So What Does Burn the Most Calories?

I was interested to see that the bulk of you voted for swimming as the exercise that burned the most calories. I have been interested in this for as long as I have been a trainer simply because the question was constantly being asked by the clients I was working with. Calories is such a major topic as a leftover from the 1980’s when the calorie counting seemed to be huge. When I spoke with trainers in the mid 90’s when I was first getting into it, many of them still used calories as the gold standard for weight loss. I am not implying they were wrong, simply that it is not as much of a focus as it used to be.

The cardio equipment in most gyms also seemed to cause many people to be consistently thinking about their calories burned. Each piece of equipment would tell you how many calories you were burning. I always had to laugh when people would literally use this as a guide to how much they could then eat. Never did they stop and think that it was a bit far fetched to think that a machine knowing only that you put in a certain body weight could tell you how many calories you were burning.

It was not up to the machine, it is up to your current level of muscular efficiency. Calories are explained really well in this article but in simple terms they are a unit of measurement as it applies to energy. The muscles require fuel in order to work and therefore the more muscle you are using pr placing demands on that would require it to need fuel, the more calories will be used up. Therefore the exercise that burns the most calories would be the one that requires you to use the most muscle.

Most studies that have been done actually show that running burns more calories than most other activities including swimming. The typical reason is that running requires you to place demands on a greater amount of muscle than swimming since in the water you are in a supported environment which limits the demands on your muscular system. I agree with this statement for the most part but I think your individual abilities within the exercise you choose also plays a role in this.

During a Bi-Athlon of running and swimming, lets say an athlete does each of these exercises for an hour. What if they are an extremely efficient runner but a terrible swimmer. In this scenario would the athlete then burn more calories swimming? I have always thought this to be the case but I am no scientist and have not yet got around to doing the research on this.

All things being equal however, I think running is still King when it comes to burning calories. Here is a link from the Mayo Clinic to a chart that discusses various exercises and the approximate calories they burn. Again read it with a grain of salt since it is not able to take into account your current level of efficiency and how much that would impact how hard your muscles need to work.


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