Ask anyone what exercise burns the most calories and chances are they’ll say running. They’re not wrong, per se—there are plenty of benefits to running, and one of the biggest is its ability to burn calories and fat, fast, but there are so many other high calorie-burning exercise options out there, so if running’s not for you, that’s A-OK. But a reminder: there’s little value in aesthetic goals, if that’s what you have in mind on your hunt for calorie burning exercises—you’ll get so much more from mastering a new skill or, for example, lifting heavier through progressive overload within strength training.
Ty Brennand, a celeb PT @bethefittest, concurs: ‘Your focus should be on having fun. Physiologically, striving for calorie burn isn’t logical, either. You’re never going to burn the same amount of calories as the day before, so focussing on this as a metric can lead you into an endless battle against your body, as you strive to burn more calories each time.’
There’s no harm in checking how many calories you’ve burnt every now and then if it helps give you an understanding of exertion in different workouts (or if it’s the only metric you can get to grips with on your fitness watch), as long as it doesn’t govern your workout routine on the reg. So, for the 1,900 of you who search for exercises that burn the most calories every month, and those of you either bored of pounding the pavements, whose body doesn’t agree with running, or who simply isn’t a fan, these are all the exercises that burn as many, or more, calories than running.
Is running the best calorie burning exercise?
Not always, no. To caveat, if you live for running and have no physical issues, then that may well be the calorie burning exercise you should stick with. But for those of you struggling, know that you won’t necessarily fall short if you don’t run. In fact, trying to power through with running just because it seems like the 'done' thing could work against you.
Ty explains: ‘Some people might not enjoy it, or find it too difficult, which could be detrimental to your overall motivation and how likely you are to achieve your goals.
‘With running, there’s lots of pressure on your knees and joints because it’s a high-impact form of movement, and it can cause very tight muscles which can lead to issues like shin splints, IT band problems, or knee pain when running. Existing problems in these areas mean you might find it difficult to run from the get-go, but don’t let that put you off other calorie burning exercises.’
7 best calorie burning exercises
Ty recommends these exercises as good alternatives to running for an effective calorie burn. The exact amount of calories you’ll burn varies wildly according to several factors including your age, height, weight, gender, fitness level and more, so we haven’t specified exact numbers to expect (though we have given a ballpark figure for a few), but Ty has ranked them according to average calorie burn.
‘Rowing uses the whole body, just like running, and works both your respiratory and cardiovascular systems too. But rowing does much more for the arms and back than running does, and it’s particularly good for anyone with joint issues in their lower body.’
‘Skipping is great for cardio burn, and also helps to strengthen your arms and legs. It requires hand-eye coordination and balance, too, and can be more fun than running since it offers a new skill to learn. For those with bad knees, know that skipping is also far less impactful on the knee joints than running.’
Increase calorie burn by: Using a weighted skipping rope.
‘Boxing workouts work your strength and balance, while getting your heart pumping at the same time. Boxing is similar to running in that you need to focus on breathing techniques, but it requires more thought and attention than running as you need a strategy. It burns approximately twice as many calories as running, and if you have a history of lower body injuries, it’s great for letting those heal since it focuses on the upper body.’
In fact, research suggests that boxing could burn more calories than any other sport, offering an 11st (or 70kg) indiviudal the potential to burn up to 800 calories in a 60 minute class.
Increase calorie burn by: Reducing your rest time to 15 seconds for every minute of sparring.
‘Cycling offers very similar cardio benefits but with the added benefit of leg strength. That said, it doesn’t put as much stress on your leg joints since it’s low-impact. This could mean that you’re able to cycle for faster or longer, resulting in a higher calorie burn than if you were to run for a shorter time. It’s also handy for anyone short on time, since it can double up as a form of transport.’
Increase calorie burn by: Attending a spin class with a focus on intervals. According to the calc on the Calories Burned HQ site, a one-hour class cycling at mid intensity (aka, you’re still able to have a chat) could see someone weighing 70kg torch more than 600 calories.
‘Swimming burns calories at a very similar rate as running, but it’s entirely low-impact. So, if you have any pre-existing injuries, it’s a great way to get a full body workout and strengthen all of your muscles. Switch up your strokes to work your body in different ways. To boot, this is also a great prenatal exercise option, for pregnant women, since it spreads out the additional weight of a baby bump, but always consult a professional before exercising when pregnant, especially if you're new to swimming.’
Increase calorie burn by: Picking up the pace and avoiding rest at the end of each length.
‘Hiking long distances can burn a significant amount of calories, without getting your heart rate too high. It also requires core strength for balance and carrying a backpack, and its low-intensity nature means you may be able to go for longer and burn more calories. You’ll also be surrounded by nature which can be a great distraction from the exercise you’re doing (if you need it). It’s especially good for anyone with heart issues that might need to keep their heart rate down.’
Increase calorie burn by: Upping the incline you’re hiking at. The steeper you go, the more leg muscles you’ll recruit.
‘Squash involves lots of short sprints. This is a form of anaerobic exercise, which means your body needs immediate energy and turns to sources like fat and glucose, rather than oxygen. In turn, you could burn the same amount of calories that you would from a long aerobic exercise session, in a shorter space of time. It also requires core strength as you regularly change direction and adjust your balance. If it’s running alone that you’re not a fan of (and you can’t quite rope in anyone to join you), playing squash with a friend is a great alternative.’
Increase calorie burn by: Extending the length of each game and reducing rest time. Aim for 40-minute games, no rest.
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