It’s the dreaded million-dollar question trainers always get from new clients: “What exercise will make me burn the most calories?”
Sorry, but it’s not that easy. If your personal trainer knew the answer, he or she would certainly tell you. The best calorie-burning exercise really depends on each individual.
“I truly believes this comes down to personal preference,” says Allyn Blind of Synergy Training Solutions. “Think of it this way: If you hate running on a treadmill, you will not put forth your best effort and will not burn an optimal number of calories. It’s really about finding an activity that you enjoy so you get the most out of it and work your hardest.”
Also, everyone can’t do just any exercise, says Elizabeth Brooks of Effervescence Training Studio. “Everyone can’t run or do impact-related exercises. It puts a lot of pressure on people to get out there and run when it may not be good for them.”
The one thing most trainers can agree on is that to burn a lot of calories, one exercise must simultaneously boost your heart rate, increase your body’s demand for oxygen, and engage the most possible muscle mass. The more all three happen, the greater chance you have burning calories post-workout, says Lance Breger of Mint DC.
We asked local trainers and athletes what exercise they’d recommend to burn those calories. While there were various answers, running was the most popular. Try combining some exercises from this list to ensure a calorie-busting workout. And honestly, who wants to do one exercise for an entire workout, anyway?
1. Kettlebell Swings
“Kettlebell swings work the entire body. It’s an aerobic activity that engages all of the large muscle groups, which means you are not only burning calories during the workout, but there is a considerable exercise after-burn, as well. That means your body will continue to burn calories post-workout. While burning calories and eating less is the obvious key to weight loss, any exercise that burns calories and builds muscle simultaneously will help the body burn more at rest, too.”
—Heather Cohen, Vida Fitness
2. Walking Stairs
“Taking duration and intensity into account, I think it is safe to say that walking as quickly up stairs, for as long as possible, is the most calorie-burning exercise out there. It is something everyone can do, for a fairly long time, and something that raises heart rate and blood pressure, as well as recruiting large muscle groups in the body.”
—Monica Pampell, The Sports Club/LA
3. BOSU Burpees
“One of my favorite high intensity exercises is BOSU Burpees, using a BOSU device that is a ball fused with a platform. They kill and can add intensity and boost calorie burning potential. The flat part should be facing up. So when you go into the pushup phase you have to stabilize the ball and really use your core muscles. The key for the everyday person would be to do interval training mixing up high intensity activity for short bouts (2 to 5 minutes) with lower intensity recovery bouts of about (1 to 3 minutes). The rest periods during the lower intensity (60 percent of maximum) exercises help the body to recover so that you can work hard again.”
—Elizabeth Brooks, Effervescence Training Studio
“There is a reason you don’t see a lot of boxers with bad physiques. This combination of anaerobic and aerobic cardio, muscular endurance, and power plus speed and agility through the use of the entire muscular system can’t be beat.”
—Lance Breger, Mint DC
“Go dancing. I’m not talking about the slow, shy kind. I’m talking about the ‘getting your whole body into it’ kind of dancing. The kind that you would dance if nobody was watching. When I see people in my YALA dance fusion class move, I know they are burning huge amounts of calories, but they are also having fun. And I’m positive (although I haven’t done any scientific experiments) that when you are enjoying, something, you tend to push yourself just a little bit more making you burn more calories than an exercise you would do just to do it.”
—Laurent Amzallag, YALA Fitness
“I would have to say lunges. Similar to squats, they are a great full-body exercise—they work all the major leg muscles, the core, and can work shoulders and upper back if you challenge yourself by holding dumbbells. But they are easier to perform properly than squat, which people often injure themselves doing.”
—Ryan Stitt, VIDA Fitness on U St.
“Running is the most efficient workout. For 40 to 60 minutes of activity, I think it burns about the most calories of any exercise and it is very convenient and has a minimal barrier to entry (now, not even shoes are needed) that some of the other really high-calorie-burning activities like cross country skiing or rowing do.”
—Michael Wardian, professional marathon runner
8. Running Intervals
“In my unscientific opinion, running intervals is the best way to burn calories, both during the workout and afterward. I think many experts agree that high-intensity training gets the most bang for its buck. The drawback for runners is that you can’t do this type of training every day—maybe two to three days per week at the most!”
—Margie Shapiro, professional triathlete