How Many Calories Are You Really Burning in the Gym?

How Many Calories Are You Really Burning in the Gym?

“Calories.” Who knew one word could carry so much weight?

Whether you’re trying to get lean, maintain your weight or bulk up, you need to know how many calories you’re consuming and burning. Yet, while it’s easy to count calories in our diet, it’s hard to estimate how many we’re actually burning in the gym.

If you want to truly achieve your goals, you need to understand how many calories you’re really burning each session — that way, you know if you’re doing too little or too much. Unfortunately, what your cardio machine says isn’t always accurate.


In fact, many cardio machines inflate the number of calories you burn. Why? Because they usually take into account your weight and your age onlyinstead of also including additional factors like fitness level and body composition. A study

  • Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body requires to carry out daily functions — and accounts for 50–70% of the energy your body uses.
  • The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn even at rest.
  • Physical activity produces heat in your body, called “thermic effect.” It’s the second largest contributor to calorie expenditure at 20%.
  • There are approximately 3,500 calories in one pound of fat.

released data on dozens of common activities and their calories burned within 30 minutes for people of varying weights. Here are some of the best in no particular order:

Read on to see how many calories you’ll actually burn from these exercises. (The lower end of each range is for a 125-pound person and the higher end is for a 185-pound person.)


Those who rely on that calorie window at the gym for daily caloric goals may end up feeling only disappointment. It’s not uncommon to be deceived by the calorie expenditure reading of your favorite piece of equipment. For starter, the caloric tally is often based on the average 150-pound male. Moreover, even if you fit this build your calorie expenditure could be quite different.

There are many factors that go into how many calories or energy you burn on a run. I can recall trying to regain my fitness after the birth of my first son. At the conclusion of my 2 hour, 30 minute training runs my heart rate monitor read in the ballpark of 1,600 calories burned. About one year and much more fitness later, my heart rate monitor read nearly 200 calories less for the same 2:30 run. Evidently my fitness level and running efficiency played a role in how much energy was required to complete the run.

Last year, the Journal of Athletic Training reported a comparison (PDF) of calorie expenditure among elite distance runners. The study compared body mass, respiratory quotient, and fast-twitch muscle fibers among the runners in relation to their energy expenditure and carbohydrate requirement. It found nearly a 700-calorie-per-day difference among the runners. Those with the higher body mass, respiratory quotient, and a greater percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers burned an average of 3,750 calories per day, as compared to the lower body mass runners, who burned closer to 3,100 calories per day. Similarly, the higher body mass group required more carbohydrates versus the lower body mass group.


How Many Calories Are You Really Burning in the Gym?

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