Is Your Fat-Burning Furnace Fired Up--or Fizzling Out?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Whether you're trying to lose or few pounds or maintain your current weight, most exercisers are interested in "burning fat" during their workouts. Of course, the fat-burning benefits of exercise vary based on when and what you last ate, what type of workout you're doing, how hard you're pushing—and countless other factors. On top of that, you've probably heard a lot of conflicting advice about what types of exercises burn the most fat. But I believe fitness professionals can all agree on one thing: The more calories you can burn, the more body fat you will lose. So what can you do to burn more calories and get the results you want?

Today I'll share three simple things you can do to accelerate your workout fat burning, along with three other "techniques" you should avoid.

For three of my top tips to burn more fat during your workouts, check out this short video.

The keys there are to get yourself to work harder, which ultimately burns more calories and fat. Whenever you can work harder without perceiving your workouts as being intense, you'll be even better off! That's why tricks like listening to music or picking fun workouts really pay off.

So what shouldn't you do? Here are three commonly advised strategies that may sound like sage advice--but are only going to hurt your weight-loss efforts.
  1. DON'T "Exercise in the fat-burning zone." The fat-burning zone is—shockingly—still a very common workout mode on cardio machines. It is programmed to keep you working at a low heart-rate (intensity) level because at low-energy levels your body uses more fat as fuel. That's is true in theory, but in practice it doesn't work out so well. When it comes to weight loss it does not matter where the calories you burn come from, whether glucose in the bloodstream from a recent meal you ate or stored body fat. What really matters is that you burn as many calories as possible regardless of the source of those calories. And what burns more calories? Working harder (hence my tip from the video above).
  2. DON'T "Exercise on an empty stomach." It is NOT true that exercising on an empty stomach will cause your body to burn more fat. This is a continuation of what I explained above, that the source of the energy you burn doesn't matter when it comes to weight loss. And in many cases, if you are hungry and forcing yourself to work out without eating something first—simply to burn more fat—you are only shortchanging yourself. Your body needs energy to be available for optimal exercise, especially if you want to work hard, which really burns the most calories (and, subsequently, fat). When you're low on fuel (energy), you can't work as hard or as long and your workout suffers along with your calorie burn.
  3. DON'T "Lift light weights for lean muscles." Perhaps one of the best things you can do to unleash your body's fat-burning potential is strength training. And I do believe that any strength training is better than nothing, even if it's lightweight. But the idea that lifting light weights is going to give you better results or "smaller" muscles is only a half truth. Sure, without lifting heavier you will probably not get much stronger. But stronger doesn't mean "bigger" (very important!) and the less strength you have, the fewer calories you are burning while you read this blog, while you run and while you do just about anything.

    Muscle can help elevate your metabolism, and lifting weights to fatigue can also burn some serious calories—even after your workout ends. Not to mention that during weight loss, about 25% of the "weight" you lose could actually be lean tissue like muscle. Over time, that can wreak havoc on your metabolism and fat-burning potential. So pick up those weights at least twice a week and don't fear getting stronger. You'll cut that muscle loss that often accompanies weight loss in half, and it will only make your fitter, slimmer and healthier.

Do you currently follow any of these fat-burning tips?  Are you guilty of any of the mistakes? Share your favorite method for burning more fat with us below!

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PATRICIAAK 4/12/2021
:) Report
Need to start eating in the am before workout Report
MNABOY 11/15/2020
Thanks Report
GMACAMI 9/21/2020
interesting article and comments Report
KOALA_BEAR 6/5/2020
I want a set of weights along w/ cardio equipment in my new house. This info is helpful in highlighting the strength training & its importance for weight loss & health. Good stuff !!! Report
NANASUEH 5/12/2020
thanks Report
Great-This answered a few questions I had Report
i did like some of the tips posted Report
Thanks Report
Good advice! Thank you Report
Thanks for the info Report
Good article - thanks. Report
Thank you Report
Great information! Report
Good article. Report
Nice article Report
good points Report
Great info Report
Thanks for the info!! Report
This article was full of a lot of information Report
i read always do ST before cardio. do cardio with ever increasing weight 2-5% and only do i set with 15 reps or until muscle failure. u need all your energy for ST then if u can do some or do cardio on a non ST day. for ST do grouped muscle exercises then single muscle exercises until failure. when u can it is time to increase the weight. then if u have enough energy add a session of cardio or alternate days. but i do 2 2 days cardio for weight loss and to build muscle Report
Great tips. Report
Some great additional tips. Report
I run before my strength training sessions at the gym. So, yes, I follow the cardio before strength training tip. Report
These are awesome ideas and they do work. Report
So grateful I finally read this about the "fat burning zone" - my goal is to burn fat, but when I'm in the fat-burning zone, I feel like I'm not making much of an effort. I just get really bored really fast, and that increases the likelihood of finishing a cardio session early!
I always do cardio 1st as it was recommended by a trainer Report
I'd like to see the research on burning cardio first to burn more fat. Can you provide a link to that research? I thought it was opposite - burn off glycogen first with weight training, then setting you up to burn more fat with your cardio. Report
Like another person who commented, my workouts are usually in the very early morning. I don't like to eat before exercising and my workouts have not suffered. That said, if I begin a workout and my body 'tells' me that I'm fatigued, I'll stop and grab a bit (not a whole) of an apple, banana, or a small serving of nuts. As for the strength training, I need to do a better job of increasing my weight! thanks for the blog. Report
Exercise scientists in Australia found that men who used this formula burned three times more fat than men who sprinted for 24 seconds and took 36 seconds of rest each time.Do the workout three times a week, adding an interval each week until you're pedaling for 20 minutes. Report
This is crazy. Always do weight training first and cardio after you finish. I want to build muscle first and use cardio to build my heart not lose weight with. Report
Great info, Thanks! Report
Typo alert: In the last sentence, there is either a word missing or the word "your" should read "you." Report
Better to do cardio and then weights or vice-versa? Report
Remember, muscle burns fat even at rest. Report
I was doing ST first for fear of being too tired after cardio to get it done. Will now do cardio first to see if ig improves tjibgs fof me. Thank you for sharing this! Report
thanks for sharing this article Nicole so i have saved this for future reference. I know people are different but i have to eat before and after my workouts(strengh and cardio) ,since they are long. Because of my weight and height,it takes me awhile to burn alot of calories. From my expierence on working out on a growling stomach,I ran of energy during my workout. For me,I would never never ever workout on an empty stomach. I take something healthy and portable like almonds with me to the gym. Report
I work out in the morning - 2 to 3x a week at 630am when I am running and 3x a week at 7am with my trainer using weights, etc. I have never been able to eat in the morning before I exercise. I will try on Sunday when I am doing a long run to see the effect. Thanks for the article and enjoyed reading the feedback from the others. Report
Thanks Report
My workout consisted of time on the eliptical and treadmill followed by strength training. That increased strength in my legs came in handy when I had a serious back injury and was forced to use a walker for the first time in my life. If it wasn't for the strength in my legs, especially my upper thighs, I would have been struggling to get out of chairs, and would have needed more help to get around. I am now working to regain and increase the strength in my body since inactivity leads to musle loss. I did it once and know that I can become a strong person again. I will always have strength training as part of my workout. Report
Thanks for this advice. Wonderful. Report
I am on track, already doing these things, thank you! Report
Good tips! Thanks, Nicole! Report
I have to say I was doing some things that were probably hindering my weight loss. Thank you for the tips. Report
Great advice Report
Great blog Report
Yes It's very Important to eat before you workout and do cardio before anything else. Report
Great tips!
I always have to have something before I work out. I'm not a morning person & not a big breakfast person, so it's usually just something small. If I don't I start getting dizzy & seeing stars and have to stop completely....
When I first started again I was all about the 'Fat Burning Zone', but now have moved into the Cardio settings on the elliptical.
And I completely agree with you on the music thing.....Load up a good playlist and you don't even notice the time flying bye! Another good tip, related to music, is to try and update your playlist every once in a while to switch it up. I get bored of music pretty fast though... Report
I have a cup of green tea while I get dressed, then drink 8 oz 15 gram protein/ fruit drink. This works well for energy, no heavy food in the stomach. When I finish my workout I wait about an hour to unwind then I have my fruit salad and get on with my day! Report
thx great to know Report