If you are trying to lose weight then you know, or at least everyone tells you, that you need to do cardio. Although, I’ve seen some stuff online that talks about dramatically decreasing your calorie intake to lose 20 pounds in a month. I have found this to be a lie. I’ve tried it and it didn’t work. This is not a lie though, you need to do cardio but you need to know how to do it. I made this mistake for the longest time. I had a phase where I spent one hour doing hardcore elliptical, on the fat burn setting, then I did a 5k afterwards. Even after beginning to train with my personal trainer, I was still making the same mistake over and over. I was training way too hard for what I was trying to accomplish. Sure, while training this hard, I was burning a ton of calories, nearly 1000 per training session, but what I learned was that I wasn’t burning the right calories. Perhaps, you’re reading this right now and thinking that calories are calories, no matter how you burn them. I had that same thought several years ago in 2011. I had done some research about this topic, at that time, and came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter what kind of calories I burned, I was still burning them, as long as the calories I burned were more than calories I consumed.
Once I began my serious attempt at losing weight, in 2014, I lost 8 pounds my first week! This was mostly due to a change in diet. The following week, I was doing a hardcore cardio routine and I told my trainer “I should’ve lost more.”. We evaluated what I was doing and he suggested that I do an active metabolic assessment. I agreed. After doing this assessment, I learned my biggest flaw. I found out I was over training for my goal! Your heart rate really does have an impact on your weight loss goals, even if all those websites tell you it doesn’t. At that point, I now had a coach for my strength training, as well as, my cardio training.
I have learned, by following the routine that my cardio trainer provided plus the strength training routine, provided by my personal trainer, that I lost the most amount of fat per week.
For those of you who don’t know, there are 5 heart rate zones. Each zone determines the amount of fat or carbohydrate calories that you burn. Zones one through three burn mostly fat calories and zones four through five burn mostly carbohydrate calories. Each of these zones depend on the individual. There are ways to theoretically calculate these zones but the overall best way to find these zones is to have an active metabolic assessment done, also known as, an AMA. Later in this post, I will discuss the several theoretical ways to calculate these numbers, if you are unable to get an AMA done.
First, I will begin by discussing the difference between the three most common cardio routines. I have a heart rate monitor and have done the active metabolic assessment. By using these results, I have created an experiment that outlines three different types of workouts. I have used the LT Connect app to extrapolate this data and have created a similitude to express exactly a one-hour duration for each workout. The first one on the list is the pure high zone two/low zone three workout. These two zones are known as the pure fat burn zones, thus I’ll call this the fat burn workout. I remained mostly in a high zone two and low zone three, for an hour, except during my warm up phase.
502.837 total calories
388.963 total fat calories
113.874 carbohydrate calories
The second workout I did was an interval workout, for one hour, which was based off of two minutes of zone four, then a one-minute transition to zone one and seven minutes in zone three. This training is known to improve your fat burning capability. You develop your cardio ability, which leads to future fat burning improvement, as well as burning the fat you currently have.
572.190 total calories
244.614 fat calories
327.576 carbohydrate calories
The third workout that was done was a 5k, where I was trying to achieve my best time. The majority of this workout was in zone four and zone five, with limited time in the other zones. This was approximately a half hour workout but I have used the data to make it equivalent to the previous two workouts. This was done by using the zone percentages. This would simulate an hour of hard running.
127.366 fat calories
502.626 carbohydrate calories
From these three workouts, we saw that I burned the most calories during a 5k, however, the majority of the calories that I burned were carbohydrates. If the majority of your daily intake is not carbohydrates then this workout is not beneficial to you unless you are looking to develop your upper limit capabilities or improve your max V02. This was my biggest mistake. I was always working out at full power. I was actually burning mostly carbohydrates, when really I wasn’t consuming a vast majority of carbohydrates. I have learned to lower my training level, to allow for more fat burning. After seeing the results from different workouts, it changed everything for me. I began doing several interval workouts, per week, while alternating them with pure fat burn sessions and a once a week 5k to improve my cardio ability. This seemed to work very well for me.
So how do you understand your heart rate zones?
I know at the gyms they often have a chart, based off of your age, that outlines the zones. Sometimes they even have a chart like I’ve shown above, where you are left to assume what it means. Many pieces of cardio equipment also offer similar charts. Can you trust them? Not really, they are just built on a template. You also can’t trust the equipment you’re using to tell you your real heart rate. I had one tell me once that my heart rate was 260. I probably would have been dead if that were real. Now, I will outline several methods for calculating these zones, theoretically. Some are better than others. I will use these methods to compare them to my real AMA, after describing them.
Method 1 – Calculations based off of Max Heart Rate (MHR)
There are three methods for making a calculation for maximum heart rate.
- Age predicted Method
- For Wormen
- Subtract your age from 226
- For Men
- Subtract your age from 220
- For Wormen
- Robergs and Landwehr Age Predicted Method
- Use this formula MHR = 205.8 – (0.685*age)
- Edwards Age and Weight Method
- For Women
- MHR = 210 – (0.5*age) –(0.05*weight)
- For Men
- MHR = 210 – (0.5*age) –(0.05*weight) + 4
- For Women
Method 2 – Karvonen Method
This method begins by calculating the intermediate number. The intermediate number is dependant upon your resting heart rate (RHR). The resting heart rate should be taken in the morning, when you are calm. You can try this for several days and average the numbers.
The formula for intermediate number is (220 – age) – RHR.
When you go to use this intermediate number to calculate zone ranges you will use the following equation:
(intermediate number * heart rate zone) + RHR = heart rate zone limit
The heart rate zones are as followed:
zone 1: 50% – 60 % (your value entered should be 0.50 for 50% and 0.60 for 60% and so on for the remaining zones)
zone 2: 60% – 70%
zone 3: 70% – 80%
zone 4: 80% – 90%
zone 5: 90% – 100%
Method 3 – Zoladz Method
Target heart rate is determined based on a constant and the max heart rate. You calculate the max heart rate (MHR), then use the following formula. Remember, as I mentioned above, there are three ways to calculate your maximum heart rate.
Target heart rate zone one = MHR – 50
To define each zone you want to take your target number and subtract 5, for your lower limit, and add 5, for your upper limit. The only complication with this method is that there are at least three methods for calculating your max heart rate. I display this in my excel sheet below. For zone two, you want to use MHR – 60, and so on for zone 3, 4 and 5. Just increase this number by 10.
So here are all theories side by side.
Out of all of these, the Karvonen model is the best, for an initial calculation. None of these models were able to calculate the changes I’ve experienced in the AMA’s. My AMA has provided an in-depth understanding of why it gets harder to lose weight but none of these models are capable of changing as you change. I think there is a way to make this calculation but I need more time and more samples to experiment with. I think it has to do with your weight, a little with your age but a lot to do with your heart status. Here is how my AMA has changed over the months.
Overall, I think the best method is the Karvonen method. I need more data but I honestly feel there is a better way to theoretically calculate this. I will try to obtain extra data to try to prove my theory. As of now, I just have a hypothesis on how to optimise this. I would like to see if I can get some data from other people, who’ve had the AMA, so I can analyse it.
Until I can do a full analysis, I think the Karvonen model is the closes to reality because it could be used to initially start off but it cannot predict changes over time. There is no way the maximum heart rate or age alone can express the changes that I’ve experienced. I also believe that the changes that I’ve experienced can explain my theory of why it gets harder to lose as much fat when you get more fit. Your zones change to a point, where your fat burning zones become smaller and smaller, which makes it harder to continue to lose fat.
You can use your own opinion to decide on which model you would like to use for your training but here are some key points to consider if you would like to understand when you need to modify these training zones.
Your heart rate zone is too low…
If you need to come to a complete standstill to get in zone one.
If at a light pace, you are above zone one.
If you aren’t feeling like you are exerting yourself in zone four or five.
If you are at zone five and capable of holding a conversation with someone.
Your heart rate zone is too high…
If you are walking fast and you’re in zone one.
If you are in a full out run and have yet to hit either zone four or zone five. At full out, you should be in zone five in less than a minute.
If you are jogging at a medium pace and have’t hit zone two.
Hopefully, these tips help you out. I know I’ve experienced a lot of success from doing a workout situated for me. Everyone is different and has their own zones so it is always good to get the AMA done so that you know where you need to be. I’ve lost 40 pounds so far. I never would have got that far if I continued my old way of training. It wouldn’t have taken me long to get frustrated or burned out.