How Many Calories Are You Really Burning?

24_IMG_209620130405_KavaGornaPhotographed by Kava Gorna.
Whether you’re a green juice junkie, a SoulCycle addict, or just trying to maintain a working relationship with your skinny jeans, healthy living is always in style. So we’ve tapped the wellness masterminds at Well+Good — the go-to-site for cool, healthy-leaning women coast to coast — to keep you in-the-know.
Advertisement
The notion that calories in and calories out is all that matters when it comes to being healthy and slim is totally passé. Even so, when it comes to workouts, lots of people from those starting a weight-loss journey to fitness junkies still constantly want to know: How many calories am I burning? Turns out, the answer’s a little complicated — and super subjective.
To get in the ballpark, more women than ever are sporting discreet trackers like the Up by Jawbone, the Fitbit, and the Nike Fuelband. And, some workout hotspots, like Bari Studio and The Studio by Remorca Fitness, have sophisticated tracking systems that allow you to see your heart rate as you sweat and chart your burn progress after.
“Every class is different, but no matter what, it should be an efficient hour of your life,” says Bari head trainer Michelle Pellizzon. “The tracking system’s really kept us honest, and it keeps our clients honest.” That’s important, since lots of workouts will try to tempt you with overarching claims that can’t possibly be accurate, for example, “You WILL burn 800 calories in 45 minutes without even working hard!”
The truth: You will burn a completely different number of calories than the woman sweating to your right and the dude on your left.
We tracked our own calorie expenditures, chatted with trainers from these metrics-focused studios, and got the scoop from a top exercise physiologist to bring you this simple break down of the many factors influencing your actual — and very personal — calorie burn.
19_IMG_184920130405_KavaGornaPhotographed by Kava Gorna.
1. Body Weight
The list of factors is a long one, but “the biggest thing is your body composition,” says Ciaran Friel, medical director at fitness-meets-medicine center La Palestra. The more you weigh, the more calories you’ll burn as you increase your heart rate, because more mass means more energy needed to get moving. In an example with one person weighing 100 pounds, and another 200, the heavier person “could almost be burning twice as many calories, if they’re working just as hard,” Friel explains.
2. Muscle Mass
More muscle mass just equals more calorie burn, which is why lots of trainers advocate heavy weight lifting as an essential part of any weight-loss plan. “When we’re building muscle mass, we’re creating more metabolically active cells,” Friel explains. This is one reason men tend to burn more than women.
3. Fitness Level
As you shed pounds and become, say, a better runner, you’re moving through space in a mechanically efficient way that requires less energy, and, therefore, less calorie burn. Remorca co-owner Nedra Lopez says her clients often get frustrated as they get in shape and watch their calorie counts go down. “They complain and say, ‘Now I’m in better shape, but I don’t burn as many calories, and I get drunk faster!’” she laughs. “I tell them, ‘Yes, but you look great and you’re healthy!’”
4. How Hard You Work
This one’s obvious, but more important than you may think. During class, you’ve got to push it. In my Bari class, for example, a regular client about my size burned 50 more calories than me. But she knew the dance moves and could rock them out, while I kept pausing to try to get the steps right. Working really hard at high levels of intensity has also been shown to increase afterburn, meaning you’ll keep burning more calories once you’re back at your desk (which is one reason HIIT workouts have taken off).
In the end, “calorie burn is pretty individual, and there are lots of variables,” Friel says. “We just have to be realistic about how we arrive at that number of total calories burned.”
This post was authored by Lisa Elaine Held.
Advertisement

More from Fitness

Update: This story was previously published on Nov 21, 2015. Are you sitting down? Okay, take a minute to assess: Are you slouching in your seat? Are your...
Ah, the plank. Some version of it is used in virtually every type of fitness program, from CrossFit to calisthenics to yoga to pilates, and for good reason...
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that fitness trackers aren't exactly the key to a super-healthy ...
When it comes to rock climbing, an all-or-nothing approach is key
Maybe you're someone who appreciates the sturdiness of genuine leather. Perhaps you can't stand the idea of going to an hour-long vinyasa class without ...
Hailey Langland is a 16-year-old snowboarding star who believes that if you're not having fun doing something, it's not worth doing. "What sets me ...
People either love it or hate it, but one thing we can all agree on is that CrossFit can get intense. You're doing burpees and throwing around barbells, ...
(Paid Content) Normally, we celebrate getting into a fitness groove. It means that we've committed — on a pretty regular basis — to laying out workout ...
We count on our gym bags to do a lot for us. We'd like them to be lightweight, but we also expect them to hold all of our gear. We love it when they're ...
Once you've picked out your class and go-to mat, your challenge is to somehow choose a pair of pants to wear for yoga. Of course, you want them to be ...
It's hard to overstate how important it is to be comfortable during your workouts — especially when it comes to your breasts. But those of us who're ...
This year's Triathlon World Series was the scene of an extraordinary demonstration of brotherly love. Yesterday, Olympic medalist Alistair Brownlee stopped...
Sometimes getting motivated to exercise can be harder than the workout itself. That’s why it helps to think of your gym time as a middle school dance: ...
Way, way too many women avoid or even fear arm workouts because they think they’re too hard — or worse, they worry about getting “too bulky.” First of all...