Cardio Vs. Fat Burn on a Treadmill

Both the "fat burn" and "cardio" settings on the treadmill burn calories.
Image Credit: nd3000/iStock/Getty Images

When starting a treadmill weight loss plan, it is important to know your target heart rate to achieve your cardio and fat loss goals. A treadmill fat burn workout keeps your heart rate in lower ranges and involves low-intensity, steady-state exercise while the cardio zone is a higher intensity workout.



A cardio workout on a treadmill is higher intensity and helps you achieve metabolic conditioning. Fat burning is a lower intensity workout that burns mostly fat. However, that does not necessarily make it the better option for fat loss.

Video of the Day

Fat Burn Vs. Cardio

Many treadmills have pre-programmed workouts for fat burn and cardio as well as heart rate monitors that help you achieve the desired intensity of exercise. When in the fat burning zone doing low-intensity, steady-state exercise on the treadmill, approximately 70 to 80 percent of the calories you burn is from fat, advises the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Video of the Day

Read More: How Soon Can I See Results From Using a Treadmill?

As you move into the cardio zone, or higher intensity workouts, your body shifts to using a greater percentage of carbs for fuel. However, your body still burns fat and at this level of exercise, your body also continues to burn calories from fat after your workout, advises the American Council on Exercise.


These zones can be estimated relative to your maximum heart rate, which you can calculate by subtracting your age from 220. You enter the fat burning zone when your heart rate is 60 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate, advises A Healthier Michigan. The cardio zone is 75 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Calculating Ventilatory Threshold

An alternative to determining fat burn and cardio zones based on max heart rate, consider using perceived exertion and ventilatory threshold levels. This method better takes into account your fitness levels.


One easy way to determine your ventilatory threshold during exercise is to use the talk test. You enter the fat burning zone when you are between ventilatory threshold 1, or VT1 and ventilatory threshold 2, or VT2. You reach VT1 when talking during exercise is no longer comfortable. Between VT1 and VT2, speaking becomes more difficult.

As your exertion level moves above VT2, you are in the cardio or metabolic conditioning zone. Using the talk test, you know you have reached VT2 when you can only speak one or two words at a time. Not only is this level of exercise physically challenging, but it is also psychologically challenging to continue to exercise when you are so out of breath. Although you can sustain cardio workouts for a shorter duration, you benefit from afterburn, where your body burns fat and has an increased metabolism even after you stop exercising.


Read More: How Long Should Someone Run on a Treadmill?


Being out of breath when working out at a high level of intensity is normal, but shortness of breath is not. If you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness or lightheadedness, stop the treadmill and consult your doctor.

Treadmill Fat Burn

When starting a treadmill weight loss plan, be sure to start slowly and build your intensity over time. Do not attempt to jump straight to an intense cardio workout and always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.


Consider using the pre-programmed workouts on the treadmill to get started. Use the talk test to adjust the length of your workout as well as the speed and difficulty to meet your fat burn and cardio goals.

While burning calories and fat is an important part of any weight loss plan, be sure to eat a healthy diet to maintain weight loss. Speed up your weight loss by cutting calories from your diet in addition to your treadmill workouts.




Report an Issue

screenshot of the current page

Screenshot loading...