“How many calories can I burn doing this workout?”
This is probably my least favorite, most frequently asked question. I get it all the time with my workouts – how many calories can I burn with this routine? How often should I do it to lose weight? While I have answered this to the best of my ability in the past, and have even used it to help promote some of my workouts, it’s a question I really would prefer to stay away from.
Here are 3 of the main reasons why I don’t like (and typically won’t) answering this question:
Reason #1: I really can’t tell you with any accuracy.
The truth is, the number of calories you burn during a workout may be vastly different than the number of calories I burn doing it. Why? Our bodies are different. Your calorie burn depends on a number of factors including your body composition, height, weight, age, the intensity you put into it and even your current fitness level. Unless you are wearing a device that measures calorie burn (and many of those can be off in accuracy as well and I believe a lot of those are doing more harm than good — more about that another day), I can only take a somewhat educated guess at this number for you.
Reason #2: I’d rather you focus on how you feel, not how many calories you burn, during a workout.
I understand that if weight loss is one of your goals then calorie burn can be important. The trouble is, in my personal experience, I’ve found that when we’re told we’ve burned a certain amount of calories it can lead to what is called the “I burned it, I earned it” [check out this study that supports this idea] post-sweat session mentality. Think about it: if you are told you just burned 1,000 calories during your workout and are later tempted by a piece of cake — are you more likely to eat it than if say, you were told you’d only burned off 250 during your workout? I know I sure am!
Reason #3: It’s only one small part of a much bigger equation.
Let’s say you really did burn a staggering 1,000 calories during your workout today. To rack up that much energy expenditure, chances are you had to push yourself pretty darn hard to get there! So what happens after you are done? You may find yourself feeling exhausted, drained, sore and probably wanting to just lie on the couch and rest for the remainder of the day. Now how does that help with weight loss? Instead of trying to meet some magically high number during your workouts, why not focus on the enjoyment of movement and *hopefully* the extra energy your session left you with so that you can remain active (and keep burning those calories) throughout the rest of your day as well?
Not to mention, sometimes the most body changing workouts aren’t always the biggest calorie burners when you are exercising (take strength training, for instance). Does that mean you are ‘wasting your time’ lifting weights? Absolutely not! Strength training has been proven to change your body composition (increasing muscle mass, decreasing body fat), boost your metabolism and help you burn more calories overall (even when you are sleeping).
Sure, I know that the calorie burn helps “sell” workouts – that’s why it’s used so often in marketing fitness programs. And many of us (myself included) buy into it because it sounds like such a great ‘deal.’ But if we could all shift our primary focus away from the external benefits (like weight loss) that exercise can bring to the countless internal ones (such as improved energy, posture, stamina, strength, vitality, better sleep, relationships, health, happiness, just to name a few) we may just find ourselves with more motivation to get up and get moving more often.
When it comes to counting those calories, remember, as Albert Einstein so eloquently put it: “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Tell me, what do you think? How important to you is knowing how many calories you burn with a workout? If you do track your burn, has it helped you lose weight, feel better or get healthier? Share your experience with us in the comments below!