What the Fat-Burning Zone Really Means?

Hey Davey!

I have a cardio conundrum. I’m 32 at 174 pounds, and I have a goal of losing weight. Because I can no longer run, it’s been suggested that I walk briskly on the treadmill at a high incline. I tried this today on the fat-burn setting, but the machine kept re-setting the incline and pace to get my heart rate in the “fat-burning zone” for my age and weight class. I continued the workout for 30 minutes, but I barely broke a sweat and didn’t feel like I worked out at all. I desperately wanted to return to the high incline and brisk pace, but I figured the machine knew what it was doing.

Should I stick with what the machine dictates?


Hey Will,

Machines often target two different zones: Fat-burning and cardio.

The cardio zone programs are higher in intensity while the fat-burning zone programs are lower in intensity. When in the fat-burning zone, you burn fewer calories - but the idea is that a higher percent of those calories come from fat. Hence the name. When in the cardio zone, you burn a greater total number of calories.

Sounds like you should continue to work in the fat-burning zone? No. Consider the chart below which represents a 130 pound woman:

Even with a smaller percentage of calories coming from fat, you still burn more fat in the cardio zone.

But really, there’s a fundamental issue with relying on the treadmill to determine your “zone.” Fitness machines use a very simple formula to calculate your target heart rate involving only your age and weight. It doesn’t take into consideration your individuality - and the host of other relevant variables. The result is an overly generalized heart rate which usually isn’t accurate.

If you’re comfortable working out, I’d encourage you to think outside the treadmill’s zones and develop your own cardio routine that leaves you hot and sweaty. And, if you have issues running, it need not involve the treadmill.

Intervals are a great way to burn fat and they can be performed on many different types of cardio machines. I’d recommend trying intervals on a rowing machine. Row at a moderate pace for 90 seconds - and then switch to a sprint pace for 60 seconds. Do this for 15 minutes and you’ll be soaked in sweat. And, you’ll have boosted your metabolism.

You can also incorporate gut-busting intervals into strength training by moving between various exercises at differing speeds.

The bottom line: The zones on cardio machines are misleading and often inaccurate. Don’t give them more credit than they deserve - and certainly don’t base your weight loss program on their calculations.


P.S. If you have a fitness question for Davey Wavey, send it on over!

About Davey Wavey

Davey Wavey is a certified personal trainer and YouTube sensation with more than 250 million video views. For Davey's fitness tips and secrets, sign up for his free monthly newsletter - or download any of his affordable and effective workout programs.


  1. I love the elliptical for cardio. It’s low impact, and seems to give a very good workout. The first time I tried it, I was like “Well this isn’t giving me a workout at all” and a few minutes later, I was sweating like a pig. you get a good workout and don’t even realize it’s happening.

    There’s another cool machine which I tried, but never really got into. It’s called a tread climber. It’s sort of a combination treadmill and stair climber. has 2 independent tread tracks that move up and down. It gives you a feeling like you’re running sand when you use it.

  2. Chris C. says:

    I have been listening to a clinician’s talk on insulin resistance (basically getting all your body chemicals in line so that losing weight comes easy and you don’t go on to develop diabetes) and as far as the exercise portion goes (backed up by a number of studies) 30 seconds-3 minutes of “Burst type exercise” result in the same weight loss as going for a moderate intensity jog for 30 minutes…

    What we go on to recommend is doing this burst type exercise immediately on rising (because of the optimal chemicals that promote fat burning) what I have been recommended for this is stair climbs (go up in down a few flights) followed by push-ups or something else… do all of this before breakfast and follow with a high protein + low or no carb breakfast (carbs or protein >50G lead to insulin secretion which block growth hormone that causes you to fat burn and build lean muscle mass)

    Brisk walking ~30minutes a day and this can be broken up so that you don’t think of it as 30 minutes think about walking to lunch parking car further from work and walking things like that… walking outside is preferred or if need to be inside without a treadmill because of how it effects your gait (according to Biomechanics teacher Katy Bowman)

    When you go to the gym focus on resistance exercises

    And it is important to do light exercise 2 hours after dinner (nothing that will make you break a sweat! just something to get you to use the carbs from dinner and be able to have the optimum fat burning chemicals while you sleep)

    I have been following just the eating portion of this diet and walking/resistance portion that I mentioned above… (So for me I have a high protein breakfast… and what I didn’t mention is I limit all my food to 3 square meals… again dealing with chemical release) I still pig out during these meals up to the point of being full but the focus is high protein which makes you full I’ve dropped from 165lbs to 142lbs.

    I will entertain any questions about this diet… and it is known as the ketogenic diet by some and it’s benefits are backed by the few studies that have been done on it..

    The Biomechanic (basically the study of how the body should be optimally positioned) instructor’s website includes a blog… I included information from this specific post http://www.alignedandwell.com/?p=2425&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=223

  3. Thanks so much, Davey! You totally cleared things up for me. I did intervals on the elliptical this morning, and IT. FELT. GREAT!! Definitely felt hot and sweaty after that one! I’m gonna try the row machine next week, and make interval training part of my daily routine. Thanks, again, for the advice! 🙂

  4. christopher says:

    it is confusing to say the least-it seems i sweat some days more than others.earlier sometimes on treadmill.maybe switch up-confuse yourself.the info DW-could help explain your situation.experiment-again switch-up.confuse your workouts from time to time.

  5. Davey, you totally converted me to an interval convert. It makes those 20-30 minutes of cardio fly by! My machine of choice is the AMT, and when I am on my high intensity I crank up my music, close my eyes and go at it like no other! I easily burn an extra 50-100 calories on the same machine for the same time by doing intervals instead.

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  10. MichelCrili says:

    Существует такая услуга - добровольное медицинское обслуживание .
    Она предполагает, что пациент вносит небольшую сумму за абонемент и ходит на прием в течение года бесплатно.
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    Эта информация уже спровоцировала кучу возмущений, после того как информацию об этом рассекретил один врач.
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