This Is What Your Heart Rate Needs To Be To Burn Fat During A Workout

Your training Heart Rate (HR) is a bit like your sanity after self-isolating with little children – despite your best efforts, it eventually decreases over time. So, if you take nothing else from this blog please lock this into your long-term memory: The higher and longer you can keep your heart rate elevated, the more fat you’ll burn both during and after the workout. While I’d love to show you a perfectly plotted graph of exactly where your heart rate should be to burn the most amount of fat, the actual rate is different for different people. How it feels is what matters! Let me explain what I mean. 

Rate of Perceived Exertion

The truth is, it’s all about your RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion). This is a fancy way of saying how hard you’re pushing yourself, and is a simple 1-10 scale. So when you’re huffing and puffing on a treadmill and a trainer asks ‘Out of 10, how hard do you feel you’re working?’, they’re asking about your RPE. To burn the maximum amount of fat the answer should be somewhere between a 6-8. The fitness industry calls this area “Comfortably Hard”, which means you can get out a few words but not hold a full conversation (a 10 would be complete breathlessness, which isn’t what we’re going for).

If you are currently on the ‘unfit’ side, then a few flights of stairs will certainly hike up your heart rate. And this is great, but you won’t be able to sustain it. So, in this case, the unfit person would be better off to just walk at a pace that challenges them, but a speed that they can sustain over a longer period of time. 

As you get fitter you should still be staying in that 6-8 zone. However, you will be burning way more calories as that walk has now progressed into jogging or even running. For professional marathon runners, they’re still only in this 6-8 zone, but they’re running at 20kph and for hours at a time! Insane I know.

Comfortably Hard Level

As often as possible, it’s about getting your heart rate up to the “Comfortably Hard” level. I’d also like to point out the fact that ‘cross-training’ becomes more necessary the harder and more often you train. If you want to burn lots of fat without getting an overuse injury, it’s vital you mix your week up. For example:

1 x ‘Comfortably Hard’ Run, 

1 x ‘Comfortably Hard’ Swim, 

1 x ‘Comfortably Hard’ weights circuits, 

1 x ‘Comfortably Hard’ Bike ride

For most people, 4 ‘Comfortably Hard’ sessions will be plenty. After 40 years of age (and 3 kids) I’ve noticed 3 hard sessions is more than enough for me and my immune system. 

What about the other days?

On your other 3-4 days I encourage you to walk, swim, bike ride or dance as much as you like, but keep this in the 4-6 zone. This is an intensity you can hold a full conversation the entire time. These activities will also help your body recover faster as well as add to the overall calorie burn for the week.

For those analytical types that love the numbers, there’s always heart rate tracking tools. But all you really need is body awareness. You know when you’ve pushed it in a workout, or a game of sport. So, as always, find an activity you look forward to, work hard at it for a long enough period of time (45min is a solid amount), get your heart rate up and keep it there for maximum fat loss results. 

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