You Asked: How Many Calories Does Strength Training Burn?

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By: , – with Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer
3/13/2014 5:00 AM   :  10 comments   :  137,953 Views

If you are concerned about how many calories you burn during strength training, chances are that you are actively trying to lose weight (or might want to ensure you are eating enough to support strength training without losing additional weight). Although strength training is challenging and requires a lot of hard work (especially when lifting heavy weights), it doesn't typically burn as many calories as cardiovascular (aerobic) exercises like running or cycling.
 
There is no simple formula for calculating calories burned during strength training because every strength-training workout is so different. You lift different weights with different muscle groups throughout a single workout, whereas during running, you use the same muscles in the same way for several continuous minutes. Some strength exercises, such as a barbell snatch, use more (and larger) muscles, while other exercises, like a biceps curl, may isolate a very small muscle. Obviously, the amount of energy (calories) used to execute these two different movements is very different.  All we know is that a more challenging routine that uses full-body movements and large muscles (like the glutes and legs) will burn more calories than a strength-training workout that isolates small muscles.
 
While a heart rate monitor (HRM) can be used to calculate calories burned during aerobic workouts, the relationship between heart rate and calorie expenditure is not the same during a strength training workout, so whatever your heart rate monitor may tell you is likely inflated because it thinks you're doing cardio (not strength training). That's a short explanation for why a HRM isn't a good predictor of calories burned during strength training. For more depth on why using a HRM for weight training isn't such a good idea, click here.
 
So do we really know how many calories a person burns while pumping iron? According to this exercise list from Harvard Medical School, a general 30-minute strength training session burns an average of 90 calories (180 calories per hour) for a 125-pound person, 112 calories (224 calories per hour) for a 155-pound person and 133 calories (266 calories per hour) for a 185-pound person. 
 
However, a January 2014 study from Arizona State University (reported by RunnersWorld.com) found that strength-based exercises like lunges, crunches and pull-ups might actually burn more calories than previously thought: 
  • Push-ups burned 8.56 calories per minute (514 calories per hour)
  • Curl-ups (crunches) burned 4.09 calories per minute (437 calories per hour)
  • Lunges burned 9.33 calories per minute (560 calories per hour)
  • Pull-ups burned 9.95 calories per minute (597 calories per hour)
Obviously, no one does pull-ups or lunges for an hour. Any given exercise in a strength-training routine takes mere seconds or minutes, but the point of this study is showing that some exercises may burn more calories than previously thought.
 
So how does this apply to you? How can you measure your strength-training calories burned? The truth is that there is no good way to do it. Even a rigorous strength-training routine, when you factor in rest periods, and time to set up and move between exercises, probably won't add up as much as regular cardio. But even if it might, there's simply no accurate way to tell. So if you want these numbers in order to calculate calories burned for weight loss, be conservative. It's better to underestimate how much you burn when lifting weights than to try to estimate on the high side. SparkPeople's free Fitness Tracker does offer estimated calorie burn levels for a variety of strength training exercises, and these estimates err on the conservative side based on intensity, exercise type, whether the workout was continuous or involved rest, and how complex the movements are.
 
Despite what is likely a low to moderate calorie burn, strength training shouldn't be neglected—especially during weight loss. When losing weight, you will lose some muscle mass along with body fat.  If you don't perform resistance training regularly, up to 30% of the weight you lose can come from muscle tissue, which doesn't do your health, fitness or metabolism any favors in the long run. Strength and muscle mass are essential for overall health and daily functioning.  Need more reasons to pick up a pair of weights and start lifting?  Learn more about the benefits of a regular strength program.
 
Want one more reason to pick up the weights? Strength training boosts your metabolism, helping you burn more calories long after a workout is over.  According to one study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, an intense 45-minute exercise session (cardio or strength training) boosted participant's post-exercise calorie burn for 14 hours after the workout was over. This isn't something you can estimate or measure for tracking purposes, but it is a nice bonus for your efforts!
 
Keep in mind that all information about calories burned (whether from SparkPeople's database or another site) is based on estimates. When setting expectations for weight loss, remember that progress doesn't always happen in the consistent manner you might expect.  Focus on the bigger picture and all of the health benefits that regular strength training provides!
 
How do you track your strength-training workouts? Do you try to estimate calories burned?





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Comments

  • FITNESS386
    10
    Lift heavy and you will reap benefits from it. Strength training is not only for your body but also for your mind! Stick with compound lifts if weight loss is the main goal. Compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench press, military press, and rows burn more calories per rep than any other exercises. Ladies and gentlemen, lift! Good luck. - 10/5/2014   11:12:16 AM
  • 9
    It is common for me to burn 500 calories, measured by a polar watch, when doing ST (heavy barbell or kettlebell), but there is also after burn (when your muscles are recovering and need more fuel to recover). And metabolic ST workouts can raise your metabolism for up to 38 hours. Also as others have said, more muscles increase resting metabolism.

    Best thing, find a good workout where if you do that you lose weight and keep doing it (e.g. a good workout pushes you each time with more weight / more reps etc.). - 8/18/2014   1:22:47 AM
  • THISISSERIOUS
    8
    @hines12 Strength training builds muscle mass which increases your BMR. Muscles require a lot more energy to maintain than fat. Gaining 30 pounds of muscle increases your RMR by 180 calories (average 6 calories per pound per day). While this might not seem large, at the end of the week that's 1260 calories which is the equivalent of two *hard* one hour workouts or a 1/3 pound of fat. - 8/14/2014   8:09:12 PM
  • 7
    Then why do I hear often from pros that strength training will help burn more calories than regular cardio work out? And will burn during but moreso even after your workout you will continue to burn long after you've worked out? Is this true, yes or no? - 6/18/2014   9:33:28 PM
  • CAPITALBOOTCAMP
    6
    I do not bother about how many calories burnt by strength training as i recommend to join a fitness camps that i am currently joining and i am getting much better effects. Therefore, i am sharing here so that all interested person similar to me can also get benefits.

    capitalbootcamps.com - 5/1/2014   11:55:01 AM
  • 5
    I track mine as circuit training. I do Crossfit and we are constantly moving when we do our workout. It's usually a combination of some type of strength and cardio movements. - 3/13/2014   10:22:35 PM
  • 4
    no i never thought about the calories just that i'm building muscles and burning fat - 3/13/2014   8:29:28 PM
  • 3
    Previous comment was re: a typo that has been fixed. :) - 3/13/2014   6:03:37 PM
  • 2
    I don't worry about it as a weight lifting burns calories long after you are done so that is good. Since sparks guesses the calorie burn I am ok with that. For me it's about building serious muscles. - 3/13/2014   3:49:23 PM
  • 1
    That's why I pretty much just count my fitness minutes and don't worry too much about the calorie burn. If my perceived exertion is up during cardio, or if my muscles are sore the next day from strength training know I'm working. - 3/13/2014   9:58:30 AM

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