The 14 Best Calorie-Burning Exercises, Ranked In Order of Effectiveness
If you’re dedicating valuable time in your day to a staying in shape, you want to know it’s actually worth your time, right? You’ve probably heard some people say cardio is the ultimate calorie-burner, while others swear by weight lifting-so what actually gets you the most burn for your buck?
To set the record straight: It’s true that we tend to expend more calories in the moment while, say, running versus lifting weights, says Laura Miranda, C.S.C.S., D.P.T. “But weight-or anaerobic-workouts keep our excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or post-workout calorie burn, going from hours to days.”
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, Miranda explains. 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.”
So which exercises burn the most calories exactly?
These 14 activities are some of the best burners out there-ranked in order of effectiveness. (Note: 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 into play, too, so this isn’t an exact science.)
Opt for the “bonus burn”-tips from Miranda and New York City-based trainer Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S.-to ramp up that afterburn effect even further.
1. Jumping Rope
The burn: 667-990 calories/hour (if you’re jumping at 120 skips per minute)
The bonus burn: As it turns out, this little rope is actually a big-time fat burner. Try using a weighted jump rope to engage your arms and shoulders even more.
2. Running Up Hills/Stair Sprints
The burn: 639-946 calories/hour
The bonus burn: “You want to sprint at max effort on stairs or a hill 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,” Miranda says. The harder you push yourself during those sprints, the greater the EPOC.
The burn: 582-864 calories/hour
The bonus burn: Whether you’re kicking it on your own or in class, 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.
4. Cycling Intervals
The burn: 568-841 calories/hour
The bonus burn: Riding at a sustained high intensity will give you a greater EPOC as compared to a steady state ride at a low intensity, Miranda says-but adding high intensity intervals throughout that training time will increase the afterburn even more.
The burn: 566-839 calories/hour (10 min/mile)
The bonus burn: After running at a steady pace, 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 into your run, Tamir says. 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 doing a fluid circuit and 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.
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.
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 calorie burn, row in fast, one-minute intervals (150 watts), and take 30- to 60-second active rest periods by alternating between squats, pushups, and planks.
The burn: 452-670 calories/hour (when going 77 steps/minute)
The bonus burn: 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. To up the ante, hold a one- to five-pound dumbbell in each hand to get your upper body fired up, too.
10. 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, Miranda says. And focus on compound movements that employ more muscle groups over more joints, too. “You’ll skyrocket your EPOC by swapping out exercises like bicep curls for squats, and crunches for cleans,” she says.
11. Metabolic Resistance Training Circuit
The burn: 340-505 calories/hour
The bonus burn: 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. “Research has shown that shortening the rest interval will increase EPOC,” Miranda says. “If you’ve been doing a circuit of five different weight exercises for 30 seconds of work and 20 seconds of rest, try decreasing the rest to 10 seconds.”
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 and challenging.
13. Battle Ropes
The burn: 285-421 calories/hour
The bonus burn: As part of a circuit or on their own, weighted rope exercises will torch tons of calories, Miranda says.
“One study showed that doing three sets of 30 seconds of battle ropes produced greater acute energy expenditure (during the workout) than three sets of 10 squats with a moderate load,” she says. For even more of a burn, do five rounds of overhead slams for 30 seconds; during each round, try to do more reps than in the previous round.
14. 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,” Tamir says.
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