Which Helps to Burn More Calories: Working Out the Upper or Lower Body?

Exercises such as riding a stationary bike help you burn calories quickly.

Exercises such as riding a stationary bike help you burn calories quickly.

Unless you choose to work out just for the enjoyment of the process, you're likely trying to burn calories to get in better shape or maintain your fitness level. When planning to adopt a new workout regimen for its calorie-burning benefits, an aerobic workout is always preferable to a workout such as weight lifting. Many lower-body workouts are aerobic in nature, making them better for burning calories than upper-body workouts.

Aerobic Exercise

If you're looking for a workout that will help you burn calories, consider the long list of aerobic exercises. In addition to helping you burn fat at a fast rate, aerobic exercises will elevate your heart rate, strengthen your immune system, clear your arteries, improve your mood and even extend your life, according to the Mayo Clinic. Aerobic exercise takes many forms, including running, cycling, swimming, dancing and skating.

Lower Body

Many types of lower-body workouts are aerobic workouts; an easy way to tell if the workout is aerobic is to see if your heart rate has increased. Consider riding a stationary bicycle, for example. Your arms remain largely still during this exercise, but your lower body works hard. In an hour of vigorous cycling on a stationary bike, a 130-pound person will burn more than 600 calories.

Upper Body

Upper-body workouts are ideal if you want to tone your arms and shoulders, but they won't help you burn calories as quickly as a traditional, lower-body aerobic workout. Upper-body workouts, including lifting weights, aren't typically aerobic. For example, an hour of vigorous weight lifting will only help a 130-pound person burn roughly 350 calories, which is significantly fewer than an aerobic workout.


An ideal exercise is one that combines the muscle groups in your upper and lower body, allowing them to work together as you burn calories. Unless you have an abundance of time, in which you can isolate the various muscle groups in your body, choose an exercise in which your entire body is working as one unit. Many sports, including basketball and hockey, work your whole body, while exercises such as jumping jacks, skating and swimming are also ideal.

About the Author

Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.

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