Does Burning Calories Really Matter?




I burned 488 calories during my last workout.  That is, according to my Polar FT-60 I did.  Do I wonder if it’s accurate?  No, I don’t really care.  I’m more interested in the average heart rate of 118 BPM, and max heart rate of 179 BPM.  These things happen when you lift weights and lift weights faster.  There’s something else that happens, too.

It’s widely accepted that to lose weight, we need to burn more calories than we’re taking in.  We’re inundated by ads and articles that put a premium on burning calories during a workout, which can work, but is largely impractical.  Even if those caloric claims are true, we spend more time sedentary than exercising, and should instead focus on exercises that create more meaningful boosts in metabolism.  I know this may be surprising:

The biggest metabolic boost comes from strength training and metabolic resistance training, or lifting weights and lifting weights faster.  Our body spends more time recovering from strength or power workouts than aerobic-style exercise, and that longer recovery time means we’re burning more calories throughout the day.  That excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is compounded by the desirable hormonal changes that come with strength training as well.

The most beneficial exercises tend to include the most movement and load.  As a general rule, the more you’re moving through space, the more muscle you’re using.  Movements such as squats, push-ups, pull-ups, deadlifts, and carries allow you to practice lifting more weight over time. Focus on 3-5 sets for those ‘big’ movements, and keep that sets under 10 reps, which will let you lift more weight. Be sure to increase the weight you’re lifting over time, as that progressive overload is the key to sustainable progress.

Metabolic resistance training, or cardio-with-weights, is a newer idea, and let’s us capitalize on the benefits of strength training along with those of high intensity interval training.  The most popular and beneficial movements out there include kettlebell swings, battling rope waves, crawling, and hill sprints.  Any of these exercises for high-intensity bursts become a powerful way to burn more calories for the rest of your day.  They can be done solo or in a circuit, and timing matters.  Intervals of 20-30 seconds ensure that the intensity is high, and allowing for equal or greater recovery time means you can go just as hard the next round.  One of my favorite pairings is 20 seconds of kettlebell swings, 20 seconds of battling ropes, 20 seconds of bear crawls, and 60 seconds to recover before the next round.  3-4 rounds of that is a short, effective way to finish a strength training workout, or spice up your lunch break.


Remember, the goal isn’t necessarily to burn as many calories as possible in your workout, but to increase that burn over the course of your day or week.  For that bigger bump in metabolism, strength training and circuit training rule supreme.  Including this focus 2-4x per week is a great starting place for almost every fitness or fat loss goal!

I recently chatted with Amanda MacMillan of Men’s Health about this idea of maximizing that metabolic bump, and she compiled a list from 10 coaches of our favorite exercises to bump up the work load.  Check it out on

10 Exercises That Burn More Calories Than Running

Burning calories matters, but not in the way that we’ve all learned.  Calories in the long run, at the end of the day, week, or month, matter more than the calories that we burn in a single workout.  It’s largely impractical to create a massive caloric deficit by accumulating more aerobic exercise; that means you’ll be doing a lot of Zumba classes.  Success if much more likely if you control the calories that you’re eating, and create the biggest ‘metabolic disturbance’ possible when you are training.  Head over to Men’s Health for 10 exercises that should do just the trick.

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