Watching “Calories Burned” on your favorite cardio machine? Don’t.
When it comes to burning calories during exercise, a lot of factors come into play — age, weight, sex, fitness level; the list goes on.
And even if a machine asks for your weight and age, it really doesn’t know what kind of shape you’re in or how hard you’re working.
Forget about calories burned
You probably don’t really care how many calories you’re burning, anyway. Maybe you want to lose your spare tire. Or add 10 pounds of muscle. Or finally get a six-pack.
“I wanna burn calories!” probably isn’t your big motivator. It’s just a means to reaching your ultimate physique goals.
There’s a better way to burn fat
First of all, if you’re just churning away on a machine — watching the TVs, reading a magazine, and not doing any sprints or interval work — you’re not burning much fat.
Too many people think, “Lift weights to get big/Do cardio to get lean.” But your body is more complicated than that.
To burn more fat, get your ass into the weight room
Weightlifting is a way more effective fat burner than “cardio.” But if fat loss is your goal, you have to do it right.
Focus on total-body workouts with high volume (total work) and short rest periods.
- Choose 8 exercises and perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
- Select compound, multi-joint exercises; use free weights over machines
- Use moderate weights…it’s more important to finish all the reps than to go for big numbers
- Perform exercises in pairs, tri-sets or complexes if your gym setup allows for this
- Most importantly, keep the rest periods at 30-60 seconds
You may not be used to this type of training, especially if you like to get chatty for 3 minutes between sets. But this type of lifting causes a major fat-burning hormonal response.
Another benefit of strength training is a higher resting metabolic rate. Raising your RMR means you’re burning more calories at rest throughout the day. You won’t achieve this by just doing a few weekly cardio sessions.
Females: You are NOT going to get “big and bulky” from weightlifting. This is fitness marketing hype. But you WILL get lean, as long as your diet is right.
Don’t listen to celebrity trainers (with no exercise science credentials) who say never to lift anything heavier than 3 pounds.
Do sprints and high-intensity interval training
If you’re going to do cardio, focus on intensity.
High-intensity interval training alternates high-intensity and low-intensity periods within the same workout. So a run might consist of a 20-30 second sprint followed by a 60-90 second recovery. Repeat. After 20-25 minutes you’re done.
Sprinting creates an “afterburn” effect, which means that you continue to burn more calories as your body recovers from intense exercise. The harder the sprint, the greater the afterburn.
(And the calorie counter on the treadmill doesn’t know that you’re still burning calories for hours after you leave the gym.)
You can be creative with the time intervals, and this can be applied to any type of exercise. If you go much longer than 25 minutes, you’re not working hard enough. And remember to always warm up for a few minutes before you start sprinting.
Beginners note: If you’re just starting out, build an aerobic base first. Start with 25-30 minutes of running or uphill walking (or jog/walk) for a few weeks. Then start an HIIT program.
But what about those calories?
When it comes to calories in vs. calories out, focus on your diet. Even doctors and exercise physiologists agree: we don’t have a precise understanding of how many calories are burned during exercise.
Hard training will alter your your body composition, but your diet is where you need to think about calories.
There are many formulas to figure your daily caloric needs, but the simplest one is this:
Take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by:
- 10-12 for weight loss
- 14-16 for maintenance
- 16-18 for mass gain
Highly active people should use the higher end of the range; couch potato desk jockeys should use the low number.
So next time you hit the gym, be smart about your workout, and focus on the intensity. And ignore the damn calorie counter.