Running is often considered the gold standard in calorie burning, but in reality, there are several other workouts that achieve a greater rate. That’s good news, because running is a high impact endeavor that’s not for everyone. Regular running can lead to degenerative injuries, limited range of motion in the hips, and the potential for twisted ankles and broken bones due to falls. It’s a fair amount of risk for the 10ish calories per minute you actually burn. People who run usually do it because they love it, and that’s great. There’s just no reason to force yourself on a run if it’s not really your bag. Instead, check out our list of workouts that actually burn more calories per hour.
Measuring calorie burn
To determine the approximate number of calories a given activity is likely to burn, we look at the MET, or metabolic equivalent, of that activity. The MET measures how much energy an action takes to complete and is based on how many milliliters of oxygen a body consumes, per kilogram of body weight, while engaged in the activity. As MET values go up, so does the potential for burning calories while performing the exercise.
However, there are a lot of factors that determine how many calories your individual body will burn. Things like age, physical fitness, body weight, body fat percentage, and genetics all play a part. So does the intensity with which you perform the activity – the more you push yourself, the more oxygen you’ll need and the more calories you’ll burn. Because these factors differ from person to person and day to day, it’s impossible to know exactly how many calories you will burn each time you work out.
MET values can help us determine a pretty good approximate, though. The formula is MET x body weight (in kilograms) x time (in hours) = calorie burn. For the purposes of this article, we’ve assumed a body weight of about 68 kilograms (150 pounds).
Workouts that burn the most calories all use a lot of muscles at once. Try the following exercises if killing calories is at the top of your workout goals. Remember that running burns about 666 calories per hour in a 150-pound person.
1. Indoor cycling
Burns approx 952 calories/hour
To achieve this stellar level of calorie burn, your intensity on the stationery bike should be 200 watts or more. If your bike doesn’t provide this readout, just be certain that you are riding with sufficient resistance to make it challenging. You may also be able to power through more calories by splitting your workout into two 30-minute sessions instead of one hour-long one. The reasoning here is that you can push yourself harder in a shorter session where stamina is less of a concern.
2. Cross-country skiing
Burns approx 850 calories/hour
Don’t expect to get out in the powder and blast 850 calories your first time. It takes some practice to get the rhythm of cross-country skiing, and it takes a significant amount of cardiovascular energy as well. Slow progress doesn’t reach the level of intensity that we’re talking about here, but as you improve your rate of burn will increase. To really push yourself, try uphill skiing. Not only will you eat up a ton of calories, you will earn yourself a thrilling ride back down. Special uphill skis are made to convert to downhill versions at the top.
Burns approx 816 calories/hour
As with indoor cycling, 200 watts is a good benchmark for intensity. It should feel like a vigorous effort. Rowing is an efficient exercise because it hits so many muscle groups at once, including arms, legs, core, back, and shoulders. There are ways to further maximize your rowing workout as well. Try sitting taller, for starters. Practice “ladders” where you begin at 22 strokes per minute, then increase one stroke every 30 to 60 seconds until you top out at 30 strokes per minute. Then, work your way back down to 22 in the same fashion. And don’t hesitate to mix up your rowing workout from day to day to achieve both endurance-style and short, high-intensity burn rates.
4. Jumping rope
Burns approx 802 calories/hour
Jumping rope requires balance and coordination as well as cardio power, which is why it’s such a great move for busy multi-tasking people. Aim for a moderate pace of about 100 skips per minute to attain a solid calorie burn. Mix it up with this jump rope interval workout to hit several different muscle groups and keep your heart thrumming. You can use music to keep things exciting and help maintain pace.
5. Martial arts & boxing
Burns approx 700 calories/hour
Martial arts like Muay Thai and kickboxing fit the bill because they keep you moving, require balance, and engage all of your major muscle groups. Boxing-based classes also tend to incorporate intense cardio exercises like mountain climbers and burpees to increase your heart rate to a peak calorie-burning level. Boxing itself offers great potential for calorie burn when you’re actually in the ring against another person, but less so when you’re just hitting the bag. But if fighting-based sports just aren’t your thing, feel free to stick to the auxiliary exercises like burpees, which can burn about 1.5 calories each!
Burns approx 680 calories/hour
Not all strokes are made the same when it comes to the calorie burn you can get from swimming. If you do a simple freestyle, aim for 75 yards per minute to get the best results. Since that is a bit intense for most casual swimmers, it may be wise to switch to the butterfly, which requires more effort per stroke. You can also burn more calories by swimming with an accessory like a kickboard, hand paddles, or swim fins.
Understanding what intensity means for the calorie burning potential of your workout can help you get the most from whatever activity you choose. Mixing up your workouts is a great strategy as well. For one, it helps to make sure you’re really working out all of your muscles. But perhaps more importantly, it helps to keep you engaged and excited for the challenge. Nothing kills the motivation to exercise faster than boredom.
To learn more about the many ways you can burn more calories, check out The Compendium of Physical Activities, which lists the MET values of over 800 different activities. Running is still a perfectly good choice, but only if you’re really into it.