On today’s episode, lets talk about how many calories you’re actually burning with your cardio workouts.
We’ll also be covering why you may not be burning as many calories as you think, because of these very common cardio mistakes.
Below, you’ll find a chart containing data from Harvard Health, where they calculate the approximate calories burned for a 125 lbs, 150 lbs, and 185 lbs person on various cardio machines like the:
But, even though you may think that data answers the “how many calories are you burning with your cardio?” question, it really doesn’t.
Well, this data just provides approximate averages.
When it comes to burning calories, many factors come in to play.
And that’s what I really want to cover with this post.
Showing you examples of how your poor form using cardio machines is not only lowering the results from your cardio workouts, but it’s also deceiving you into thinking you may be burning more calories than you really are.
Just like poor form can ruin your results with weight training, poor form can also greatly reduce the effectiveness of your cardio workouts.
Lets look at examples of the most common cardio machines.
Although I like the treadmill because it incorporates movement from all body parts and allows you to move your body the way it was intended to move, I see many people doing it incorrectly.
I get why some people do this: safety.
But what I don’t get is, that you could avoid holding on to the handles by lowering the speed and/or incline.
I made a specific post about this over on my Instagram.
I’m referring to the concept of trying to increase the difficulty of the treadmill by increasing the speed or incline of the exercise, to then perform the exercise in a way that you actually don’t get the added benefit.
For example, when you hold on to the handles of the treadmill, you decrease the exertion required by your body.
Your body does not know how high of an incline you’re using or the speed.
It only knows what type of stress and exertion you’re placing on it.
Remove your hands from the treadmill handles and focus on form at a speed and incline you can safely do, while still pushing your limits.
By doing that, not only will the results come faster, but you’ll also be doing it in a healthier and safer way.
Plus, if you’re using the calorie counter on the treadmill, don’t forget to input your age and weight into the system.
If you don’t do this, the treadmill will just use a random calculation based off of someone else’s gender, weight, etc.
Even though the calorie counter on the cardio machine is not exactly accurate, by failing to do this, it will make the calorie burn even more deceiving and inaccurate.
I have mixed feeling towards the elliptical machine. I like that it still incorporates full body movements and is safer on your joints compared to the treadmill, but I don’t like the idea that it locks you into an unnatural movement pattern.
In addition to that, many people are not burning as many calories as they should, because of poor form, technique, and lets be real, laziness that the elliptical machine often creates.
How many times have you seen that same person in the gym, who gets on the same elliptical machine for every workout, turns on the TV, and just goes into pure elliptical zombie mode.
This person basically doesn’t progressively increase the intensity level at all, they maintain the same slow pace, and focus more on what’s on the TV, then applying any stress on the body.
On top of this, many times they don’t even place their hands on the handles, meaning they don’t use their upper body, thus decreasing the calorie burn even more.
If you’re going to use the elliptical machine, use one of the pre-programmed interval workouts in the machine so you can alternate between more intense resistance for short bursts, followed by lighter resistance for active recovery.
I repeat. Don’t be an elliptical zombie!
When I say, “when performed correctly”, I mean you’re not just pulling the handle as fast as you can, but you’re actually creating all the power by using your lower body, core, and upper body.
I see too many people using just their back and biceps to pull the handle, without driving their legs.
All the power and a lot of the calorie burn will come from powering through each row with your legs.
For a exercise video demonstration of how to use the concept 2 rower, click here.
Remember, a faster and higher stroke rate doesn’t always mean better or that you’re trying harder.
Focus on the power and intensity of each stroke for the greatest calorie burn.
I like the upright cycle when doing a quick HIIT session as you can really jack up the resistance.
It’s also lower impact on the knee joints which can be good, if that’s an issue for you.
However, from a calorie burning perspective (during the workout), unless you’re doing an intense 60 minute spin class (which is a whole other story), it may not be the best option as it only uses your legs.
During the bike cardio workout, your entire upper body is inactive and, lets be real, the seat turns off your glute muscles and is not the best for the swimmers.
It’s also another cardio zombie option (especially the recumbent cycle). Too many people fall into the trap of turning on the TV and just going through the motions without adding much resistance.
This means your heart rate really doesn’t get very high, thus calorie burning is kept to a minimal.
If you’re going to use the bike, jack up the resistance level.
First off, I was surprised at the lower calorie burn data as reported by Harvard Health (data is found at the bottom of this post).
In my opinion, one of the most intense cardio machines is the stair climber machine.
Maybe the data was collected using an easier form of “stair stepper”, but regardless, this is a fantastic calorie burning cardio machine, when performed correctly.
I did more searching, and found a 150 pound person would burn approximately 680 calories, in an hour, on the stair climber.
However, I see so many people taking the easy way out with the stair climber.
You’ve seen them: hands on the handles, bent over, just holding on for life.
If you want the most calorie burn from the stair climber, select a speed that allows you to safely take your hands off the handles, and pump your arms as if you were really walking or running up stairs!
That’s when you’ll really maximize your calorie burn!
Building lean muscle via weight training is the long-term solution to a fast metabolism and increasing the amount of calories you burn at rest.
Excessive cardio can burn into this muscle and lower your metabolism.
Focus the majority of your workouts on weight training for optimal calorie burning.
The amount of calories you burn DURING a workout, is not the optimal measure of calorie burning potential.
What many people don’t account for is the TOTAL amount of calorie burn during and AFTER the workout.
I often refer to EPOC as the Afterburn Effect.
To put it simply, the afterburn effect is the cause of more calories being burned AFTER your workout (you can read more about EPOC here if you like).
Research shows the more intense the workout, the higher the Afterburn Effect.
So even though you may have burned 450 calories during your 60 minute steady pace cardio workout and only 300 calories during your 20 minute HIIT workout, the amount of calories you burn AFTER a HIIT workout, even while sleeping, can increase potentially up to 38 hours after the HIIT workout.
Since steady state cardio does not raise EPOC as much as HIIT training, your body doesn’t burn as many TOTAL calories throughout the day.
I included only the most common cardio machines, but there are so many other cardio activities that are just as good or better. These include:
The key to cardio is finding something that you enjoy.
So think back to when you were a kid.
What kind of fun activities did you do to burn off all that child-given energy?
If your goal is fat loss but you hate cardio, do more of that activity!
Seriously, try focusing on getting back to your inner child.
According to the Harvard Health, in the chart below, I’ve included the approximate calories that a 125 lbs, a 150 lbs, and a 185 lbs person would burn in one 30 minutes of doing each of these various cardio activities.
Note: another post showed a 150 pound person would burn approximately 680 calories in an hour, or 340 calories in 30 minutes, on the stair climber.
|125 lbs||150 lbs||185 lbs|
|Swimming (laps, vigorously)||300||372||444|
|Running (6 mph = 10 min/mile)||300||372||444|
|Concept 2 Row Machine (moderate intensity)||210||260||311|
|Step Aerobics (low intensity)||210||260||311|
|Bicycling, Stationary (moderate intensity)||210||260||311|
|Stair Step Machine||180||223||266|
|Hiking (cross country)||180||223||266|
|Aerobic exercise (low intensity)||165||205||244|
|Dancing (disco, ballroom, square)||165||205||244|
|Calisthenics (Moderate Intensity)||135||167||200|
|Treadmill Walking (4 mph = 15 min/mile)||135||167||200|
In just 15 minutes, using only your bodyweight, this workout will start you on your journey to Live Lean.
You’ll be dripping sweat, your muscles will be pumping, and your fat will be destroyed.
My world class Live Lean style workouts have helped men and women from over 180 countries, burn fat, build lean muscle, and ultimately Live Lean.
This workout is one of my all-time favorites and it’s destined to get you incredible results.
It’s quick, it’s athletic, and most importantly it works.
Brad Gouthro is the founder of Live Lean TV, a media company focused on helping men and women “Live Lean” 365 days a year. Brad’s programs and content have helped millions of people all over the world learn how to get in shape, and more importantly, sustain it for life.