How Many Calories Does Strength Training Really Burn?

By , with Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer
If you are concerned about how many calories you burn during strength training, chances are that you are actively trying to lose weight (or might want to ensure you are eating enough to support strength training without losing additional weight). Although strength training is challenging and requires a lot of hard work (especially when lifting heavy weights), it doesn't typically burn as many calories as cardiovascular (aerobic) exercises like running or cycling.
 
There is no simple formula for calculating calories burned during strength training because every strength-training workout is so different. You lift different weights with different muscle groups throughout a single workout, whereas during running, you use the same muscles in the same way for several continuous minutes. Some strength exercises, such as a barbell snatch, use more (and larger) muscles, while other exercises, like a biceps curl, may isolate a very small muscle. Obviously, the amount of energy (calories) used to execute these two different movements is very different.  All we know is that a more challenging routine that uses full-body movements and large muscles (like the glutes and legs) will burn more calories than a strength-training workout that isolates small muscles.
 
While a heart rate monitor (HRM) can be used to calculate calories burned during aerobic workouts, the relationship between heart rate and calorie expenditure is not the same during a strength training workout, so whatever your heart rate monitor may tell you is likely inflated because it thinks you're doing cardio (not strength training). That's a short explanation for why a HRM isn't a good predictor of calories burned during strength training. For more depth on why using a HRM for weight training isn't such a good idea, click here.
 
So do we really know how many calories a person burns while pumping iron? According to this exercise list from Harvard Medical School, a general 30-minute strength training session burns an average of 90 calories (180 calories per hour) for a 125-pound person, 112 calories (224 calories per hour) for a 155-pound person and 133 calories (266 calories per hour) for a 185-pound person. 
 
However, a January 2014 study from Arizona State University (reported by RunnersWorld.com) found that strength-based exercises like lunges, crunches and pull-ups might actually burn more calories than previously thought: 
  • Push-ups burned 8.56 calories per minute (514 calories per hour)
  • Curl-ups (crunches) burned 4.09 calories per minute (437 calories per hour)
  • Lunges burned 9.33 calories per minute (560 calories per hour)
  • Pull-ups burned 9.95 calories per minute (597 calories per hour)
Obviously, no one does pull-ups or lunges for an hour. Any given exercise in a strength-training routine takes mere seconds or minutes, but the point of this study is showing that some exercises may burn more calories than previously thought.
 
So how does this apply to you? How can you measure your strength-training calories burned? The truth is that there is no good way to do it. Even a rigorous strength-training routine, when you factor in rest periods, and time to set up and move between exercises, probably won't add up as much as regular cardio. But even if it might, there's simply no accurate way to tell. So if you want these numbers in order to calculate calories burned for weight loss, be conservative. It's better to underestimate how much you burn when lifting weights than to try to estimate on the high side. SparkPeople's free Fitness Tracker does offer estimated calorie burn levels for a variety of strength training exercises, and these estimates err on the conservative side based on intensity, exercise type, whether the workout was continuous or involved rest, and how complex the movements are.
 
Despite what is likely a low to moderate calorie burn, strength training shouldn't be neglected—especially during weight loss. When losing weight, you will lose some muscle mass along with body fat.  If you don't perform resistance training regularly, up to 30% of the weight you lose can come from muscle tissue, which doesn't do your health, fitness or metabolism any favors in the long run. Strength and muscle mass are essential for overall health and daily functioning.  Need more reasons to pick up a pair of weights and start lifting?  Learn more about the benefits of a regular strength program.
 
Want one more reason to pick up the weights? Strength training boosts your metabolism, helping you burn more calories long after a workout is over.  According to one study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, an intense 45-minute exercise session (cardio or strength training) boosted participant's post-exercise calorie burn for 14 hours after the workout was over. This isn't something you can estimate or measure for tracking purposes, but it is a nice bonus for your efforts!
 
Keep in mind that all information about calories burned (whether from SparkPeople's database or another site) is based on estimates. When setting expectations for weight loss, remember that progress doesn't always happen in the consistent manner you might expect.  Focus on the bigger picture and all of the health benefits that regular strength training provides!
 
How do you track your strength-training workouts? Do you try to estimate calories burned?

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Comments

LIDDY09 12/12/2018
Thank you. Report
DEBVNE 12/10/2018
I wear a HRM when I workout, so I have a fairly accurate idea of how many calories I burn when strength training. That being said, calories aren’t my concern when doing strength work. It’s thoughts of: core strength, functional fitness, stronger bones, building muscle, reducing wiggle and jiggle. Muscle is a fat furnace, so find ways to increase your strength work. It’s truly changed me from the inside out... Report
CHRIS3874 12/9/2018
It has been shown that you continue to burn calories AFTER a strength workout.This felt like the same ANTI MEAT diatribe of an earlier article. It would be refreshing to see an article that was not dripping with the author's biases. Report
97MONTY 12/9/2018
Thanks Report
MSROZZIE 12/9/2018
Interesting article, good need-to-know information! Report
SPINECCO 12/9/2018
Thanks for the information. Report
JPELCHAT 12/9/2018
I track conservatively and then listen to my body I am so much more hungry after 15 of strength training then a 3 mile run. Report
TCANNO 12/9/2018
Thanks Report
_CYNDY55_ 11/30/2018
Thanks Report
BABY_GIRL69 11/28/2018
I can never get enough information if I read this articles over and over again.....Thanks Report
ALEPEQUIJADA 11/26/2018
Thanks! Report
DJ4HEALTH 9/21/2018
Good to know Report
GGRSPARK 8/20/2018
I estimate my calorie burn , plus the Spark guided .
After reading this blog I checked the Harvard list.
Very helpful. Report
SUSANBEAMON 7/6/2018
I do strength training to get stronger. Weight is beside the point. Report
SHOAPIE 7/1/2018
Good to know. Report
MSROZZIE 6/30/2018
Interesting article. Report
SLASALLE 6/30/2018
I use the weight training entry in the SparkPeople database, that knows my height and weight and hopefully gives a fairly accurate estimate. Report
JUSTFURKIDS 6/30/2018
Would be nice to be able to track workouts with RESISTANCE BANDS and my TOTAL GYM. Report
JANET552 6/30/2018
Great info Report
TCANNO 6/30/2018
good to know Report
CHERIRIDDELL 6/30/2018
thanks Report
BARCELONAME 5/9/2018
Awesome Report
EO4WELLNESS 4/11/2018
I ignore calories burned and simply do my best to walk more, move more, strength train more, etc. Report
WONDERGALE 3/28/2018
Thanks! Report
KATHYJO56 3/27/2018
Great information Report
1CRAZYDOG 2/1/2018
Thanks for the information. Report
ROCKS8ROX
I'm always curious about how many calories different exercises burn. Good info! Report
NASFKAB
great ideas very helpful Report
Thanks for the great article. Report
A man is incomplete until he is married.
After that, he is finished.
- Zsa Zsa Gabor Report
I love kettle bell workouts. they are a beast though! Report
good info Report
good to know Report
Great Report
Valuable information Report
Love the per minute breakdown. Thanks! Report
AZMOMXTWO
some good info here Report
This information is inaacurate and based on old inaccurate information. Research studies over the last years have proven that strength training burns more calories than cardio workouts. A side effect is by building muscles basic metabolism is increased (therefore burning more calories every minute when not exercising).

Beware of information that does not have science behind it, peer reviewed research studies are the only to know of proper measurement techniques, analysis, and conclusions were done.

Of more importance than cardio vs strength training might be how the exercise is done. Intensity is the key to burning fat. It takes a ton of walking or strength training with light weight (5 lb, many body weight exercises) to equal a short duration of intense exercise. Toe excise effectively research HIIT (work at 90% of your max - much higher more intense than most people think their max is, followed by barely moving, in short intervals. Or HIT done ballistically - e.g. Heavy weights that take that burst of energy to move it - again much more than most people think they can do. A workout should be "wor" and feel hard! Report
Love cures people - both the ones who give it
and the ones who receive it.
- Karl A. Menninger Report
Great reasons to make sure I include strength training in my weekly workout plan. Thank you. Report
Thanks for the article -- it's something I always wondered about. Report
Good to know. Report
It is becoming obvious that Sparkpeople does not like activity trackers. This is sad as they are a great tool for motivation and for tracking activity. Report
great - thank you Report
I enjoy lifting weights- Report
RAPUNZEL53
Thanks. Report
RO2BENT
It's a crucial part Report
I go to strength class at the gym 3 times a week. I enter it in my SP fitness tracker, but mostly rely on my aerobic daily activity for calorie burn. Report
Great article. Some exercises burn calories, some exercises build muscles, some exercises strengthen the heart. A good balance is the key! Report
Great article. Thanks! Report