Researchers rank top 10 calorie-burning workouts

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published July 29, 2019

Key Takeaways

Are you looking for a workout that burns the most calories? Running burns more calories than any other form of physical exercise—including circuit training, swimming, cycling, or weight training—according to a report from the American Council on Exercise.

But, if you’ve been sidelined by an injury, ambushed by bad weather, or simply want to try something new, here is a list of the top 10 calorie burning exercises and approximately how many calories they burn per hour:

  1. Running: 652-965 calories
  2. Water polo: 566-839
  3. Bicycling: 480-710
  4. Calisthenics: 480-710
  5. Circuit training: 480-710
  6. Jumping rope: 453-671
  7. Stationary bicycling: 420-622
  8. Rowing: 420-622
  9. Aerobic dance: 396-587
  10. Swimming: 396-587

What is running afterburn?

Researchers have shown that running is the fastest calorie-burning exercise. But, did you know that if you run regularly, you will keep burning calories even afterwards? This is due to something known as the “afterburn” effect.

Afterburn—technically known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption—is what happens to your body after you perform any aerobic exercise. Afterburn is due to the recovery process your body has to engage in as it seeks to return to a resting state.

During afterburn, your body will:

  • Replenish adenosine triphosphate (ATP), creatine, and oxygen stores;
  • Remove lactic acid; and
  • Repair muscles

These recovery processes all require oxygen, and that’s why your oxygen consumption will increase even after you’ve finished exerting yourself. Recovering requires extra energy, which equals additional calories burned. And, depending on the intensity and duration of your run, this process could continue for the next 24 hours.

The number of calories you “afterburn” is 6% to 15% of the total calories you burned during your workout. The more calories burned, the greater the afterburn.

Further, if you combine running with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) (see below), you will increase your calorie burn even more, as well as the duration and intensity of the afterburn. For runners, a HIIT-style run done regularly, one to three times per week, will make you faster and stronger. A steady run will burn calories, but will not have as significant an afterburn effect as when HIIT-style running is done.

Check out this new calorie calculator from Runner’s World that will calculate the number of calories you burn while running.

Other work-out options

The number of calories you burn during physical activity depends on four factors:

  • Duration,
  • Pace,
  • Intensity, and
  • Weight and height

As a general rule of thumb, cardio exercises will burn more calories than weight or strength training. But, keep in mind that the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn. Weight training will increase your muscle mass, and help you burn more calories as you train.

When choosing the best workout to burn calories, remember that activities that require you to use more muscle mass and involve some sort of resistance will burn more calories. And, the higher your intensity in doing these activities, the more calories you’ll burn. Also note that the more you weigh, the more calories you will burn.

Here are some more cardiovascular workouts that are known to be high calorie burners:

  1. Swimming: Because it requires your arms, legs, and core to work together, swimming is a total body workout that can burn about 396 to 587 calories per hour. But, be aware that the stroke you use will make a difference. Doing the breaststroke, for example, will burn less calories than the butterfly stroke. And, swimming in the ocean, against the current, makes for a more intense workout than doing laps at the country club pool.
  2. Rock climbing: Like swimming, rock climbing requires you to use every muscle in your body, from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes. Rock climbing can be done outdoors or in a climbing gym. A 30-minute session of rock climbing can burn about 409 calories in an average-sized person. Rock climbing also strengthens your muscles, especially the large ones of the back and legs.
  3. Rowing: Rowing is one of the top calorie-burning exercises (about 600 calories per hour in an average-sized person). It requires work from your legs, shoulders, and back, and is continuous. In all, rowing requires nine major muscle groups (hamstrings, quads, glutes, core, lats, shoulders, back, triceps, and biceps). Again, where you row can also affect your caloric expenditure. Rowing inside will burn less calories than rowing on a lake on a windy day.
  4. Sprint intervals or HIIT: Suggested routines include alternating between 2 minutes at the fastest rate you can sustain alternated with 1 minute of slowed activity. You can apply this routine to just about anything you choose, including running, aerobic exercise, swimming, or rowing on a machine.
  5. Tabata training: This approach builds on the principles of HIIT. A typical workout will include 4 exercises, each done in intervals of 20 seconds at maximum pace, followed by 10 seconds of recovery, repeated 8 times. Sounds easy, but by round 8, your muscles will be burning. A typical Tabata workout lasts 20 to 30 minutes, and can burn an average of 450 calories every 30 minutes, according to the American Council on Exercise.
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