Does Running Fast or Slow Intervals Burn More Fat?

Choose the right intervals to burn the most fat.
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We all think about how our bodies would look if we lost a few pounds. Who wouldn't want to tone their thighs and flatten their stomach? In the spirit of change, we go to the gym and slowly pound away at cardio. We count every calorie burned as one step closer to the skinny jeans of our dreams. But be careful: Don't let the heart rate to go too high, because then we get out of the "fat burning zone." Once we leave the fat burning zone, you stop burning fat, right? Slow intervals trump fast intervals for burning fat -- or do they?

Slow Intervals

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Pete McCall, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE), uses slower paced intervals at the beginning of any type of interval workout plan. They're also great if you have an injury or another health complication that prevents you from going faster. Also, they burn a greater percentage of calories from fat than fast intervals. Unfortunately, that's about where the good news ends. Slow intervals are just that ... slow. Think of slow jogging paired with a recovery walk. Expect to spend more time in the gym to get the same total calorie burn as doing faster types of interval work.

Fast Intervals

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Fast intervals, on the other hand, burn more calories overall, but a smaller percentage of those calories come from fat cells. Before you throw out the whole idea, consider this comparison: It's better to take a smaller percentage of a larger number than to take a larger percentage of a smaller number. Would you rather have 10 percent of $1,000 dollars -- $100? Or 50 percent of $100 -- $50? The choice is obvious, right? This is exactly what happens with fast intervals such as sprinting, or cycling as fast as you can. The percentage of calories burned from fat is lower, but you end up burning more fat calories because of the sheer volume of total calories burned. And all of this happens in less time.

Fast Interval Training

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If you're serious about losing fat, stick to fast intervals. A fat-scorching interval workout can be done anywhere, and all you need are athletic shoes and clothes. Try this: Go to a track or field and do a five- to 10-minute warmup. Once you're warm, run as hard as you can for 20 seconds, walk for the next 60 to 90 seconds and then do it again. During your first workout, keep the number of intervals low and then gradually increase them as your fitness improves. Work your way up to being able to do 10 to 12 of these work intervals and watch the fat melt away.


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Before beginning any exercise program, see your doctor to get a clean bill of health. Bring water or a sport drink to stay hydrated during the workout. If you're running on a field, watch out for potholes and debris so that you don't twist an ankle.

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