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


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  118 comments   :  276,681 Views

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!

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
See More: fitness, weight loss,
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
NEXT ENTRY >   Try This 42-Calorie Spaghetti Swap


  • 118
    Good article. - 1/14/2018   9:44:53 AM
  • 117
    Nice article - 1/4/2018   2:45:30 PM
  • 116
    good points - 10/31/2017   11:59:12 AM
  • 115
    Great info - 10/31/2017   9:18:44 AM
  • 114
    Thanks for the info!! - 10/8/2017   1:50:36 AM
  • 113
    This article was full of a lot of information - 9/11/2017   12:55:55 AM
    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 - 7/20/2017   10:42:40 PM
  • 111
    Great tips. - 7/4/2017   4:05:08 PM
  • 110
    Some great additional tips. - 6/7/2017   8:11:23 AM
  • 109
    I run before my strength training sessions at the gym. So, yes, I follow the cardio before strength training tip. - 5/21/2017   6:09:41 PM
  • 108
    These are awesome ideas and they do work. - 4/1/2017   12:29:12 AM
  • 107
    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!
    - 8/25/2016   8:00:47 AM
  • 106
    I always do cardio 1st as it was recommended by a trainer - 3/1/2016   9:14:09 AM
  • 105
    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. - 2/1/2016   4:16:39 PM
  • 104
    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. - 1/17/2016   6:48:01 AM
    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. - 12/10/2015   1:17:54 AM
    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. - 9/8/2015   8:33:33 PM
  • 101
    Great info, Thanks! - 6/13/2015   4:44:49 PM
    Typo alert: In the last sentence, there is either a word missing or the word "your" should read "you." - 5/1/2015   6:35:36 PM
    Better to do cardio and then weights or vice-versa? - 2/25/2015   2:56:41 PM
    Great post, so true! Fat loss is where its at! Has anyone tried the Xtreme Fat Loss diet? Its pretty intense, but it only goes for 25 days and can really help you to shed some fat and get things started! Its basically a five day cycle of overfeed, shake day, fast day, high carb day, low carb day. You do this cycle five times in total. I wrote about it here if anyone wants to know more:

    Good luck :)

    - 2/3/2015   6:50:11 PM
  • 97
    Remember, muscle burns fat even at rest. - 8/31/2014   2:41:49 PM
    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! - 5/29/2014   11:12:38 AM
    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. - 4/7/2014   7:55:30 PM
    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. - 1/21/2014   1:52:54 AM
    Thanks - 1/20/2014   8:58:34 AM
  • 92
    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. - 1/19/2014   10:23:49 PM
    Thanks for this advice. Wonderful. - 1/19/2014   8:49:53 PM
    I am on track, already doing these things, thank you! - 1/19/2014   7:46:39 PM
  • 89
    Good tips! Thanks, Nicole! - 1/19/2014   9:19:53 AM
  • 88
    I have to say I was doing some things that were probably hindering my weight loss. Thank you for the tips. - 1/19/2014   9:02:37 AM
  • 87
    Great advice - 11/10/2013   4:04:18 AM
    Great blog - 11/9/2013   8:49:38 AM
    Yes It's very Important to eat before you workout and do cardio before anything else. - 11/1/2013   9:44:14 AM
  • 84
    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... - 10/4/2013   1:44:47 PM
  • 83
    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! - 8/21/2013   1:18:21 PM
    thx great to know - 7/14/2013   5:33:16 PM
  • 81
    Well, it's good to know I'm following all the tips. I find it difficult to eat before working out. I do my exercise early in the morning (5:30 or 6am) before work, and eat breakfast at work. I just don't like to wo after eating, as I usually feel sick if I do.
    - 5/28/2013   10:34:28 PM
    I have been tryting to eat breakfast! I have been guilty of not and execrcising ! Eating seems to give me more energy to do things anyway! - 5/3/2013   12:09:48 PM
  • 79
    Thanks for the list of don't some of them I never even thought about. - 4/24/2013   4:31:17 PM
  • 78
    need to work on thes - 4/11/2013   1:03:23 AM
  • 77
    Great article. Thank u. I do elliptical workout 5 days a week, with a 10 minut warm up and cool down, and 10 minutes of interval elliptical sandwiched in between. Its a great workout. I am up to 2.5 miles in 30 minutes with this.
    i also do 3 different upper body exercises with 5 lb weights, 3 sets of 10 reps, 2-3 days weekly. I am trying to build up some upper body strength that i am losing with age, as i am in my mid 50's. - 4/7/2013   1:14:14 PM
  • 76
    I have never eaten before my morning exercise. I wake up change into my work out clothes, head down to the lower level and do my work out. Could be the treadmill, the bike, work out to a DVD, but I always work out for at least 30 minutes. Then during the day there may be trail walking and/or hiking and taking stairs. So I suppose I should look at eating something first and see if doing that gives my weight lose a boost. - 4/5/2013   10:13:45 AM
  • 75
    I just recently started eating a healthy "snack" before my am workout. Usually a yogurt with 2 TBSP of chopped walnuts in it. When I first started Spin classes it took me a long time to start sweating but once I "fueled" my body, it was easy to do. Gotta keep stoking the furnance to get it to burn efficiently. - 4/4/2013   4:52:09 PM
    Exercise for fitness (and health), eat for nutrition, weight control and health. If you are having trouble losing weight even though your calorie intake is as needed, consider what you are eating. Is it real food? By switching to real food close to it's natural form, so mostly veggies, fruit, and very little animal food, no processed carbs and sugars, and removing added fat from the diet, I helped my husband lose 20 lbs in a couple of months. It's not a "diet" it's a lifestyle. Most of us are addicted to what I call fake foods, non-nutritious calories. We are misinformed (lied to) with the food pyramid, telling us to eat in a way that is unhealthy. Think about it. It's not that hard to change to eating almost all you want of very low calorie, very high nutrition foods and it is very satisfying to break the addiction of sugar, carbs, fat, and low nutrition foods. - 4/4/2013   1:36:08 PM
  • 73
    Thanks - 4/4/2013   12:52:24 PM
  • 72
    I love that "Don't fear getting stronger!" SO true. After just a couple weeks of doing squats and other dumbbell/bands/machine-free strength training, I realized it was easier to get up after playing on the floor with my girls, and easier to pick them up... and easier to carry them and groceries at the same time... just any kind of day-to-day activities that shouldn't have been terribly hard in the first place. But you definitely have to keep it up. I let those calisthenics go after the week we spent at the hospital, and very quickly it's gotten harder to do those day-to-day things again. If it's possible to get TOO strong... I haven't found it. Thanks always, Coach Nicole! - 4/4/2013   9:40:25 AM
  • 71
    Okay so now I am totally confused...... I have been doing an hour on the treadmill every day since 2/17/13 and the first month I lost 9 lbs and the trainer at the gym recommended to up the treadmill to "fat burner" which doubles calories burned....I have switched to doing treadmill 1 hour 3 days in a row and then 1 day strength training and repeat; been doing this for 3 weeks and have only lost 1 lb !!!! I have been logging my food now, every bite and balancing calories for 326 days straight and have only lost 42 lbs. Not sure where to go now and how to fix before I get frustrated..... any suggestions? - 4/4/2013   9:03:39 AM
    Short, sweet and to the point! Thanks for the 3 quick and easy advice!! Very helpful! I will incorporate your suggestions! - 4/4/2013   8:04:56 AM
  • 69
    Bless you Nicole. Wonderful information. Do not listen to the negative comments. If something doesn't ring true, people need to check it out and decide for themselves. "my sister said something different" Then check it out or decide which to follow. Keep on keepin' on Nicole! - 4/4/2013   7:35:11 AM

Please Log In To Leave A Comment:    Log in now ›