Weight loss is ultimately about calories in versus calories out.
So long as you expend more calories in a day than you consume, you will lose weight with the understanding that this needs to happen consistently.
When many individuals say they want to "lose weight," what they mean is that they want to lose fat.
You see, losing weight can include losing water weight, body fat, lean muscle tissue, and bone mass...these latter two you don't want to lose, FYI.
This begets the question -- how do we prioritize fat loss when trying to lose weight?
The most efficient (i.e., practical) way is through a combination of diet and exercise.
Using the combination of diet + exercise accomplishes several things:
- It increases your daily energy expenditure so that you can eat a higher level of calories while remaining in a deficit
- It supports cardiovascular health
- It builds and tones lean muscle, helping you avoid the dreaded skinny fat look when you're finished dieting
- It helps protect against muscle loss, as anytime the body is in a prolonged energy deficit (which is needed to lose body fat), there is also an increased chance of protein (i.e., muscle) breakdown
Regarding exercise in the context of weight loss, the predominant line of thinking has been that cardiovascular exercise (e.g., running, jogging, biking, etc.) is superior to resistance training on account of being able to train in the "fat-burning zone."
The "fat-burning zone" refers to workout intensity that gets your body to burn primarily fat for fuel. It's typically measured using your heart rate and occurs when exercising between 50-70% of your maximum heart rate.
While this might be music to your ears, just because you're training in the "fat-burning zone" doesn't mean you're losing body fat.
Remember, to lose fat; you need to be in a calorie deficit at the end of the day.
In other words, you could do all the "fat burning workouts" available on the internet, but if at the end of the day, you're still eating at or above maintenance, then you won't lose weight (or fat).
Furthermore, exercising in the "fat-burning zone" doesn't burn as many calories per minute as training at higher intensities (70+% of maximum heart rate).
This means that if you want to exercise at a lower intensity, you'll need to exercise for longer to accomplish a similar amount of calorie burning as you would with higher intensity forms of physical activity (such as interval training).
Now, don't take this to mean that lower intensity workouts can't be an effective component of a weight loss program; they certainly can (especially if you're newer to exercise and/or have other higher intensity exercise routines during the week).
The main takeaway is that just because a particular workout is labeled as a "fat-burning" workout or your fitness tracker says you're in the "fat-burning zone" doesn't mean you're losing fat.
You need to be in a calorie deficit to lose fat.
Now, with all of that squared away, let's get back to the topic at the end -- exercise and weight loss.
Cardio has typically been viewed as the "best" form of exercise for losing fat; however, resistance training is as important (if not more so) when optimizing body composition during a cutting phase.
As mentioned above, resistance training helps your body build and retain lean muscle mass, which keeps your metabolism higher and gives you curves in all the right places!
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the exercises that burn the most calories to help you expend more energy during your workouts and enhance your weight loss results!
Exercises That Burn The Most Calories
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, you need to realize that exercise in and of itself doesn't burn all that many calories in the grand scheme of things.
A 150-lb individual can burn ~700 calories in a typical 45-60 minute circuit workout. This assumes you're busting your hump and giving it all you've got. Most individuals don't approach their training with such enthusiasm.
Plus, also realize that calories burned during training are but a fraction of your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). The vast majority of your energy expenditure each day comes from your resting metabolic rate and non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).
Now, this isn't meant to discourage you from hard training (not in any way, shape or form); it's more so to give you perspective and realize that you need to be active and eat properly in addition to your exercise routines if you want to lose weight as efficiently as possible.
As for the exercises that burn the most calories, you want to focus on compound movements -- squats, bench press, deadlifts, burpees, push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, etc.
The reason compound exercises burn more calories than isolation exercises is that they stimulate a greater amount of muscle tissue in the body and a higher volume of oxygen and ATP consumed. This translates to more calories burned, which supports weight loss.
In addition to performing compound exercises during your resistance training workouts, another way to ramp up calorie burning without traditional "cardio" or hindering your lifting performance is to perform supersets, whereby you perform two exercises back-to-back with little rest between. A classic example of this is a bench press followed immediately by a bent-over row. After both exercises are finished, you can rest 1-2 minutes and then perform another superset.
How Do I Calculate Calories Burned Lifting Weights?
How many calories you burn lifting weights depends on several factors, including age, gender, amount of muscle mass, which exercise you’re performing, and how hard your body is working during that exercise.
One way to estimate how many calories your burn while lifting weights is to use your fitness tracker to measure your heart rate (and they also typically calculate the number of calories burned based on the duration of your workout and your heart rate throughout the workout).
Remember, though, your fitness tracker (or any other table, calculator, etc. you find online) merely provides an estimate for how many calories you're burning. Furthermore, the focus of your resistance training workouts should be on calorie burning. It should perfect your technique and lift more weight for more reps than you previously have.
By progressively overloading your workouts, you'll naturally burn more calories, all the while building more muscle and losing more fat.