Heart Rate Zones for Weight Loss – How To Lose Fat With Exercise

May 27, 2020


Heart Rate Zones for Weight Loss

The health and fitness industries can be competitive, crowded and confusing.  What type of training might work for me? What is the best heart rate zone for weight loss? What approach is best for my level and goals?  A casual search of the web can lead to a lot of conflicting information.  For every guru touting a “revolutionary” new program you can find a contrary philosophy undermining its principles.  

What to do? 

For starters, simplify.  Stick with the basics – to theories and approaches supported by science and utilized by athletes and physicians year after year.  Fads will come and go, but science stands the test of time. 

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Training   

An important evolutionary trait that separates human beings from the rest of the Animal Kingdom is our advanced ability to shed heat (sweat) and exert effort over an extended period of time.   Any activity that elevates the heart rate for more than a few minutes engages our aerobic system.  And fat is the main fuel for the aerobic system.  It’s why our bodies carry fat in the first place.  The greater your body’s aerobic capacity, the more efficiently it burns fat.   

Conversely, if your aerobic system is weak, your body operates less efficiently, relying heavily on sugars for energy.  And a deficient aerobic system can result in a host of unwanted problems such as chronic fatigue, increased body fat, physical injuries and reduced performance. 

The irony is that when athletes push themselves, in an attempt to achieve more results, faster, they often do themselves a disservice.  When you exceed your maximum aerobic heart rate (MAR), you begin working anaerobically, putting you body in a sugar burning mode.  The fact that is that in order to burn fat, the body must train aerobically.   

How To Calculate Your Heart Rate Zone for Weight Loss

The good news is that it’s easy to determine your heart rate zone for weight loss. We do it all the time at our Women’s Health Physical Therapy office and our Sports Medicine in NYC practice. Dr. Phil Maffetone, a renowned coach and clinician has developed a formula that’s easy to understand and simple to follow.  It has been used successfully by elite endurance athletes around the world but is often overlooked by weekend warriors and couch potatoes trying to cram six months of training into a single session.  All it requires is a bit of math and a heart rate monitor.   Here it is: 

  1. Subtract your age from 180.
  2. If you have (or are recovering from) a major illness – or are on regular medication, subtract 10. 
  3. If you are injured or if your training has weakened/regressed, subtract 5.  
  4. If you have allergies, asthma and/or two colds or bouts of the flu per year, subtract 5. 
  5. If you’ve been training & competing successfully for two years without any of the above problems, add 5. 

So, for example, if you are 30 years old and coming off of an injury, your maximum heart rate would be: 180-30=150-5=145 beats per minute (bpm). 

That’s it!   You may be surprised initially by how slowly you need to go to remain below your aerobic max and achieve a good heart rate zone for weight loss.

And while you’ll be tempted to do more, don’t.  Trust the science and remember that when practicing heart rate training, less is truly more.