How Many Calories Does Strength Training Burn?

I always feel somewhat aggrieved when someone asks me how to lose weight or burn body fat, and after listening to my advice about strength training I see them head straight over to a cardio machine.

There are even those who will ask, “How many calories does strength training burn?”

But they are typically interested in the “here-and-now” calorie expenditure and not willing to take into account the after-burn effect (don’t worry, all will be revealed in a moment).

So, in today’s article I’d like to discuss the number of calories burned while strength training.

I’d also like to talk about the number of calories you will potentially burn afterwards, as well as why strength training will be far better for you than conventional cardio if you are looking to lose weight or burn fat.

How Many Calories Does Strength Training Burn?

When we look at calories expenditure over a 30-minute period between aerobic exercise (traditional cardio) and strength training/weight lifting there really isn’t any contest. A gym featuring cardio equipment, dumbbells, and a bench

Let’s use the example of a 155-pound person:

The number of calories burned from 30 minutes of “general” weight lifting is approximately 112 calories (this figure increases to 223 calories for “vigorous weight-lifting).

Whereas performing an aerobic activity will take this figure up to 260 calories (and can go as high as 391 calories for “vigorous” aerobic activity).

Harvard Medical School has actually published a list of activities and the calories burned while performing these for 30 minutes.

They have used the example of a person weighing 125lbs, 155lbs, and 185lbs.

For general weight lifting the calories burned are 90, 112, and 133 respectively.

For vigorous weight lifting the calories burned are 180, 223, and 266 respectively.

However, I take these figures with a pinch of salt, as they don’t take into consideration a person’s current muscle mass or body fat composition, and various other factors, which all make a HUGE difference in calories burned.

More on this in a moment.

To take it one step further, according to Harvard, this same 155-pound person (from above) pushing a shopping trolley around a supermarket for 30 minutes would burn 130 calories.

So, in terms of calorie expenditure you could say that pushing a shopping trolley around is better for you than general strength training with weights in the gym or at home.

Oh my, I may have created a monster here.

I can just imagine supermarkets, up and down the country, being packed to the rafters over the next few months, with people donning their workout gear, while shoving a trolley full of fruit and veg around.

This is one of the biggest problems I have when it comes to calorie-counting.

I’ve mentioned many times before that I’m not particularly into counting calories, but I know many people are, and this is why I have created my article series around the calories burned doing various activities.

However, I think we all know that half-an-hour of squats and deadlifts will be more healthy, burn more fat, and is likely to help us lose weight, far better than skipping around the aisles of Walmart, Sainsbury’s Tesco’s, Aldi, or Trader Joe’s.

There’s More to Looking Good Than Calories Burned During Exercise

I seem to go from article-to-article and always somehow manage to have a pop at cardio.

I’m sure my regular readers will know by now that I have nothing against cardio, but more the fact how most people choose to perform it.

It’s the long, boring, moderate-intensity, steady-state cardio that really riles me up.

I’ve mentioned many times before that someone can lose a lot of weight by doing this type of cardio, but underneath their clothing they will look just awful, gaunt, ill, and yet they still manage to hold onto rolls of fat.

They have managed to create what is known as “skinny-fat”.

Unfortunately, this type of cardio typically starts burning muscle mass, which is terrible for body composition, the way we look, and actually really bad in the long-run for calorie expenditure.

Put simply, the more muscle mass we have the more energy (calories) our body burns while at rest.

Please, go back and read that sentence once more, and truly understand what it means.

Basically, if you are burning muscle mass through traditional cardio then you will be burning less fat (calories) while you are resting.

Furthermore, if you are using a cardio machine for exercise, and going by the number of calories burned that the machine displays, then you’re in for a shock.

Most cardio machines hugely inflate the number of calories burned.

This is typically because they only take into consideration your age and weight, and no other more relevant factors.

In fact, a study compiled by the University of California found that:

  • Treadmills overestimate calories burned by 13%
  • Stationary Bikes overestimate calories burned by 7%
  • Stair Climbers overestimate calories burned by 12%
  • Elliptical Trainers overestimate calories burned by a whopping 42%

The After-Burn Effect

The reason I prefer strength-training (and high-intensity interval cardio) in terms of calories burned is due to what is known as the after-burn effect.A man sitting in his front room on an exercise machine with pulleys

The official name for this is excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).

With certain types of exercise your body continues to burn energy even after you have stopped the activity.

So, in effect your body isn’t completely “resting” even after you’ve stretched, showered, and enjoyed your post-workout meal.

In fact, with some forms of exercise you are still burning calories for a good 24-48 hours after you’ve finished exercising (although this would usually be an extremely intense and vigorous workout).

As I’ve mentioned, this calorie-burning increases with the more muscle mass your body has.

However, with moderate-intensity, steady-state cardio (think cardio machines or even jogging outdoors), the very second you stop moving the calorie burning effects cease.

There isn’t an exact figure for the after-burn effect, as again this depends on your age, weight, muscle mass, and body fat.

With that said, most people can expect to burn an additional 150-200 calories over the next 10 hours, although this diminishes more as each hour passes thereafter.

So, in effect completing a 30-minute cardio session on your cardio machine of choice (using my original example above) you will burn 260 calories, and nothing more.

But, your 30-minute “general” strength-training session will account for 312 calories over the next 10 hours (112 +200), and probably another 50 calories until the following day. So, 362 calories in total.

Therefore, an additional 100+ calories will be burned through strength training as opposed to cardio.

This is obviously a very crude example, but hopefully it gets my point across.

This is also why I prefer short and intense bouts of cardio, as these produce the after-burn effect as well.

In fact, a simple 16-minute session of Tabata bodyweight workouts will initially burn about the same amount of calories as 30 minutes on a treadmill, and then we have the “extra” 150-200 calories (and probably more) to take into account from the after-burn effect.

What Type of Strength-Training Should You Do?

A man performing a barbell squat

The type of strength training you should perform will very much depend on your current fitness levels and overall goals.

With that said, compound exercises, or multi-joint exercises, are the way forward.

A compound exercise is basically an exercise that works multiple muscle groups at the same time.

The squat is probably the most famous of all compound exercises and will primarily work the quads and glutes, as well as having a secondary effect on the hamstrings and calves.

By using compound exercises, especially those that target the biggest muscles of the body, you will burn more calories during your workout.

You will produce the after-burn effect and burn even more calories after you’ve finished exercising.

And if you do this regularly you will start to build lean muscle mass, which means you’ll continue burning even more calories while at rest.

You can also “strength train” single-joint exercises, but this won’t have anywhere near the same calorie expenditure.

It pains me to say it, but I have often seen people in the gym spend 30 minutes on the treadmill, then make their way over to the weights area and perform some half-hearted lateral raises (single-joint exercise for shoulders) and bicep curls (single-joint exercise for the biceps), and then wink at me while mouthing, “great workout”.

I’ve said it before, so I’ll say it again, a little piece of my soul dies whenever I see this.

I don’t wish to differentiate between sexes, as I believe that both men and women should actually be performing the same strength exercises, just with different weights, sets and rep schemes (although this does depend on strength and size as well – there are plenty of women in my gym who can out-squat me and they look fabulous).

However, in the interest of fairness, here are a couple of different videos demonstrating various compound exercises, but I’I’ll leave you to decide which one you like best, irrespective of whether you’re a man or a woman.

The Only 7 Exercises You Need For Mass

 

5 Compound Exercises | Complete Workout Routine

 

Further Reading in the “How Many Calories…” Series

How Many Calories Does 100 Burpees Burn?

How Many Calories Burned Walking 10,000 Steps?

How Many Calories Does The Average Person Burn in a Day?

How Many Calories Does 100 Squats Burn?

Final Thoughts

At a guess if you’re asking the question, “How many calories does strength training burn?” you are either looking to lose weight or burn body fat.

Firstly, I must congratulate you for considering strength training as an option for achieving these goals, as in my mind it is the best way.

That’s not to say that cardio doesn’t play a role, and a mixture of strength training and the right type of cardio will definitely have you well on your way to producing the body of your dreams.

With that said, hopefully you can now see there’s far more to the equation than simply how many calories you’ll burn during a strength training session.

The after-burn effect comes into play, as well as the impact that increased muscle mass will have on your calorie-burning capabilities.

All-in-all, strength training is a far better way to achieve your body composition goals (in my opinion) than moderate-intensity, steady-state cardio.

Thank you for reading.

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8 thoughts on “How Many Calories Does Strength Training Burn?”

  1. A very interesting and well written article. I am actually looking to buy the x3 Bar now for strength training as I cannot go to the gym at the moment and not been going for a long time. I found it very interesting that the creator of the x3 Bar also places a lot more emphasis on strength training for fat loss than cardio.

    Reply
    • Hi Schalk,

      oohh, the x3 Bar, I’m not a fan unfortunately.

      I know there are many great imitations of the original now, but the main product was grossly overpriced in my opinion ($499 last time I checked).

      I understand that many people are unable to visit gyms areound the world now, and as I’ve mentioned strength training is pretty much essential for everyone, but there are other ways around this without spending $500 on one piece of home equipment.

      I reviewed the Physique Zero program not so long ago, which focuses mainly on building muscle and strength from at-home workouts that require absolutely no equipment.

      The basis of many of the workouts focuses on time-under-tension and using more advanced versions of each exercise with every workout.

      I’ve tried many of the workouts laid out in the program and I can attest to their efficiency.

      A prime example would be something like, rather than trying to perform as many push ups as possible, focus on spending one whole minute to perform 5 push ups – 6 seconds down and 6 seconds back up. I can guarantee just 3 sets of that, which equates to 3 minutes of actual work and 15 reps in total will have your chest, shoulders, and triceps on fire and feeling really pumped.

      Plus you haven’t had to spend a huge amount of money to achieve this.

      Obviously, this is merely my opinion.

      Partha

      Reply
  2. Partha,

    I think most people tend to do a lot of cardio because the equipment will show the number of calories burned. If the weight lifting equipment showed the calories burned, as well as the number of calories burned even after strength training, then more people would flock to this equipment.

    I agree that cardio is long and boring. In order for cardio to do it’s job, it requires a minimum of 28 minutes. After 28 minutes, then the body starts to burn fat. Prior to this time frame, it’s good for cardio health – heart health. However, if the same cardio is done everyday, then the body actually becomes efficient at this one form of cardio.

    Our bodies are very smart and adaptable. The body wants to burn less calories over the course of a period in the most feasible way. Meaning, if I were to do the elliptical machine every day for 30 mins a day, my body, in 3 weeks time will become efficient at doing this exercise. So, instead of needing 28 mins, I would actually have to gradually increase this time and level of resistance in order for my body to not adapt to this elliptical.

    In all my years as a gym rat, I would see the same people on the same equipment day after day. They often would complain in the locker to their friends that they’ve hit a plateau and aren’t losing weight anymore. I would strive to keep my mouth closed more often than not as people tend to get upset with me for being blunt and honest. I stopped trying to help them after so many rude comments.

    Muscle burns fat all day, every day. This is why people that strength train consistently only have to “maintain” their form and not every day. But with overweight people, they have to work harder to get fit to get to this point. Many don’t understand this because they don’t get the instant gratification of, “You burned 726 calories.” While if they simply strength trained every day – different muscles of course, you need to rest them between — they would burn twice that over the course of their workouts.

    Great article and great information. Sorry this is so long, but health is a big topic for me and has been for years. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Oh Katrina,

      Where do I even start?

      Firstly, you have absolutely no need to apologise whatsoever, I loved reading every single word, and could feel myself smiling and nodding in agreement all the way through.

      In fact, I could’ve written this myself. You sound like me, LOL.

      I know this is your first visit to my website, but a quick look around will show you that much of what you’ve mentioned here is exactly what I say on a regular basis.

      There’s a few reasons why I think people flock to cardio machines over the weights area. This is merely my own opinion, but I have an interest in human psychology, so I don’t think I’m too far off the mark.

      Okay, with long bouts of moderate-intensity, steady-state cardio most people will start sweating within a few minutes, and by the end of 30-45 minutes they will typically be drenched in sweat. For many, they associate sweat with a “great workout”.

      However, with many forms of strength training (especially an upper body focused day) you may not achieve anywhere near the same amount of sweat.

      With that said, a heavy lower body-focused day is a different story.

      In fact, a quick push-focused day for me may involve bench press, military press, weighted dips, and skull crushers. I’m done and out of the gym in 40 minutes and to be honest I’ve hardly broken a sweat.

      However, the first 3 compound exercises will have done a great deal for my metabolism, and as long as I’m eating correctly, this will lead to strength and muscular gains, as well as helping me achieve my fat loss goals. But as I say, there’s hardly a bead of sweat on me.

      Additionally, I think some people look at strength training as being too hard – this always upsets me a little. Why would you go to the gym to do the easiest workout you can and avoid something that you believe is difficult? Surely, the whole point of exercise is to push yourself in order to improve yourself physically (and also mentally).

      I actually wrote about another point in a previous article, whereby some will avoid strength training and lifting weights because they were worried about becoming “too bulky”.

      So, I decided to produce a guide to becoming “too bulky”. Admittedly, it was tongue-in-cheek and I was obviously being very sarcastic.

      It basically involved doing the main compound exercises for at least a couple of hours a day. Looking to add weight regularly and also training 6 or 7 days a week. You would also be required to increase your intake of testosterone, human growth hormone, and steroid supplements, and consume at least 5,000 calories a day – if you don’t do this you will never become “bulky” – LOL. I’m not sure how well that went down with most.

      Oh Katrina, I get you about the people doing the same thing day in and day out, and not understanding why they’ve hit a plateau.

      The amount of times I’ve said, “the human body adapts to any activity within a fairly short space of time”, I may as well carry a sign around with me.

      I could go on forever, I feel inspired by you.

      Loved your comment, and I really hope to see you around here more regularly.

      Partha

      Reply
  3. Your article is very informative, and it answered my question, but honestly, I was expecting the number of calories to be a lot higher.

    You’re right! Compound exercises are the way to go, and that’s why I always try to include compound movements into my training regime. I usually focus more on calisthenics since %99 of the exercises require the use of multiple joints.

    I have to be honest. I didn’t really know that I could cause an after-burn effect by doing strength training, and this is definitely something that I will research more thoroughly.

    Do you happen to have a post that describes the after-burn effect in more detail?

    Reply
    • Hi Gorjan,

      Great to hear from you.

      I think this is an issue that many people have with strength training is that they are disappointed by the “initial” calories burned.

      However, merely focusing on how many calories you burn during exercise is a huge mistake.

      As I’ve mentioned, strength training and certain types of high intensity cardio produce the “after-burn effect”, plus the more lean muscle your body possesses, the more fat (and calories) you will burn while at rest.

      I don’t have an article specifically focusing on the after-burn effect, although any articles where I discuss fat loss (which is a high percentage of them) I will go into some detail.

      With that said, you have somewhat inspired me, so watch this space, I will be creating an article around the after-burn effect in the near future.

      Thanks
      Partha

      Reply
  4. Bwehh, why you always mention the squat? ROFLOL
    Then again, my question should really be, why do I hate the squat so much? I don’t know if it’s because I am over-careful (is that English?) with my back or that is has another origin.

    Anyway, calories are strange things. I have an Apple watch and an Oura ring that both count calories and I don’t trust either one of them 🙂 That’s because I accidently found ways to fool those gadgets. Leave it to me to find back doors! But that’s fooling myself in the end.

    Still, it’s interesting to notice how with all the ifs and buts this calorie counting adds during a day. And with the limitations of the gadgets in mind I try to get to the indicated daily goals.

    As always I learned a lot from your article, Partha, thanks for your clear explanation.

    Reply
    • Hahaha, what Hannie?

      Do I mention the squat that much?

      Well, I guess it is known as “The King of Exercises” for a reason.

      Here’s a saying about exercise that I learned about many years ago and it has certainly held me in good stead ever since.

      “The exercise that you hate doing the most is the one you should be doing more of.”

      Basically, the reason we hate certain exercises is usually because they are the best ones for us.

      I will also say that as long as you squat correctly it should never cause any issues with your back or your knees.

      In fact, many people blame the squat for knee and back injuries, but usually it isn’t the exercise that is at fault, but the technique they are using.

      I think I’ve mentioned goblet squats many times before, to me this is the best way to learn the squat technique, and most people can start off with a weight of 20lbs quite easily.

      Hahaha, yes I think that’s the problem with many calories counters nowadays, people try to “cheat” the system.

      That’s why I personally have never paid too much attention to calorie counting, but rather focus on how I’m looking and feeling.

      Aww, thank you Hannie for your kind words, it’s always a pleasure to have you stopping by.

      Partha

      Reply

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