How Many Calories Am I Burning?

How do you know which exercises burn the most calories on your body? Get-Fit Guy explains.

Ben Greenfield
2-minute read

Listener Sage recently wrote in and asked:

“I have a fitness question I've been trying, unsuccessfully, to find the answer to. How are the calories burned for individual activities calculated?  When I look at high calorie burning exercises, running always comes out on top - higher than boxing, tae bo, etc.  How has that been determined and what is it about running that causes it to be the highest calorie burner?”

Great question, Sage! In the episode, Which Exercise Machine Burns the Most Calories, I list the calorie burning potential of some of the more popular exercise machines, such as the rowing machine, elliptical trainer, bicycle, treadmill, etc. The data that myself, other personal trainers, and the machine designers use to approximate the number of calories burned from these types of machines are derived from relatively limited sources, such as pace, weight, and age – and they do not factor in individual form, efficiency, metabolism, or even body type. As a result, the calories a machine tells you that you’re burning are only a ballpark estimate, and can be off by as much as 20%.

However, a more accurate calorie determination can be made via something called “indirect calorimetry,” in which you go to an exercise lab at a university, hospital, or sports medicine facility, wear a mask while you’re exercising, and have your oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production measured. In large studies of populations comparing calorie burn of different exercise modes, this strategy is usually used. Typically, what is found is that exercises such as running - which use lots of different muscles and require you to carry your own body weight – come out on top for calorie burn.

Do you have questions about how to know how many calories you’re burning? Then leave a comment over at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!

Runner image courtesy of Shutterstock.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.