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

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
NASFKAB
very useful article thanls for sharingr
Report
Great! Now I can keep yhis strength going hard. Report
Calories Burned Calculator has it @ 24 cals per 5 minutes per Strength Training exercise on my Soloflex machine for my specific body weight and height. I had my DH google it ~Calories Burned Calculator~ and there you can put in 4 pieces of data ~ht.,wt., age,gender~ and you will get the numbers for most anything from every day ~like walking upstairs to working out~specificly most whatever you are looking for{ when it is not listed in SP} and it gives a general idea. I like that versus not knowing at all or going by the basis of a 150 person ,which I am not. Check it out and see if it helps you! Report
BEIJENDORF
Nicole Nichols, you've misunderstood or not had access to the scientific article these findings are based on.

You wrote "Obviously, no one does pull-ups or lunges for an hour. Any given exercise in a strength-training routine takes mere seconds or minutes".

In the original publication, the calculated METs values were for 20 repetitions of an exercise (for a maximum of 60 seconds) followed by 5 minutes of rest. The rest period is INCLUDED in the revised calorie consumption.

In other words, the calculated calorie consumption includes both the exercise AND the 5-minute rest period between sets. Report
BCHESTERM
How about trying this. Go for a one hour run, then another day do an hour of strength training, and see how tired you are after each one and how long it takes to recover after each one. I'm more tired and take longer to recover my breath after strength training. It all depends on how hard you run or how hard you train. But interval training tends to burn more than a steady pace does. Report
MLD1983
The best thing to do is use strength routines that involve complex moves. Instead of basic standing curls, do them in a lunge, or if you're really bold, come up from a lunge to one leg and then do the curl...take it further and add a shoulder press; that's legs, core, shoulders and arms all in one move. The more muscles you incorporate into a move, the harder your body works, and that will put you into the aerobic state. Not only is this approach more efficient but less time consuming than doing cardio and strength training separate. Report
I tend to start with cardiovascular when I do a strength training workout. I think that interval training is better because you tend to burn more calories! I do use a heart rate monitor because their is calories being burned. I will do weights every other day and sometimes incorporate some lower body or other exercises in the equation. What works for one person, might not work for another. You just have to experiment. Report
I used to work in a clinic that also had a weight loss clinic and the personal trainer told us a good general rule of thumb was that if you are doing a "light" workout you burn 4 calories a minute, for a "moderate" workout, which she said included strength training, you burn 7 calories a minute and for a full-on "hard" workout you burn 10 calories a minute. I have gone by that rule for many years, not sure how accurate it is but I use it to gauge the calories burned during my ST. Report
LEGPRESS
If loosing weight is the main goal, depending on your condition or age lower body heavy weight workouts with lots of reps will do wonders. Such as leg pressing or dead lifts.
While cardio workouts burn more sooner, weight lifting burn more overall as added muscles burn more calories at rest and while you sleep.
Strong legs and back are more important the older you get.
You want that bubble butt? Contract your gluts as you do your deadlifts. Report
FITNESS386
Lift heavy and you will reap benefits from it. Strength training is not only for your body but also for your mind! Stick with compound lifts if weight loss is the main goal. Compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench press, military press, and rows burn more calories per rep than any other exercises. Ladies and gentlemen, lift! Good luck. Report
It is common for me to burn 500 calories, measured by a polar watch, when doing ST (heavy barbell or kettlebell), but there is also after burn (when your muscles are recovering and need more fuel to recover). And metabolic ST workouts can raise your metabolism for up to 38 hours. Also as others have said, more muscles increase resting metabolism.

Best thing, find a good workout where if you do that you lose weight and keep doing it (e.g. a good workout pushes you each time with more weight / more reps etc.). Report