Burning lots of calories when you exercise shouldn’t be your only goal. Working out has too many other health benefits that make it worthwhile irrespective of the number of calories you burn. But what if you want to get leaner and maximize the number of calories you burn for the time you put into a workout?
Choose your exercises carefully. Some exercises don’t burn as many calories as you might think. Don’t put these exercises aside, as they have other health and fitness benefits, but make sure you have a realistic idea of how much they contribute to weight loss.
Pilates offers health and fitness benefits, but it’s not an exceptional calorie burner. Pilates was developed to help injured athletes return to exercise safely, so it’s not meant to be intense or to burn a lot of calories. What it’s good for is building core strength and improving flexibility. Pilates also improves body awareness, muscle control, breathing, and for improving posture. Some people believe it helps relieve stress, too. In some Pilates classes, participants do a form of pilates that uses special spring-loaded equipment, but you can also do a mat version where you use your own body weight as resistance. However, even this type of Pilates is not a big calorie burner. Depending on your level, an hour class burns between 200 and 250 calories.
Yoga has many health benefits. It improves muscle endurance, mobility, and flexibility. Plus, yoga poses are excellent for easing stress, calming the nervous system, cultivating mindfulness, and improving control of breath. Some studies show it even helps people make healthier food choices by increasing awareness.
Yoga workouts are an excellent alternative for recovery days when you need a less intense workout. However, don’t count on it to burn a lot of calories. A Hatha yoga session burns only around 240 calories during an hour session but that’s more than you’ll burn sitting around and you get the other benefits. Plus, if you do Vinyasa yoga, you can burn double the number of calories per hour and that adds up! Some research also shows yoga helps with weight loss independent of how many calories you burn during a session. An analysis of 55 studies found yoga is an effective workout for weight loss and improving body composition.
Too many times, people think doing hundreds of abdominal crunches is the key to having lean, firm, and defined abdominal muscles. Unfortunately, many people have too much body fat covering their abdominal muscles to show any muscular definition they build through crunches. Unfortunately, abdominal crunches aren’t the best way to reduce body fat since they burn few calories. In fact, five minutes of straight abdominal crunches burn only around 25 calories if you’re a 150-pound female. That’s why the best way to reveal your abs is to focus more of your training time on high-intensity strength training with compound exercises and high-intensity interval training. Compound movements work multiple muscle groups at the same time, leading to greater calorie burn, and your abs get a workout because they’re forced to stabilize. Nutrition matters too, of course!
Many people use walking as their go-to form of exercise because they can do it almost anywhere, but it falls short as an approach for losing weight. Too often, people feel like they’ve burned enough calories after a walking session to munch on a few cookies. Chances are, those cookies have far more calories than they spent. On the plus side, you can boost the calorie burn more through interval walking, picking up the pace for short segments, or if you add some hills or inclines, but walking at a moderate pace is disappointing from a calorie-burn perspective. Despite this, walking is still healthy for your heart, and if you walk outdoors in nature, you’ll gain additional mental health benefits. Walking is also a break from too much sitting. However, it shouldn’t be your only form of exercise as it doesn’t work the muscles in your upper body. Do it if you enjoy it, but don’t make it the only form of exercise you do.
Strength training doesn’t burn an enormous number of calories while you’re doing it, but if you lift with intensity and reduce the rest period between exercises, you’ll expend more calories. Plus, high-intensity lifting creates an after-burn where your body burns more calories for hours after a strength-training session. Those are all positives, but while you’re doing it, strength training only burns about 170 calories per hour.
Although weight training doesn’t burn a lot of calories while you’re doing it, research shows it’s superior to walking for preventing loss of muscle mass when you’re trying to get leaner. In one study, participants who dieted and walked had 20% of the weight they lost coming from muscle while participants who weight trained and lost weight, lost less muscle. Only 10% of their weight loss came from muscle. Even if it doesn’t burn a lot of calories, you still need it for a healthy body composition.
The Bottom Line
Some exercises don’t burn as many calories as you think, but don’t just look at the calories you burn while you’re doing an exercise. Workouts that elicit an afterburn, like challenging strength training, boost your metabolic rate for hours afterward. Plus, the muscle you gain is a longer-term investment in weight control. It’s easier to maintain the weight you lose if you build more muscle.
- com. “Calories Burned – Calorie Calculator”
- com. “5 Workouts That Give You the Afterburn Effect”
- com. “Lose fat, preserve muscle: Weight training beats cardio for older adults”
- Kristen M. Beavers, Walter T. Ambrosius, W. Jack Rejeski, Jonathan H. Burdette, Michael P. Walkup, Jessica L. Sheedy, Beverly A. Nesbit, Jill E. Gaukstern, Barbara J. Nicklas, Anthony P. Marsh. Effect of Exercise Type During Intentional Weight Loss on Body Composition in Older Adults with Obesity. Obesity, 2017; 25 (11): 1823 DOI: 10.1002/oby.21977.
- Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016; 2016: 2914745. Published online 2016 Aug 10. doi: 10.1155/2016/2914745.