When you're battling a seriously cramped schedule, you need to squeeze every moment from your day. It makes sense that you want to burn as many calories during your workouts as humanly possible so you're getting the most out of your workouts. But the amount you should burn during each workout session can differ from day to day, thanks to a Monday of perfect eating habits and a Tuesday of noshing on doughnuts in the conference room. The number of calories you need to burn fluctuates.
They say you are what you eat -- so what does it mean if you caved and ate a package of cookies at lunch? Here's the thing: The amount of calories you consume dictates the amount of calories you need to burn for weight loss. A pound is equal to 3,500 calories. Theoretically, if you wanted to lose just one pound, you'd need to create a caloric deficit -- consuming fewer calories than you burn -- of about 500 calories every day for a week. Since regular activities, like walking, talking and even breathing uses up calories, you'd need to make up the deficit through a solid, 300 to 400 calorie-burning workout.
High Intensity Workouts
Not all workouts are created equally when it comes to burning calories. While there is no set number of calories that should be burned during a workout for everyone, it's helpful to know which exercise is the most effective. Cardio can be extremely effective in burning up excess calories -- a 160-pound person can burn over 500 calories per one-hour run -- while rope jumping burns 850 calories. On the lower end of the scale, ballroom dancing banishes 219 calories and a slow walk burns about 200.
Beyond the Calorie
Just because a workout burns a lot of calories doesn't automatically mean it's the best form of exercise. Some workouts, like slow to moderate-pace walking, basic yoga and tai chi and don't burn a ton of calories -- less than 300 per hour of exercise for a 160-pound person -- but can add to a healthy lifestyle and more efficient metabolism, which contributes to weight loss after you leave the gym. What's more, you might have physical limitations that stop you from running for an hour straight, which could be discouraging. Calories aren't the only thing you should be focusing on. Instead, setting goals for specific types of physical activity could serve you better than obsessing over every little calorie you burn.
As long as you're healthy and active, shooting for 300 to 500 calories burned during a workout is fine. You can wear a device which counts calories burned or track your calories on exercise machines, like treadmills and ellipticals. But besides tracking calories, focus on other markers for weight loss and health, like increased endurance and performance, better strength and more repetitions when lifting weights. That way, you're not hung up on always tackling a high intensity workout when a more mellow choice -- lifting weights or yoga, for example -- could suffice.
- Forbes: Are Your Exercise Workouts Effective? How Many Calories Do We Burn Through Cardio, Sports, and Yoga?
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned
- Columbia University: How Many Calories Does it Take to Lose a Pound?
- Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services: Calories Burned per Hour
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.