If you’re dedicating valuable time in your day to a sweat sesh, chances are you want to know it’s actually worth your time, right? Okay, now raise your hand if you’ve heard different fitness philosophies about the most-effective way to rev your heart rate. Specifically, some people say cardio is the ultimate calorie-burner, while other swear by strength training. Well, it’s time to set the record straight.
It’s true that people tend to expend more calories in the moment while doing cardio exercise like running when compared to lifting weights, says Laura Miranda, CSCS, a doctor of physical therapy, fitness nutrition specialist, and certified personal trainer. “But weights, or anaerobic workouts, keep our excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or post-workout calorie burn, going from hours to days.” So you shouldn’t count them out entirely when you’re creating a cardio training plan.
EPOC = Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (post-workout calorie burn)
The reason weight training has such a prolonged calorie-burn effect is because the greater the intensity, the more oxygen your body will need post-workout to recover and repair muscles, explains Miranda. By choosing exercises that ramp up that afterburn effect, “you get more bang for your buck in the long term,” she says. “Muscle is the most metabolically active tissue, so the more of it we have, the more effective we are at burning calories all day long.”
But yeah, which exercises burn the most calories exactly? Unsurprisingly, on a list of the best burners below—ranked in order of effectiveness—aerobic exercise tends to win in terms of immediate results. (FYI: Calorie burn is estimated for a 125-pound person and a 185-pound person, according to guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine. The more you weigh, the more calories you tend to burn on any particular task—but a lot of other factors come in to play, too, so this isn’t an exact science.) But there a quite a few top contenders from the weight category too.
No matter which type of workouts you choose, opt for the “bonus burn”—tips from Miranda and New York City-based trainer Noam Tamir, CSCS, owner of TS Fitness—to torch even more total calories.
17 Best Calorie-Burning Exercises
1. Jumping rope
The burn: 667–990 calories/hour if you’re jumping at 120 skips per minute
The bonus burn: Try using a weighted jump rope to engage your arms and shoulders even more.
For a full-body workout challenge, give this calorie-torching jump rope workout from Carrie Underwood’s trainer a try. BTW: It helped her score those iconic legs.
2. Running Up Hill/Stair Sprints
The burn: 639–946 calories/hour
The bonus burn: “You want to sprint at a pace that you can only maintain for about 20 seconds, and follow that with a recovery run at half of the intensity of the sprint and double the time,” says Miranda.
The burn: 582–864 calories/hour
The bonus burn: Make sure you keep the rest periods between rounds of jabs and kicks super short. Aim for 30 seconds of rest for every 90 seconds of sparring.
Try this boxing workout for the ultimate burn.
4. Cycling intervals
The burn: 568–841 calories/hour
The bonus burn: Adding high intensity intervals throughout a steady state or low-intensity ride will increase the afterburn even more.
The burn: 566–839 calories/hour at a 10-minute mile pace
The bonus burn: Run at a steady state pace (i.e. a 7 out of 10 in terms of effort), and you’ll continue to burn extra calories over the rest of the day.
To torch more during and after your workout, add short bursts of sprints or faster running into your jog, says Tamir. He recommends keeping a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio to get the most afterburn. For example, if you run for 60 seconds, walk 30 seconds.
6. Kettlebell circuit
The burn: 554–822 calories/hour
The bonus burn: Tamir says that a HIIT circuit using kettlebells can keep the afterburn going for 36 hours after you leave the gym. To get the best results, make sure you’re not stopping to rest between each move.
Tamir recommends switching between upper- and lower-body movements so you can keep exercising for a longer period of time. Try doing a set of kettlebell swings, kettlebell squats, and kettlebell push presses. Then, rest for 15 to 20 seconds after completing the three moves. You could also pick and choose some other moves from the best kettlebell exercises.
Or, try these seven kettlebell moves for awesome abs from the video below.
7. Stationary bike
The burn: 498–738 calories/hour (at a vigorous pace)
The bonus burn: To get the most afterburn, Tamir says to start with 10 seconds of intense pedaling (100 RPMs or more) and 50 seconds of rest. Then, move to 15 seconds of sprints and 45 seconds of rest, and do 20 seconds of sprints 40 seconds of rest after that. Don’t forget to turn up the resistance as you progress!
Or, try this metabolism-blasting cycling workout.
8. Rowing machine
The burn: 481–713 calories/hour at 150 watts, which you can check on the machine
The bonus burn: To get maximum torching power, row in super-fast, one-minute intervals (150 watts), and take 30- to 60-second active rest periods by alternating between squats, pushups, and planks.
Another option is this high-intensity rowing workout, which will get your heart racing.
9. Loaded kettlebell carries
The burn: 476–705 calories/hour
The bonus burn: Walking with weighted kettlebells forces you to practice strong posture and core control. “My fav method is the three-in-one,” says Miranda. “Start walking with two kettlebells overhead, walk as far as you can until you need to stop. Then, drop the bells to the front racked position and continue walking until you need to stop again. Finally, drop them down to the farmer’s carry position (at your sides), and continue walking as long as you can.” This is one cycle, rest two minutes, then repeat.
Try some of these other great kettlebell exercises if you’re looking for more ways to work with the weight.
The burn: 452–670 calories/hour when going 77 steps per minute
The bonus burn: To up the ante, hold a one- to five-pound dumbbell in each hand to get your upper body fired up, too.
Bottom line: Whether you’re working the Stair Master or running steps around town, à la Rocky, stair climbing provides a good mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
11. Sled pushes and pulls
The burn: 447–661 calories/hour
The bonus burn: “Turn around and walk backwards in a low squat while you pull the sled with you!” Miranda recommends.
This method of training targets your upper body, lower body, and core. “If your gym does not have traditional sled, try tying a TRX around a few plates or even a kettlebell,” says Miranda. “Charge across the gym floor by driving the weight forward with your entire body.” To get the most calorie bang for your buck, aim to do a lot of reps, at high intensity, but for a short amount of time, she says.
- 10–15 seconds of work
- 12–15 reps
- Rest about 20–30 seconds in between each rep
12. Strength training
The burn: 341–504 calories/hour
The bonus burn: You’ll increase your afterburn by working your muscles to exhaustion each set instead of stopping at an arbitrary rep range like 10 or 12, says Miranda. And focus on compound movements that employ more muscle groups over more joints. “You’ll skyrocket your EPOC by swapping out exercises like bicep curls for squats, and crunches for cleans,” she says.
This workout for stronger abs is a great way to get started:
13. Metabolic resistance training circuit
The burn: 340–505 calories/hour
The bonus burn: “Research has shown that shortening the rest interval will increase EPOC,” says Miranda. “If you’ve been doing a circuit of 5 different weight exercises for 30 seconds of work and 20 seconds of rest, try decreasing the rest to 10 seconds.”
In a normal circuit, you’d perform each set at a maximum intensity followed by a long rest. But the “metabolic resistance training” method requires you to maintain a high (but sub-max) intensity throughout the workout, with little rest between sets for the entire session.
The burn: 322-478 calories/hour (at a resistance level of 8)
The bonus burn: If you’re after a better burn, don’t keep the same pace the entire time you’re on the elliptical. Vary the incline and levels of resistance to keep things interesting (read: challenging).
15. Explosive sandbag training
The burn: 298–441 calories/hour
The bonus burn: “Opt for compound movements to help recruit as many muscle groups as possible, thus drastically increasing your energy expenditure,” says Miranda. “Three of my favs are reverse lunge with a rotation, a clean, and lateral lunge with the bag.”
16. Battle ropes
The burn: 285–421 calories/hour
The bonus burn:Do five rounds of overhead slams for 30 seconds; during each round, try to do more reps than in the previous round.
As part of a circuit or on their own, weighted rope exercises will torch tons of calories, says Miranda. “One study showed that doing 3 sets of 30 seconds of battle ropes produced greater acute energy expenditure (during the workout) than 3 sets of 10 squats with a moderate load,” she says.
You can also try any of these 15 battle rope moves if you want to shake up your fitness routine further.
17. Power yoga
The burn: 226–335 calories/hour
The bonus burn: To get the most burn, sign up for a power vinyasa flow class. “Strength-driven practices, where you match the breath with the movement, is where you would have the most afterburn,” says Tamir.
Try this weighted yoga flow for an even greater challenge.
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