Do Calories Burned During a Workout Matter?

I had a client ask me recently for my thoughts on calories burned during a workout.

She mentioned that during a strength training session she burns 200-300 calories, which she worried was low, when compared to the 500-600 calories burned during a cardio/spin class.

It’s true that we usually burn more calories during the time we’re exercising doing cardio vs. lifting weights.

However, calories burned during the time you are exercising is not the full story.

Go read this article for an even better explanation.

Think about it like this:

  1. You burn 500 calories during a 60 minute spin class. Once you step off the bike and your heart rate goes down, your calorie burning drops back to normal.
  2. You burn 300 calories during a 60 minute strength training session. Once you step out of the gym your body continues to burn calories by repairing the muscle damage you did with the strength exercises for the next 21 hours.

We need to think about the effects on our metabolism in a 24 hour period, not just the 1 hour working out.

It can be difficult to make this mental shift because it feels good to see that fitness tracker showing you a whole bunch of calories burned. But I think we’ve all done the thing where after a hard workout, we “replenish” with an extra couple hundred calories that day. Thinking about exercise as a trade for food is not healthy. Thinking about exercise as a self-care practice that is beneficial for us both mentally and physically is healthy.

So use the exercise function on your fitness tracker as a data point to see if you are able to increase your intensity over time and remember that the benefits of exercise are more than just what happens in that hour.

Also, we only spend an hour or so a few times a week exercising, so nutrition is still the biggest player if your goals are weight loss/physique related.

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