Health and Fitness: How many calories you really burn off in the gym

By Rob Virtue on November 9, 2013 7:47 PM |

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By Laura Williams

A recent survey found keen gym-goers are wildly overestimating their calorie-burn during exercise and gaining weight as a result.

According to the survey, four out of 10 burn between 300 and 500 calories per workout; a quarter only burn 200 to 300 calories, while 10 per cent burn just 100 to 200 calories.

And a shameful four per cent burn less than that.

In a bid to steer your workout ship past the rocks of over-eating, I've come up with a workout calorie guide to help you discover if you really are making a dent in those business lunches.

■ The highest calorie-burning workouts

Anything that's tough on the puff and high intensity is guaranteed to give you a high calorie-burn.

Spinning, circuit classes and interval training on the CV machines all burn many calories - think around 500 for a 45-minute session.

Aerobic sessions tend to burn a higher number of calories during the session itself than lifting weights but weight or resistance training will give you a higher excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (Epoc), also known as afterburn - the post-session hike in metabolic rate.

Outside the gym, football, rollerblading, skipping and tennis all rank pretty high on the calorie-burn scale. As will a DIY home circuit consisting of moves like burpees, shuttle runs, press ups, and umpteen squats and lunges.

At the lower end Pilates and yoga may be good for increasing core strength and flexibility but they won't do much for shrinking your waistline.


Try to do these only in addition to tougher workouts - supplement a tough week in the gym with a nice relaxing class at the weekend.

Forget wasting time on those machines that isolate muscles - the useless inner and outer thigh machines are far better replaced with a plié squat, the ab crunch machine is not a quarter as effective as the plank, while the leg curl machine is best replaced with a Swiss ball hamstring curl. The more muscles you have to use, the better.

Calorie-burn average of gym activities

■ 45 mins spinning class: 450 calories
■ 30 mins on treadmill: 300 calories
■ Six-mile run: 600 calories
■ 45 mins swimming: 400 calories
■ 90 mins Bikram yoga: 400 calories
■ 45 mins Pilates class: 250 calories
■ 45 mins circuit class: 450 calories
■ 45 mins aerobics: 400 calories
■ 30 minutes lifting weights: 250 calories

Biggest workout calorie blunders?

Overfuelling pre-workout - you really don't need that much to get through a workout.

If you're looking to lose weight, exercising on empty can be a good strategy, although it doesn't work for many as you can then be under-fuelled and unable to do as much.

A small cereal bar or a small banana are both good workout fuel. They're not too high in calories and the readily available sugar is just what your body needs to access quickly to see you through that class.

Also, overestimating how much you've burnt. Prone to grabbing a muffin after you've exercised?

Even if you ran hard for five miles, you've only just burnt off that muffin. Worse still, a gentler session such as a Zumba class will only burn off a small bowl of Special K. So watch your portions.

Don't think you can offset a workout against a night out either. Even if you've strategically planned a tough gym session for the day, you're probably not going to make too much of a dent in the 24-hour overall calorie intake through one workout alone. Be abstemious.


Steve said:

Ah, the flawed 'more is better' principle to 'burn' more calories. Akin to crash dieting and the results are often the same. Oh, and how does digesting food relate to burning something in a par bomb? It doesn't. Calorie counting will hold you back from being truly fit and full of vitality. Nutrition is about physical subsistence, not deprivation and maths.

If you haven't worked out what fitness is about before you are 35, the chances are you never will.