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How do I burn more calories in the same amount of time?

This is a GREAT question asked by one of my clients. They have a strict daily routine/schedule and have been consistent with exercise for the past 2 years.

So, what's the right answer?

Too Long, Didn’t Read (TLDR) Summary:

  • Running is commonly (and not incorrectly) understood as the best calorie burner per time.

  • A skim of more current, peer-reviewed research reveals that it’s probably better to base your exercise on HR intensity instead of a specific type of exercise.

  • Calories are not bad, you need to eat to fuel your progress.

Every Body Is Different

Read that again. “Every body is different.” Not just that everybody is different, that’s true too, but your body is different than mine. We may do the same types of exercise and have similar biometrics, but our bodies are different.

While there are some general rules and data simplifications that can help guide your fitness decision-making, remember that what works best for you may not be what works best for everyone.

Also, exercise physiology is historically not great at using generalizable populations–so the results have to be taken as “guidelines” instead of “the code” (yes, Captain Barbosa, they’re more like guidelines).

What does the internet say about the best exercises for calorie burn?

Not that you can’t look this up yourself, but here are a couple results I found with a search “best exercise for caloric burn.”

Running is the best “burn” for your buck

Healthline has an article that says if you have an hour to exercise, running is your best bet to burn the most calories per hour. They don’t say where they got this data (at least where I could find it at a cursory glance).

There you have it, running burns an average of 106 calories more per hour than the second-best option per the three body weights listed.

That’s pretty good. If you’re close to that 155 lbs category, you’re burning around 130 calories per 10 minutes.

The problem with this–which Healthline acknowledges–is that you have to account for muscle mass, intensity, and experience. If you have low muscle mass, you might benefit from pairing strength training with running so you can maximize calorie burn (more muscles working more requires more calories). If you have an injury-rich history, you might be apprehensive about jumping into a moderate-to-high-intensity running routine and therefore not reach those calorie-burning benchmarks.

Then there’s experience level with running. Running is kinda the worst at first–it’s just unnatural until it’s not. You may have to start with run/walk intervals. Those are awesome for getting into running but definitely won’t meet the high standards for calorie expenditure listed in the graph.

Should I run more based on this research?

Not necessarily.

Admittedly, I love running. It’s my exercise and sanity-preserver of choice. However, if you need to maximize calorie burn per time of exercise and are either not familiar with running, just starting a strength program, or concerned about injury you probably shouldn’t count on running as your number 1 calorie burning method.

That doesn’t mean running won’t ever work for you! You’ll just want to talk to your trainer, physical therapist, doctor, chiropractor, or whoever else is guiding your fitness journey, first.

“Usually, the more intense an exercise routine is, the more calories it burns.” - Medical News Today

This piece from starts with a smart overarching theme–intensity of exercise is directly related to calorie burn (*usually*).

Running is the “calorie king” once again (even at 30 minutes)

This article used a calorie calculator from the Calorie Control Council to estimate caloric expenditure for different activities for a given body weight. Once again, running came out on top of the list for best calorie expenditure over a given time.

They break each exercise down into 30 minutes sessions and evaluate from there–which I appreciate, because that’s more applicable to the general population. It’s important to note that the calorie calculator is based on “moderate” intensity exercise.

How do I find “moderate intensity” for myself?

This is a tricky thing to measure. There’s the subjective but reliable Rate of Perceived Exertion scale (see below, thanks for the graphic, Cleveland Clinic) You can also use a heart rate scale of sorts to find some basic heart rate zones that correlate with intensity levels.

The easiest and, I’d say, least reliable way to find your heart rate (HR) zones is to take 220 and subtract your age, then use percentages. This doesn’t take into consideration your specific HR at rest, though, so the Karvonen formula is a better starting point. Here’s a calculator that uses Karvonen and pops out a list of percentages for you!

What percentage of HR is moderate intensity?