For most people, the purpose of working out is to burn calories. Burning calories means your body is tapping into stored energy to power athletic activity. Do that at a higher rate than the energy coming in (from the food you eat), and you’ll burn fat and lose weight.
The problem is that many of us have limited time to get in the gym and work out. With the time we have, we want to work out as efficiently as possible, leading us to the question of which exercises burn the most calories in the shortest amount of time.
While there are some other factors that influence how many calories we burn, the type of exercise matters as well. If you want to get the best results without spending hours working out every day, here are some of the best exercises to do.
There’s a reason every gym is packed with treadmills, and that you see people putting one foot in front of the other everywhere you go. It’s because running is the most effective way to burn calories and lose weight.
Take note though that not all types of running burn calories at the same rate. If you want to burn the most calories in the least time, focus on sprints or high-paced running.
Here’s a 30-minute treadmill HIIT workout that’ll torch calories and leave you feeling like a champion when it’s done.
Cycling is another great form of cardio that helps you burn calories, along with providing a ton of other benefits, like an increased VO2 max.
It’s a good alternative to running for those who want lower impact on the joints. Road cycling or indoor cycling (on a stationary bike) are both viable options, though you’ll be able to push the intensity higher with indoor cycling.
If being in the water is more of your thing, try swimming laps. Like cycling, swimming is an amazing low-impact form of cardio. It’s perfect for anyone recovering from injuries or suffering from joint pains.
The resistance offered by the water is also sneakily good at building strength, along with burning calories at a strong rate.
If you only ever jumped rope when you were a kid, it’s time to think about picking it up again. Jump rope is an excellent all-round workout.
It burns calories, provides a cardiovascular workout, strengthens the calves and ankles, tones the whole body and also helps build coordination and mobility.
Just as the resistance from the water makes swimming an effective workout, the same applies to rowing.
Rowing is even better for strength, and is particularly beneficial for the muscles along the posterior chain.
If you don’t have a lake or a river nearby, don’t worry. The rowing machine at your gym will work just fine.
The best calorie-burning exercises are not limited to our usual idea of cardiovascular exercises, like running or cycling. Strength training (i.e. weightlifting), is also an efficient way to burn calories.
The body requires a lot of energy to lift heavy weights, which leads to a significant amount of calories burned.
This in addition to the raft of other benefits you get from lifting weights, and show that picking up a set of dumbbells is not only useful for those who want to build an Arnold-like physique.
When strength training, focus on compound movements that involve mutliple joints.
Compound movements are the most efficient form of weightlifting because they involve multiple muscle groups in the body, you put on more muscles, and you support a better metabolism that'll not only burn calories while lifting, but even after exercise as you go about your day.
Here are some of the most common compund exercises. If you're short on time, prioritize these movements before you do anything else.
- Bench Presses
- Shoulder Presses
- Bent Rows
Outside of traditional weightlifting, kettlebells are particularly powerful when it comes to calorie burn rate.
Kettlebell exercises generally utilize more explosive movements, which require more energy and thus burn more calories in each rep.
Kettlebells are especially effective because they provide a metabolic boost, increasing the rate your body passively burns calories even after your workout is over.
If you want something a little different, try kickboxing.
This activity requires a huge amount of energy, burning a lot of calories in a short time, along with building coordination, core strength, mobility and much more.
You can add this into your workouts by joining a class, working with a trainer, or just finding a heavy bag and working simple punch and kick combinations on your own.
Ever walk up a steep flight of stairs and feel out of breath at the top? That’s because you’ve just gotten a good workout in.
Walking or running up and down stairs is essentially like running, but the calorie burn is elevated (mind the pun) by the extra effort required.
Use this to your advantage by working out on the stair machine at your gym, or simply finding an empty staircase to use for a 20-30 minute workout.
Most gyms these days have organized dance classes.
And they’re usually packed. Dance, particularly high-tempo types of dance (like pop dance or zumba) are excellent aerobic activities, and are super effective at burning calories, while having fun at the same time.
Factors That Influence Calorie Burn Rate
As mentioned, there are other factors that go into the rate at which you burn calories. So if you’re trying to calculate how many calories you’ll burn when you plan your workouts, consider these (along with the type of exercise):
Obviously, the longer the duration, the higher the calorie burn. Running for 40 minutes will burn more calories than running for 20 minutes, for example, assuming all else is equal.
An effective way to increase the rate at which you burn calories, i.e. burning more calories from the same duration of exercise, is to increase the intensity.
Higher effort requires higher energy expenditure, which means more calories burned. If you’re running, run faster (or at a higher incline). Same for cycling. All other exercises can be done faster or at a more intense rate.
Your weight also influences how many calories you burn.
The more you weigh, particularly if you have more muscle mass, you’ll burn more calories from most exercises. This is because it takes more energy to fuel your motion.
Consider this if you’re trying to figure out how many calories you’ll burn in an exercise, and increase or decrease the estimation based on your body weight.
Bottom Line: What’s the Best Exercise to Burn Calories?
Running is the most effective way to burn the most calories in the shortest amount of time. If you want an alternative that’s less stress on the joints, try cycling or swimming.
It’s important to note that intensity makes a big difference. A high-intensity kickboxing workout will beat a low-intensity run in calories burned.
Ultimately, though, the best exercise to burn calories is one you enjoy, and that you’ll be able to stick with consistently. One workout won’t make much of a difference - you need to work out day in, day out.
If you get more enjoyment out of dance, jump rope or kettlebell circuits, you’ll probably have better long-term results than running or cycling. Consistency counts, so find an efficient calorie-burning workout you love.