3 Workout Swaps to Burn More Calories

The top two excuses for avoiding exercise: a lack of time and reduced motivation as the result of poor results from previous weight-loss attempts. It’s true that in this hustle-and-bustle world, when you’re faced with choosing to exercise versus working and tending to family responsibilities, most people opt for one of the latter options. It’s particularly difficult to commit to a regular physical-activity regimen when you’ve struggled with weight-loss efforts in the past.

For these reasons, it’s important to focus on getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to exercise. This means figuring out a workout that will torch calories in as little time as possible. By swapping less effective workouts for proven calorie-burners, you’ll see results faster, saving you both time and money. That also means two fewer excuses.

If you’re looking to lose weight, try one of these:

1. Swap weight training for compound strength exercises.

While simple weighted exercises like bicep curls are great when it comes to building strength, compound strength moves are more efficient in not only increasing muscle but also burning calories. Rather than isolating a single muscle during an exercise, as you would doing something like bicep curls, compound strength training recruits several different muscle groups simultaneously. Think about squatting, pulling and pushing — all three types of movements require the use of multiple muscles. For instance, a squat recruits your quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings. Similarly, you’ll rely on both your back muscles and biceps to do a pull-up.

Even more effective is combining a couple of moves. For example, a burpee requires you to first squat down, walk your feet back and then get into a plank position before reversing the sequence and jumping back to standing position. For a 180-pound man, the American College of Sports Medicine estimates each burpee burns around 1.5 calories.

Since muscle tissue burns more calories than fat even when you’re resting, exercises that build multiple muscle groups can play a role in weight loss.

2. Swap regular cardio for Tabata training.

Research has shown that most of us will burn a little over 100 calories per mile when running. Alternatively, Tabata training or high-intensity interval training can burn more than 300 calories in a lightning-fast 20-minute workout. This type of workout involves repeating short bursts of high-intensity moves followed by periods of rest.

Interested in how many calories Tabata training could truly burn, the American Council on Exercise conducted a study on the subject by putting together their own Tabata regimen. It included exercises like burpees, jumping rope, push-ups and squats. The participants performed 20 seconds of an exercise, then took a 10-second break. They did 16 different moves two times through, taking a full minute of rest between every cluster of four moves. In just 20 minutes, participants burned a whopping 240–360 calories — that’s 12–18 calories per minute!

If you’re just beginning a new exercise routine, you can start by doing half of these moves and progress as you gain fitness. Start with just 10 minutes of Tabata plus a warm-up and cooldown. The moral of the story is that high-intensity exercise, even in small amounts, torches calories in a way that old-school pavement pounding never will. Even better news: Research shows that you continue to burn calories for 24 hours after HIIT at a rate similar to the 24 hours following a more time-consuming, endurance-focused workout.

3. Swap running for low-impact cardio.

Since running has a reputation for causing injuries — research estimates around 80% of runners suffer an injury in any given year — choosing an alternative cardio exercise that has a lower risk for injury can be important in terms of keeping you on a regular workout routine. While higher-impact activities like running have often been cited to be among the greatest calorie burners, research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning suggests that energy expenditure is similar on an elliptical and a treadmill when exercise is performed at a similar intensity. Indeed, another study that compared cycling with uphill treadmill running also concluded that the two exercises elicited similar calorie burns. While running provides great aerobic exercise, the risk of injury may not be worth it for someone who is new to this type of high-impact exercise and is trying to stay on a regular workout regimen to lose weight. Keeping in mind that the intensity at which you work out and your current fitness will affect the amount of calories you burn, the bike or elliptical may be a better choice than the treadmill the next time you head to the gym.

Mackenzie Lobby
Mackenzie Lobby

Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance journalist and coach based in Minneapolis. She contributes to a variety of magazines and websites including TheAtlantic.com, OutsideOnline.com, espnW.com, Runner’s World and Triathlete Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, and is a USA Track and Field certified coach. When she’s not writing, she’s out biking, running, and cross-country skiing around the city lakes with her dog.

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