How many calories are burned while lifting weights?

So you’ve started in the gym, you’re going to be getting in shape, back in shape, back on track. Whether going at it alone or with the help of a trainer/coach, you know lifting weights should be the foundation of a sustainable and effective workout regime. Regardless of your age, abilities or goals, picking up a weight a few times a week is key! If you are wondering about how many calories you burn during strength training, I’m going to mention now, it really doesn’t matter. Your fat loss is going to come from being in a caloric deficit (eating less calories than you burn over any given period of time). Please consider that everyone eats more by default when we start lifting weights, it’s an automatic response our body employs to deal with the increased demands of RT (resistance training). So if fatloss is the goal, keep this in mind. (It’s one of the reasons I encourage being mindful of energy consumed). Lastly know that RT typically won’t burn as many calories as cardiovascular training, fitness classes or boot camps.

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. Resistance training is variable heart rate, and often your heart rate will return to resting.

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. This will vary greatly by individual, age, gender, RPE(perceived exertion), overall health etc.

However, a January 2014 study from Arizona State University 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)

No one does one single exercise 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.(Thanks Sparkpeople for putting the above info together for us!)

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. Fitness trackers can help with knowing how many calories you burn but know they tend to be drastically in-accurate! This video by Guru Performance on fitness trackers and their reliability showed drastic difference between brands and models!

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. The reasons we lift are; to maintain and gain muscle, to improve strength, posture, balance, to slow aging, increase bone strength and quality of life. The total calories matter less than the effect lifelong weight training has on our mind and health.

Keep in mind that all information about calories 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! Be consistent, stick to it and enjoy the journey! Use goals/milestones to determine progress and never rely solely on the scale! Take progress pics, measurements, rate your quality of life and know you can always take a break!