How Many Calories Are You Really Burning in the Gym?

by Anthony J. Yeung
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How Many Calories Are You Really Burning in the Gym?

“Calories.” Who knew one word could carry so much weight?

Whether you’re trying to get lean, maintain your weight or bulk up, you need to know how many calories you’re consuming and burning. Yet, while it’s easy to count calories in our diet, it’s hard to estimate how many we’re actually burning in the gym.

If you want to truly achieve your goals, you need to understand how many calories you’re really burning each session — that way, you know if you’re doing too little or too much. Unfortunately, what your cardio machine says isn’t always accurate.

In fact, many cardio machines inflate the number of calories you burn. Why? Because they usually take into account your weight and your age only, instead of also including additional factors like fitness level and body composition. A study from the University of California, San Francisco found:

In this article, we’ll break down popular exercise methods and how many calories you’ll actually burn. Use these guidelines to get a better estimate of how much work you’re actually doing every 30 minutes.


Before we dive into various exercises, here are some important things to consider:

  • Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body requires to carry out daily functions — and accounts for 50–70% of the energy your body uses.
  • The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn even at rest.
  • Physical activity produces heat in your body, called “thermic effect.” It’s the second largest contributor to calorie expenditure at 20%.
  • There are approximately 3,500 calories in one pound of fat.



In March 2017, Harvard Health Publishing released data on dozens of common activities and their calories burned within 30 minutes for people of varying weights. Here are some of the best in no particular order:

  • Running on the treadmill
  • Stationary biking
  • Swimming
  • Circuit training
  • Vigorous weight lifting

Read on to see how many calories you’ll actually burn from these exercises. (The lower end of each range is for a 125-pound person and the higher end is for a 185-pound person.)

Begin Slideshow

*Calorie burn based on 150-pound person

About the Author

Anthony J. Yeung

Anthony, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, is a fitness expert at Esquire, GQ and Men’s Health and gets guys in shape for their wedding at GroomBuilder.


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