An effective energy criterion is presented and can be narrated as follows: only the effective release energy has an immediate effect on fatigue crack growth characteristics, and the crack extension in each load cycle is decided by the effective release energy. The effective release energy is considered as the energy released for crack extension after the fatigue crack fully opens and it is equal to the consumed energy in the same crack extension. And the consumed energy can be obtained by the cracking resistance of materials. An approach for determining cracking resistance curve is proposed and validated by experimental results. Based on effective energy criterion, a model for fatigue crack growth is presented. And fatigue life can be predicted by recourse to the model. Validation against calculations by the model and experimental data shows good agreement.