As important as your weight loss goals can be when you’re not completely satisfied with your body weight, it’s also critical to your overall health that your physical activity remains balanced. Stepping into a gym is the perfect way to add diversity to your routine. Whether you’re lifting weights for weight training or trying some high-intensity interval training, you can build muscle or burn fat if you match the right workout routine with the right nutritionally balanced meal plan. 

But how do you know how many calories you’re burning when you’re working out? Everyone knows you need to have some kind of physical activity if you want to lose body fat or build muscle mass. Deciding what kind of physical activity can be more challenging if you aren’t sure how much energy each kind of exercise takes. 

(Note: Want our elite trainers to build workouts customized to your goals? Start your Fitplan free trial today!)  

Benefits to Exercise Besides Calorie Burn

The first thing you should know is that while exercise does burn some calories and help you maintain your weight, it’s actually one of the least significant ways your body burns energy. In fact, some studies show that people tend to overcompensate for imagined calorie burns during physical activity by eating more calories than they actually burned in their workout. If weight loss is your main fitness goal, you can avoid this problem by pairing your training workouts with a nutritious calorie deficit. 

The number of calories is still important even if they won’t be the main engine behind your weight loss. That’s because they still factor into your calorie expenditure calculations and provide many other positive benefits that will likely help you keep your body in the condition you want. According to Harvard Medical School, exercise provides the following benefits in addition to helping you burn calories:

How long and how hard you workout will have a direct impact on how many calories you burn.

Improves Brain Function

It might not turn you into a rocket scientist, but regular exercise can improve your memory and boost your overall mood. It can also reduce anxiety levels, although if you’re already a bit shy about entering the gym it could well do the opposite. Many people who exercise for between 30 minutes to an hour, even if it’s light cardio, report feeling happier and more energetic once that exercise has become a normal part of their routine.

Reduces the Likelihood of Certain Diseases

More moderate to intense exercise reduces your blood pressure, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease. It also improves tilt your cholesterol balance toward HDL cholesterol, which is the good kind your body needs. Exercising also helps your body deal with insulin. Working out can also prevent bodily injury by building strength in your muscles. 

Promotes a Healthy Lifestyle

People who exercise regularly and maintain a healthy calorie deficit are more likely to keep body fat off once they lose it. The same goes for people who build muscle: they keep new muscle mass longer if they both eat right and work out on a regular basis. That’s because weight loss and workout plans for building muscle that alter someone’s lifestyle too much are impossible to continue indefinitely. Your routing should be sustainable so you can keep off that body fat and make sure those muscles don’t go away, ad exercise is key for both. 

Helpful Hint: If you’re looking for a regular workout routine for weight loss, you should try our Get Lean: Home Edition Fitplan!

Metabolic Rate and Calorie Consumption

Your body composition and the amount of body fat you have affects your calorie expenditure and your body’s ability to burn fat. That’s not to say it’s a fixed element. Studies show that exercise can boost your metabolic rate, which should in turn help your body burn fat if that’s your goal. 

If your fitness goals don’t involve significant weight loss, bear in mind that your body may experience a boost in its metabolic rate if you work out often enough. That may leave you feeling a bit hungrier than you’re used to, but remember that it’s always going to be better to schedule your meals closer to your workouts to deal with new hunger pangs than it will be to add extra caloric consumption to your diet, depending on what your intake is as and whether or not you want to have a caloric deficit or not.

The most important thing is to seek out medical advice if you possibly can so you can meet with a doctor or dietician to discuss your fitness goals and make sure you don’t have any conditions that could keep you from reaching those goals. A personal trainer can also help design a plan tailored to your fitness goals. 

What Kind of Exercise Burns the Most Calories?

Even if the main advantage of exercise is not to burn calories, it’s still important to know which exercises consume the most energy so you can make a routine to help you reach your fitness goals. For example, while workouts for your larger muscle groups will burn calories better, cardio and resistance training will help preserve muscle mass. Resistance training also improves muscle strength. 

Cardio is the most common exercise for many people, if only because they are too timid to ask how the machines at the gym work. But as we all know, cardio can get boring pretty fast. Other types of exercise like plyometrics can give you a cardio benefit, plus a great workout that doesn’t get boring.

Strength Training

As we all know, lifting weights will help build muscle. To a certain extent, it will help you burn calories as well, although there might be adverse effects if you just pump iron non-stop. The good news is that muscle consumes more energy than fat when you’re at rest. 

Strength training is an anaerobic exercise, which means it doesn’t consume oxygen. Aerobic exercises like running and cycling consume lots of oxygen, which is part of the reason why they burn more calories. However, in order to build muscle, strength training damages your muscles and then your body must repair them, which takes lots of oxygen to do. 

Strength training can be broken up into isolation exercises like bicep curls that target a particular muscle and compound exercises that work out multiple muscle groups at the same time. If you’re just trying to burn calories, compound exercises are better. However, the best way to build muscle is to have a mixture of the two. Isolation exercises should only make up about a quarter of your total strength training exercises. 


Like we mentioned before, aerobic exercise burns more calories directly than strength training does. Running is the biggest calorie-burning exercise you can do, but there are other cardio exercises you can do at the gym to burn calories during your workout. However, there are plenty of other ways to get some good cardio in and boost your body’s oxygen consumption to burn more calories. 

One other tactic is to use variations on classic exercises like lunges and squats to add a bit of cardio to physical activities that normally aren’t thought of as being particularly aerobic exercises. For example, you can do walking lunges without stopping rather than pausing after each rep to get your heart rate up during your lunge sets. 

There are countless other machines in the gym that make for great cardio exercise and reduce the likelihood you’ll get bored or burnt-out on cardio. Examples include the stair machine, mountain climbers, elliptical, and the bike machine. Varying which you use to get your cardio in will not only prevent boredom, but it will also make for a more well-rounded exercise, allowing you to work out various different muscle groups throughout the week. 

Helpful Hint: Our Fat Loss Fitplan is a great way to use strength training to meet your weight loss goals.

Gym Workouts That Burn Calories

As you can see by now, it’s important to blend strength training and cardio for the best work out that will burn the most calories in the most sustainable way. Here’s a selection of the most popular gym workouts by calorie burn per half-hour, once again from Harvard Medical School:

Activity125-Pound Person155-Pound Person185-Pound Person
Weight Lifting: general90112133
Calisthenics: moderate135167200
Aerobics: low impact165205244
Aerobics: high impact210260311
Stair Step Machine180223266
Weight Lifting180223266
Elliptical 270335400
Ski Machine285353422
Bicycling, Stationary: vigorous315391466

As you can see, bodyweight also has an impact on how many calories you burn at the gym. It takes more energy for heavier people to do the same exercises, therefore a heavier person burns more calories most of the time. However, as people get used to regular workouts, their bodies are likely to adjust and consume fewer calories during the same exercise over time. That goes for everyone no matter what their body weight is. 

Just remember that these calorie counts are also an estimation. You’ll run into trouble if you assume you can consume 300 more calories after 30 minutes of aerobics, for example. Your body could burn more calories than that or it could consume fewer. 

How to Balance Calories with a Gym Routine

This is where many people focused on weight loss have the hardest time. If you do strength training and cardio at the gym, that should mean you can consume more calories that day, right? Technically, yes, but the problem is that people overestimate how many calories they burn at the gym. We’ve already mentioned how body weight has an effect. There’s also rest time and the intensity of the workout to factor in. 

As a rule of thumb, you can balance your calorie count with your gym routine in one simple step: just don’t count the calories you burn in the gym when you’re calculating a caloric deficit. The reasoning here is simple: you may be burning a few hundred extra calories in the gym, but if you don’t factor that in, then your calorie deficit will be even greater by whatever amount you do burn. You don’t run the risk of sabotaging both your diet and workout by eating to compensate for what energy you spent working out. 

Now, we’re not saying you shouldn’t eat post-exercise. But it’s much smarter to continue to eat as you would have done without the workout. Monitoring your body’s response is the best way to tweak your routine. If you find yourself completely drained, maybe you’re working out harder than you need to. 

If you find yourself losing weight that you didn’t want to lose, then maybe you do need to consume some extra calories. In a short summary, if you aren’t seeing weight loss results, you should focus on changing your diet, while if you aren’t seeing the muscle gains you want, you should work on your fitness routine. It’s also important to preserve healthy muscle if you are losing weight.

Adding Cardio to a Strength Training Session with Circuit Training

Common strength training exercises that burn the most calories include pull-ups, push-ups, lunges, deadlifts, and squats. There are variations on some of these exercises, particularly lunges, that can add some serious cardio to your next strength training session. There’s still a way to get cardio in during a strength training session even for those exercises that can’t have cardio added in a variation.

The key to achieving this is to alternate quickly from one exercise to the next, a technique called circuit training. This method also boosts your muscle strength, which will come in handy during your next weight lifting session as well. Circuit training is a great way to break up your gym time into sections. Rather than just hitting the treadmill and then heading to the barbell, you can have a truly dynamic workout by alternating between strength training and circuit training exercises. 

Both weightlifting and cardio will help you burn more calories while at the gym.

10 Common Circuit Training Exercises

  • Bench press
  • Squats
  • Push-ups
  • Lunges
  • Burpees
  • Shuttle Runs
  • Sit-ups
  • Bench dips
  • Chin-ups
  • Medicine ball chest pass

Of course, if you’re trying to build muscle by lifting heavy weights, you may not want to mix in tons of cardio. This is mostly an idea for people who want to visit the gym just to get some physical activity in. If that’s your goal, you can also add lighter weights like free weights or kettlebells to aerobic exercises that don’t require your hands like lunges and squats. 

Helpful Hint: Use the plyometrics in our Ultimate Fat Burn Fitplan to add cardio to your workout.


The truth is, it’s not that easy to say for sure exactly how many calories you burn on a given trip to the gym even if you do know how many calories per minute or per hour certain exercises burn. Everyone’s exercise routine is different. Some people will take longer rest periods or prefer hands-free exercises like lunges to working their upper body with strength training.

(Note: Want our elite trainers to find the perfect balance for your workout? Start your Fitplan free trial today!)  

Even if two people have the same exercise routine, their body weight impacts their calorie expenditure. And if you try to lose weight by sticking to cardio and don’t do any strength training at all, your body will likely burn muscle mass instead of body fat, which has many negative impacts on your overall health. Maintaining lean muscle mass alongside a caloric deficit can be difficult, but it’s not impossible.

Having at least some idea of the number of calories burnt during your routine will help you maximize the time spent at the gym and help you target certain muscle groups to burn more or fewer calories and reach your fitness goals. 

Cardio exercises and other aerobic activities are a better way to burn calories minute-for-minute, but there are other advantages to strength training, such as a boost to the metabolism, that can help with weight loss later on. Not to mention the people who aren’t trying to burn calories per se but rather counting macros so they can build muscle without gaining body fat or simply maintain their current body weight.

Running and jogging burn the most calories, as will anything that works out multiple muscle groups like swimming and lunges. However, you should really only be counting the calories you burn during workouts to make sure you have enough nutrients and energy to get through without injuring yourself. If your goal is weight loss, then diet is where the majority of your attention should go.

That’s not to say that working out doesn’t burn body fat. Physical activity that helps you build lean muscle is the best method to get rid of body fat in a healthy way. The best thing you can do for yourself is to make sure your body can function better as a result of your workouts. There are also many other benefits to physical activities besides burning calories such as improved mental health, promoting better overall health, and making sure your healthy lifestyle lasts for the long-term. 

It’s understandable that people would fixate on counting calories for certain workouts, but gym exercises aren’t meant to be the sole driver of weight loss. They’re better for targeting certain muscles or muscle groups for improvement. However, frequent workouts can boost metabolism during rest periods when you aren’t at the gym, which can help reach all kinds of fitness goals. 

If you’re struggling to formulate the right plan to reach your goals, we have plenty of Fitplans to choose from! 

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