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The Skinny on Burning Fat

The Skinny on Fat Burning

Fat burning in the body is complicated to say the least. My hope with this article is to tell you in plain English what you can do to maximize your fat burning potential.

Your ability to burn fat depends not only on your genetics, it also depends on several factors that you have control over. These factors have to do with whether or not you workout AND other factors such as how often, how much, and how hard you workout.

So first let’s look at someone who does not workout at all. If you are not currently working out, your fat cells can release just as much fat for energy as someone that does workout. However, an untrained adult’s muscle cells are not efficient at USING the fat once it is mobilized. So most of that fat is sent right back where it started from, the fat cell. Bummer…

Now that you know that fact I am sure you want to workout right? And certainly you want to workout smart in order to teach your body how to burn fat and utilize a workout strategy that will maximize your fat burning potential? Read on to discover just how you can do that.

The Benefits of Low Intensity Training:

  • As you begin exercising the increase of blood flow signals the fat cells to release fatty acids into the blood steam for your muscles to utilize.

  • You burn the most fat when exercising at low to moderate intensity—that is, when oxygen consumption is between 25% and 60% of maximum (Horowitz & Klein 2000). At these very low exercise intensities you mostly use the fat in your blood stream until it is gone.

  • Research shows that as intensity increases fatty acids get trapped in the fat cell and cannot get out so beginning the exercise with 10 – 20 minutes of low intensity work will help to release the greatest amount of fatty acids into the blood.

Bottom line in plain English – A little is better than nothing at all…

Spend at least 1 day a week performing low intensity exercise to maximize your bodies ability to release fatty acids from fat cells, and teach your muscle cells how to use fat. For all of your other workouts spend 10-20 minutes in low zone training to release and use as much fat as possible before you stop releasing fat.

The Benefits of Moderate Intensity Training:

  • As exercise increases to moderate intensity (around 60% of VO2max), most of the fatty acids oxidized appear to come from fat stores in the muscle cell. Think of wax dripping off a candle, the fat in your muscle cells is released to energize the workout. Pretty cool huh?

  • At higher exercise intensities (>70% VO2max), most of the energy used is from carbohydrate breakdown to meet the energy demands of the exercise (Horowitz & Klein 2000).

Bottom line in plain English:

Moderate intensity training should be performed to best use up the fat that is in the muscle cell itself. This fat will be replaced for future use, thus less fat stored in fat cells.

The Benefits of High Intensity Training:

  • Fat burning during high intensity training is very low during the exercise bout but after exercising, your body still needs to burn more energy, primarily to help muscle cells recover and to replace lost glycogen. This elevated metabolic rate is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which appears to be greatest after high-intensity exercise. Many studies indicate that EPOC appears to utilize fatty acids for this recovery process. So you are releasing fat from fat cells and using it to replace energy in the muscle cells after the high intensity exercise bout.

  • This EPOC is also elevated after strength training.

Bottom line in plain English:

Perform high intensity cardio training once or twice a week and perform strength training once or twice a week to maximize your fat burning post exercise.

So as you see, you can indeed have quite an impact on fat burning! Here is my plain and simple plan to help you become a fat burning machine.

  • First of all check with your physician before starting any exercise program, and I highly recommend hiring a nationally certified fitness trainer (ACSM, CSCS, ACE, NSAM) to teach you correct exercise execution.

Decide how many days a week you can realistically set aside exercise time and follow my chart.

Days of Training

Low Intensity

Moderate Intensity

High Intensity













Incorporate 2 days of strength training into your cardio and perform compound exercises such as squat, lunge, chest press, push ups, row, pull ups, or shoulder press

Examples of High Intensity Training Regimens:

  • HIIT - High-Intensity Interval Training

High-intensity interval training requires that you perform maximum effort bouts of cardio for six intervals of 4 minutes each with 1, 2, 3 or 4 minutes of recovery.

  • SIT - Sprint Interval Training

Sprint interval training is a series of maximum-effort bouts of exercise. The maximal effort generated in SIT requires a short work interval and a longer rest interval. SIT often employs a 30-second all-out effort followed by a 4.5-minute rest.

  • Tabata-Inspired Interval Training

Tabata-style intervals use 20 seconds of high-intensity work followed by 10 seconds of rest (this is one interval) these intervals are repeated 8 times then active rest for 3 minutes. Tabata-style training can use cardiovascular equipment (such as a treadmill, rowing machine or stationary bike) or calisthenics (such as burpees, mountain climbers or body-weight squats).

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