September 5th, 2011 by Digestive Detective
When performing cardio many people look to the "fat burning zone" on cardio machines to gauge their intensity. The truth is, although working at lower intensities does rely more on fat stores for energy, only a small amount of fat is used when exercising just below the lactate threshold. The RATE of caloric expenditure and the TOTAL number of calories expended are much greater when working to higher intensities than they are when exercising at a lower intensity, so the total amount of fat used is also greater. (Karp, The Fat Burning Zone, IDEA Fitness Journal Oct. 2009)
Instead of focusing solely on heart rate response or the “fat burning zone”, consider utilizing the Rate of Perceived Exertion to work to a challenging enough intensity level. On a scale from 6 (very light) to 20 (extremely difficult), judge your intensity by the way you feel and how your body responds. Begin at a moderate level and challenge yourself as your fitness level improves to work up to a more difficult intensity level.
Sprinters train almost exclusively at high intensity levels and anaerobically, relying not on fat but carbohydrates for energy; yet they are still lean. The bottom line: what truly matters in the case of both fat and weight loss is the total number of calories burned. Anaerobic training also helps increase lean muscle tissue—the more lean muscle mass, the higher your metabolism. For you fitness program to truly be effective and create the potential for fat loss, it must include some anaerobic exercise.
Anaerobic exercise can be incorporated in a number of ways. Think of anaerobic exercise as fast and hard versus long and easy. Short-duration, high-intensity bouts of exercise are the key here. Some examples include sprinting, jump rope, swimming, and weight-lifting/strength training (weights must be appropriately challenging – 50 reps of 5 lbs doesn’t cut it).
Explosive training with dynamic movements such as plyometrics is a form of anaerobic exercise that can reap huge benefits to your body's metabolic processes. The explosive movements require a high degree of effort and energy, so it's best to do them at the onset. Perform plyometrics first in your workouts and choose low-level-intensity plyometrics when you begin, then gradually progress to more high-intensity movements. Low-intensity plyometrics are those that result in less ground-reaction force or impact. Examples include cone hops, ankle hops, split squat jumps and plyometric push-ups.
Another effective form of anaerobic exercise is interval training. Interval training involves performing an exercise (typically strength-based) followed immediately by a short-duration bout of cardio exercise (such as jumping jacks). Coupled together, the interval exercises elicit a response to your metabolic rate that eventually can help improve metabolism and lean muscle.
So if your goal is to look and perform like a sprinter—lean and toned, fast and furious—then train like one, with anerobic exercise.