you're pushing yourself too hard and need to slow down/lower the intensity level on the machine your using - and the fitter you are the easier it will be to raise and maintain a higher heart rate.

This post has been weight-loss centric, but your fitness will also benefit from working out at a higher intensity - the higher you can push your heart rate for longer, the more your endurance will develop. Once you have a good base of endurance fitness, you'll be able to breeze through every new fitness class your gym offers and every run your partner/friend drags you out on.


  1. When I push my heart rate and it starts to get hard, I think about my heart as a muscle and how I'm working it, increasing its strength. At almost 49, that is a great incentive for me. I want to be healthy first and above all. I have a lot of life to live yet!

    1. Quite right - you'll keep your heart strong buy working it hard. In my gym there are so many people in their 70s and 80s, it's a huge inspiration to me.

  2. I go to the gym almost every day, and while I'm doing cardio I always push myself as hard as I can. Like you say, I see people in there who are in their '70's and have figures of much much younger is a huge inspiration. Love your blog!

    1. That's perfect. There are at least 3 women at my gym who bring books in with them every single time - if they put the books down and increased the intensity, they'd have so many more benefits!

  3. Two summers ago, I worked with a great gal from Hollywood, Rachel Nichols.
    Rachel did some TT workouts while filming a movie up here in Toronto.

    That's about it for me in terms of training Hollywood actors or
    actresses in person, but recently I was asked, "Imagine you're
    working with a major film star who has eight weeks to lose 30
    pounds of fat and build some muscle in preparation for the lead
    role in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. What do you do with them?"

    Here's my answer...

    I would have control over every single thing that they eat. That's
    the biggest ticket to success here. No booze, no excess sugar, and
    just giving them enough reward to stick with the program.

    If this "star" is a typical overweight, sedentary individual, we'll have
    no problem getting rid of 20 pounds of fat through nutrition.

    As for exercise, we need to be consistent, and stick with our intensity
    principles. We would do 3 hard workouts per week using strength
    training followed by interval training with the program being centered
    around basic movement patterns done with free weights.

    Everything is done in supersets in the workout to get more done in
    less time. For example, we might do a squat supersetted with a
    pressing exercise. I also like to pair free weight exercises and
    bodyweight exercises in supersets, for example, a dumbbell split
    squat paired with a decline pushup.

    We'll do 3 superset pairs, each for 1-3 sets, and stick to 8
    repetitions per set. Then we'll finish the workout with 6 hard
    intervals of 30-60 seconds (with 60-120 seconds rest between each).
    This way, we are in and out of the gym in 45 minutes.

    On "off days", we'd still get at least 30 minutes, if not 60
    minutes, of low-intensity exercise. But it wouldn't just be slow
    cardio. Instead, we'd focus on low-intensity bodyweight training.
    For example, if the actor can do a maximum of 25 bodyweight squats,
    15 pushups, and 5 chinups, we would use easier versions of those
    exercises in circuits.

    Here's a sample 6 exercise bodyweight circuit that we'd do at least
    3 times, doing 10 reps per exercise.

    Wall Squat
    Kneeling Pushup
    Beginner Inverted Bodyweight Row
    Stability Ball Leg Curl
    Mountain Climber

    After that, we might cross train with a variety of cardio exercises
    to avoid overuse injuries that occur when you repeatedly do the
    same activity and nothing else.

    So that's pretty much it. If he (or she) sticks to their nutrition,
    we're as good as gold and the actor will be ready just in time.

    Click here to start losing fat with Turbulence Training: ===> Drop 30 Pounds in 8 Weeks? <=====

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    Craig Ballantyne, CTT
    Certified Turbulence Trainer
    Author, Turbulence Training

    PS - Turbulence Training Beats Cardio for Fat Burning Effectiveness.

    "Craig's workouts were fun and challenging - I didn't dread going to the
    gym and I wasn't overly sore after our sessions. Much like my trainer in
    LA, Craig's workouts were always different: the exercises, the supersets,
    the weights...the combination of elements always varied and, therefore,
    I never got bored or felt like I was in a workout rut. And my co-stars
    couldn't believe how great my arms looked, thanks to Craig helping me
    do my first chin-up. Thanks Craig!"
    Rachel Nichols, actress

    Click here to get Turbulence Training: ===> Fast fat loss workouts... <=====

    "I have been in love with Turbulence Training ever since I started.
    I am 6'3", 28/M and my starting weight/body fat% was 208 pounds and
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    10.8% body fat."
    Nick Walters, New York, NY

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