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Does Slow Exercise Burn More Fat?

See how making a change to your cardio workout can help you hit your fat-burning zone.

You'll find it on virtually every cardio machine at the gym: instructions on how to hit your fat-burning zone. Essentially, it means you get to work out slower and blast off unwanted fat in the process. Exercise too hard and you can kiss the fat-burning zone goodbye. 

Sound too good to be true? It is.  

Here’s the reality: "Slow cardio will not burn more fat," says National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Elite Trainer Audrey Quick. "At a slower pace, a greater percentage of calories burned will be from fat, but the total calories will be lower than exercise at a more intense pace." 

Working out harder, then, is still your best bet. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend your entire workout out of breath.  

The right way to slow down 
"One easy way to increase the amount of fat you're burning is to add intervals,” says Sharecare fitness expert Wendy Batts. "Simply vary the speed of your favorite cardio by alternating 2 minutes at a moderate pace with 2 minutes at a faster pace." If you’re a beginner, you can do 30 seconds of fat-burning cardio at higher intensity, and then go longer as you get stronger.  

Remember: Fat burning isn't all about the cardio, so hit the resistance machines, too. "A good total-body strength training program will help to increase lean muscle mass," says Sharecare fitness expert Kristy Lee Wilson. And the more lean muscle you have, the more fat your body naturally burns all day long. 

Whether you’re at the gym or working with a set of weights at home, you can tone your whole body with these six moves from NASM:  

For a full-body workout specially tailored to your individual needs, speak with a certified personal trainer. If there’s not a trainer associated with your gym, reach out to an organization like the American College of Sports Medicine or the American Council on Exercise, who can point you in the right direction. 

Medically reviewed in December 2019. Updated in February 2021. 

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