Most people find it easier to get motivated when they have a goal. So when you walk into the gym, you might think of a workout as being defined by the number of calories you burn. We tend to link exercise with calories. We feel that the more calories we burn, the better the workout.
If your only goal is weight loss and you use exercise as a tool to create a calorie deficit, then this can be true. But reducing the value of exercise to just the number of calories you burn is ignoring all the other benefits it can bring and the other reasons to fit fitness into your life.
So Hussle is here to talk calories burned, but also about other markers for a successful workout.
How are calories burned?
Understanding how calories are burned and how fat is lost is the key to weight loss. Misinterpretations of how this works and myths in the industry often lead to weight loss efforts being less effective.
There’s a lot of complex information regarding protein, fats, carbs, calories, glycogen, whatever. That’s because what happens in the body is pretty complex. The way the body stores and uses energy is a process that can only really be described in the most scientific of terms. And we’re assuming you’re not here to read about lymphatic systems, intestinal linings, and cell receptors. But we can simplify it down to better understand how we can use calories to our advantage.
Regardless of its breakdown of protein, fat or carbs, each food item has a calorie content. Calories measure the amount of energy it provides you.
When your body is doing things, which is all the time, it’s using this energy. There are multiple ways your body uses the energy you give it. Exercise is just one of these.
When we exercise, the most readily available energy store is the glycogen stored in your muscles. Carbs (stored as glycogen in your muscles) is much easier to convert than fat. Therefore, when exercising intensely, your body will use your glycogen stores as a source of energy at a larger rate than your fat stores. However, that doesn’t mean that you need to deplete your glycogen stores when you workout.
Although your body is not a clock that resets at midnight, it can be helpful to see your calorie needs through the lens of a day. Forget about glycogen and fat stores. If you consume more calories than you burn, you will lose weight. To lose a significant or noticeable amount, you will need to do this for a long time.
When you’re in a calorie deficit over this sustained period, your body will begin to convert its fat stores to give you the energy that would otherwise have been readily available. There are about 3,500 calories in 1lb of fat.
When it comes to calories, cardio burns more in the moment
When it comes to immediate calorie burn, cardiovascular exercise burns more calories than other types of workout.
For a person weighing 160 pounds, the following activities would burn the following amount of calories per 30 minutes:
Running (moderate pace – 6mph) : 358 calories
Cycling (moderate pace – 12 mph) : 292 calories
Swimming (front crawl) : 212 calories
Rowing (5 mph) : 212 calories
You’ll hear about the ‘fat burning zone’, which is a bit of a miscommunication. It describes a heart rate where the ratio of carb/fat conversion is skewed more towards fat than other heart rates. But it doesn’t mean you’ll burn more calories by keeping within it. It’s one of those pesky fitness myths that you’re better off not buying into. It’s not a requirement for your gym session or a more effective way to lose weight.
How many calories does strength training burn?
Almost an impossible question to answer because it, of course, depends on your age, the amount you weigh, gender, muscle mass, the exercise your doing, the amount of weight your lifting, the number of sets and reps you do, as well as several other things we’ve probably forgotten to mention.
But the research shows for the same 30 minute period, you would burn more calories doing cardio than you would lifting weights. However, it’s not that simple. Anything scientific rarely is. Strength training helps to build muscle. More muscle burns more calories at rest. So in the long term, the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn at rest. Research also suggests that you continue to burn calories in the hours following a strength training session.
Markers to a successful workout
With all the calorie burning information you will need from the above, it’s important to understand what the markers are for a successful workout.
Goal setting is a great way to get motivated for your workout and gain a sense of achievement at the end of it. It’s also essential for overall progression in your fitness journey.
If your goal is to reduce your body fat, perhaps the number of calories you burn is a good way to track a workout. It will depend on who are you, how often your exercise and how much your eating, but a target of 200 to 500 calories is realistic and sustainable per session. For context, if you’re running a 10k, a 160lb person would burn about 715 calories.
But your goal might be to increase your strength and tone up. In this case, a better way to track your progress would be through the amount of weight you can lift or the number of reps you can do.
Or maybe your goal is to increase your cardiovascular fitness. Then you might be more interested in your heart rate.
Maybe you want to increase your pace as a runner, your interval training ability, your flexibility in yoga, improve your general health, or improve your mental health.
The motivations for exercise are countless. They can include calories burned, but it shouldn’t all be about this. Leaving the gym tired and weak doesn’t equal a successful workout.
Hussle for lots of reasons. Hussle to make life work out.