How to calculate your optimal fat burning heart rate and fat burning zone?

Written by , Last updated: September 30, 2017

Welcome to my science based guide that will show you exactly how to calculate your optimal fat burning heart rate and fat burning zone.

Read this guide all the way through and you'll know exactly how to laser-target that stubborn body fat with exercise.

How to determine your optimal fat burning heart rate

Not only will exercising at your optimal fat burning heart rate (in your fat burning zone) help you burn off the highest possible percentage of calories from your body fat reserves, but it won't make you nearly as exhausted as more intense forms of exercise.

Before we get started, take a quick look at everything you can expect to learn from this guide:

What exactly is your maximum heart rate?

Your maximum heart rate is the peak pulse your body is able to (safely) handle for a short period of time.

Even if you tried to keep going at this insane pace (to see if your heart jumps out of your chest), you would quickly be so out of breath that you would be forced to slow down or stop.

And if I were you, I wouldn't try testing this too much, for safety reasons.

But ok, since we need to calculate your maximum heart rate to get to the maximal fat burning heart rate, let's look at that next.

How to calculate your maximum heart rate?

Your maximum heart rate depends mostly on your age.

If you're a man, you can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 216.

If you're a woman, you can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 200.

So, if you are a 45 year old man, your maximum heart rate would be 216 - 45 = 171.

Or, if you are a 30 year old woman, your maximum heart rate would be 200 - 30 = 170.

Simple, right? Now go ahead and calculate your own maximum heart rate, or simply find your value in the table below:

The maximum heart rate tables for men and women

Here's the maximum heart rate table done for you (if you're a man):

You're a...Your max heart rate
15-year old man201
20-year old man196
25-year old man191
30-year old man186
35-year old man181
40-year old man176
45-year old man171
50-year old man166
55-year old man161
60-year old man156
65-year old man151
70-year old man146
75-year old man141
80-year old man136
85-year old man131
90-year old man126
95-year old man121

And here's the maximum heart rate table done for you (if you're a woman):

You're a...Your max heart rate
15-year old woman185
20-year old woman180
25-year old woman175
30-year old woman170
35-year old woman165
40-year old woman160
45-year old woman155
50-year old woman150
55-year old woman145
60-year old woman140
65-year old woman135
70-year old woman130
75-year old woman125
80-year old woman120
85-year old woman115
90-year old woman110
95-year old woman105

As you can see from both tables above, the maximum heart rate keeps dropping with age.

Which makes perfect sense, because...

If you are a 20-year old male, you are able to handle much more intensity than if you are a 70-year old lady.

How precise are the maximum heart rate calculations?

Always remember that the maximum heart rate is just an estimate and that age definitely isn't the only factor.

If you are extremely overweight and have been totally passive for the last couple of years, your heart and your body will obviously not be able to handle the same (calculated) maximum heart rate as if you have been running marathons during that same time.

But you don't need to worry too much about this, since for maximum fat burn, you won't be exercising anywhere close to your maximum heart rate.

So let's continue with calculating your optimal fat burning heart rate (from your maximal heart rate).

How to calculate your fat burning zone?

Now that we know how to calculate your maximum heart rate, we can calculate your optimal fat burning heart rate.

But first, you should know that your optimal fat burning heart rate isn't a single number. It's actually the lower and upper end of your "fat burning zone".

In other words, if you keep your heart rate between 50% - 70% of your maximum heart rate (your fat burning zone), you will also burn off the highest percentage of calories from your body fat reserves.

As long as you stay in your fat burning zone, about 85% of your total calories burned will be coming from your body fat stores.

Let's get down to calculations.

How to calculate your optimal fat burning heart rate?

In our previous example, we calculated that if you are a 45-year old man, your maximum heart rate would be 171 and if you are a 30 year old woman, your maximum heart rate would be 170.

So, the optimal fat burning heart rate (and his fat burning zone) for a 45 year old man would be calculated as follows:

  • lower end of the fat burning zone: 50% of 171 (171 * 0.50) = 86
  • higher end of the fat burning zone: 70% of 171 (171 * 0.70) = 120

And the optimal fat burning hear rate (and her fat burning zone) for a 30 year old woman would be calculated like this:

  • lower end of the fat burning zone: 50% of 170 (170 * 0.50) = 85
  • higher end of the fat burning zone: 70% of 170 (170 * 0.70) = 119

So, to burn the highest possible percentage of calories from body fat, our 45-year old man would need to keep his heart rate between 86 and 120 and our non-existing woman needs to keep it between 85 and 119 beats per minute.

How to exercise in your fat burning zone (without gadgets)?

The first way of checking if you're exercising in your fat burning zone would be checking your pulse with your fingers on your neck or on your throat.

You have to find the exact spot on your neck, right below your jaw on the left or the right side of your throat. I don't recommend you try to feel your own pulse on your wrist, because finding the right spot on your wrist can be even trickier than on your neck.

Once you find the pulse, you need to count the beats for exactly sixty seconds (look at your watch while counting). If the number of beats falls somewhere in between the low and the high end of your fat burning zone, you are good.

If you counted too few beats (less than the lower end of your fat burning zone) you need to speed up the pace. If you counted too many beats (more than the upper end of your fat burning zone) you need to slow down.

While this is a free method, it is not really practical, because you will probably need to stop exercising, just to be able to check if you were exercising in the fat burning zone.

How to exercise in your fat burning zone (with gadgets)?

A much more convenient way to make sure you're exercising in your fat burning zone, would be buying a heart rate monitor (also called a pulse meter).

It looks and wears like a watch, and the better ones come with a sensor belt you strap around your chest.

Once you become familiar with it, you will instantly be able to check if your pulse is still in the fat burning zone by simply glancing at your new "watch" without having to interrupt your exercise.

You can even set up your heart rate monitor so that it will start warning you (with an annoying beeping sound) as soon as your pulse falls below or rises above your fat burning zone.

Actionable summary

Knowing your optimal fat burning heart rate (aka your fat burning zone) can be awesome if you're looking to burn off as much body fat as possible with exercise.

Getting a good heart rate monitor sure is a convenience, but it certainly isn't necessary.

Another rule of thumb you can use to avoid all the calculations and fancy gadgets would be exercising at a pace where it's still comfortable for you to hold a conversation.

Or, if you are exercising alone, you can try exercising at a pace where you are still able to comfortably breathe through your nose (this is why it may be a good idea to bring along tissues on your morning run).

Another benefit of exercising at your optimal fat burning heart rate is that it won't exhaust you too much.

So just try to exercise as close to your fat burning zone as possible (without overcomplicating things for yourself) and you'll do just fine.

David Brown

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