Difference between Cardio and Fat Burning
By Theydiffer - October 4, 2015

Many people aim to lose weight, and that makes them go in for various exercises, including cardio and fat burning workouts. While ordinary people are sure these are the same types of sport activities, professionals and trainers claim there is a crucial difference between them. This article will help you to comprehend how they can be differentiated.


Here we come to the first controversial point, because there is no scientific term for either type, and gurus and professionals define these activities differently. We will describe the general concept of each activity.

Cardio exercises are workouts designed to complement aerobic fitness by sticking to one’s specific target heart rate zone for improved cardiovascular work. Usually these exercises are more intensive, and achieve from 50 to 85% of your maximum heart rate. They allow the burning of more calories, especially glycogen ones, due to an increased energy loss level during and after the workout. Thanks to such activity, the body continues using more energy for some time. Cardio exercises include brisk walking on or off a treadmill, or jogging, riding a stationary bicycle, working out on an elliptical trainer (shown in the picture below) and other similar devices.

Getty Images/Moment/Prasit photo

Fat burning exercises are created to burn fat by keeping one’s heart beat in the fat burning zone, keeping within 50-60% of your target heart rate. These workouts are less intense, but they are aimed to burn calories from fat. If your main goal is increasing stamina and endurance while losing some weight, fat burning workouts will be perfect.  The most widespread fat burning exercises are: squats, thrusts, turns (shown on the picture below), hip raise, butt lift, bridge, jumps, etc. Moreover, training equipment is also designed primarily to lose weight while building muscles.

Getty Images/DigitalVision/Luis Alvarez

Comparison chart

Cardio exercisesFat burning exercises
Reach from 50 to 85% of target heart rate.Come up to 50-60% target heart rate.
Done without breaks, require at least 30 min. of exercising.Can be performed with short breaks. Easy exercises can be combined with hard ones. The amount of workout time is almost  unlimited.
Burn 50/50 of glycogen and fat calories. The result is not weight loss solely. It affects the body in general, improving overall endurance,  breathing and lung volume.Aimed at destroying adipose tissue, e.g. burning calories from stored fat. Helpful when improving some certain zones of body, especially hips, butt, belly, etc.
Use equipment such as treadmills and include activities like walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, etc.May be almost any exercise aimed at getting rid of fat in this or that zone. May be done with or without special fitness equipment.
Very intensive and relatively short workout that is supposed to be a part of a weight loss or bodybuilding program. Strengthens cardiovascular system, burns fat during and after workout (fat may burn for several hours after completion).Characterized by low intensity. Burns fat during exercises.

Cardio vs Fat burning

The main difference between cardio and fat burning is the final result you need to achieve. If your goal is increasing stamina, bodybuilding and slimming, fat burning exercises are perfect. They will help you to get rid of extra weight while making the body stronger generally. It may not be achieved with cardio workouts. But cardio exercises, in turn, are always the part of some fitness program. Firstly, they help to burn fat faster, being done immediately after or before a usual workout. Secondly, they improve heart functioning, giving you more endurance. Furthermore, cardio workouts improve breathing and if done for a long time, increase volume of the lungs.

The second point is the type of workouts. Cardio workouts last on average 30 minutes and are monotonous. These are, for instance brisk walking, jogging, cycling on a fitness bike, swimming, elliptical machine training and other similar activities. You keep doing the same thing all along, and it makes your heart beat faster, because there are no pauses. Fat burning workouts may last as long as you need, and contain various types of exercises (jumps, turns, squats, push-ups plus training on fitness equipment). They are less intensive and dynamic than cardio workouts, but make the muscles work more and influence some certain body zones, while cardio alone is less appropriate if you want to improve some certain part of the body.

Cardio exercise makes the body get energy equally from both sources: glycogen contained in blood and muscles, and stored fat. Fat burning moderate workouts make you use the energy from stored fat only. Thus, if you trained at a middle pace for 15 minutes and burnt 100 calories, about 75% would come from fat. And if you have burnt 200 calories in 15 minutes while training intensively, there is a possibility that only 25-50% of fat was burned. But the effect will last for some time after cardio exercise – the following 30-60 minutes are perfect for some cosmetic procedures and massage.

And the last important thing is that cardio exercise is not enough if you want to lose weight. The desired effect can be achieved only if you combine these two types or resort to fat-burning exercises solely.