What’s the best program to help you lose weight, tone your body…and look better naked? There are many ways to answer this question (and many challenges in coming up with just one answer), so let’s just focus on one aspect: burning calories.
Calorie Burning Potential
First, let’s look at the Calorie Burning Potential (CBP) of the below exercises. A few disclaimers about the CBP and how these numbers were derived. Calories burned by any activity is a function of:
a) level of exertion during exercise
b) fitness level of person exercising
c) the inherent intensity of the exercise itself
I created the “Calorie Burning Potential” score for the below exercises by referencing three sources of information:
1) commonly cited caloric burn associated with each exercise (found primarily on the Internet)
2) the specific caloric burn for each exercise provided to me as part of my Body Fat test in the Bod Pod
3) my use of a heart rate monitor to assess the calories burned during exercise
I used these three data points to develop specific CBPs for each activity based on an hour of exercise (e.g. running for one hour at a vigorous pace burned 800 calories). Note: in a previous post, Best Calorie Burning Exercises, you will see different caloric burn scores due to the duration of the exercise being longer (60 mins vs. 30 mins) and the varying level of intensity. The below ranking still holds:
- Running (800)
- Biking (670)
- Swimming (650)
- Personal Trainers (645)
- CrossFit (645)
- SPX Pilates (622)
- Hot Yoga – Power Vinyasa (557)
- Aerial Conditioning (520)
- The Bar Method (458)
- Weight Lifting (455)
- Barre3 (425)
- Pilates (419)
- Yoga (400)
- Trapeze (375)
I clustered the exercises into 3 discrete groups to provide further insight into which exercise(s) may best suit your needs and goals as they relate to caloric burn.
- Highest Potential: exercises that have a CBP of 600 or above
- Medium Potential: exercises between 450-600 CBP
- Low Potential: exercises below 450 CBP
Highest Calorie Burning Potential Exercises (600 CBP per hour or more):
- Personal Trainers
- SPX Pilates
All of the exercises in this category are calorie-killers; however, I think there is an obvious way to further group this particular set of workouts: costs. Running, biking and swimming all require little to no membership fees or subscription fees (unless you belong to a gym to gain access to a pool or treadmill). The maintenance cost comes into play with shoes and clothing, and of course the sky is the limit on the bike front (I paid $2K+ for my road bike years ago). Regardless, the ongoing costs are relatively low for biking, running, and swimming compared to personal training (as an example).
What Exercise is Best for You within the Highest CBP Group?
This depends on what your fitness goals are and what factors below are the biggest influencers for you (e.g. are costs more of a determinant than the desire to firm up your body?). Below are four of the factors you may want to consider:
Cost: if cost is a major deciding factor you may want to do a combination of the lower cost activities (running, biking, swimming). Perhaps throw in an SPX class or two for that extra boost to see results even faster. I wouldn’t recommend throwing in a CrossFit class randomly because it requires some initial training before you can really ramp up your intensity. CrossFit will cost you about $175 per month assuming you want to work out three times per week.
Shaping & Toning: if you’re looking to not just drop a few pounds, but actually sculpt and shape your body, I’d focus on those exercises in this category that best target key muscle groups that inform the Naked Score, including: glutes, legs, thighs, arms and abs. CrossFit, SPX and personal trainers are all good options (just be careful to vet out your personal trainer and/or CrossFit studio. The quality of personal trainers and CrossFit vary greatly!).
Time: if time is your deciding factor I would put SPX toward the top of my list because it only requires 40 minutes. If SPX is not your thing, I would recommend CrossFit and/or working with a personal trainer. From my experience, the time involved in working with a trainer and participating in CrossFit is pretty similar…if you find the right CrossFit studio.
Guidance & Support: something most fitness articles tend to leave out is the value of having a set exercise regimen that is guided by a trainer and/or instructor vs. a program that requires you to create your own work out. If you know that you need some healthy competition (and someone there to push you a bit harder than you would on your own) I’d again prioritize using a personal trainer or go with a class-type environment like CrossFit or Pilates.
Medium Calorie Burning Exercises (450-600 CBP per hour):
This cluster of exercises doesn’t have the same potential to burn as many calories as the Highest CBP Group, but they still manage to deliver a great workout. Due to the diverse types of exercise in this group it’s important to note the differences between these exercises.
- Hot Yoga – Power Vinyasa
- Aerial Conditioning
- The Bar Method
- Weight Lifting
Cost: with the exception of weight lifting these exercises will run you around $15-$30 per session (depending on the frequency you choose to exercise). The costs associated with weightlifting of course is completely dictated by where you choose to lift weights. In my experience gym memberships run from $25-$150 per month. Bottom line: cost isn’t likely a huge determinant in this category.
Shaping & Toning: all of these exercises score above a “B” grade with their Naked Scores due to their ability to really sculpt participants’ bodies. I’ve seen the best results from doing Hot Yoga 2-3 times per week and then supplementing with 1-2 sessions per week of something that’s going to tone a bit more (e.g. weight lifting or circuit training). Combining lengthening and stretching exercises with strength training exercises has helped me see better results while preventing injuries.
Time: if time is your deciding factor I would consider how much time is required before and after each of these exercises. One of the reasons I needed to stop Hot Yoga was because it was taking so much of my time. It was a 30 minute process to get to the studio, find my place, etc. the class itself was 90 to 120 minutes long, and then I needed another 45 minutes immediately after the workout to get all of the sweat off of me. A shower was absolutely mandatory before doing anything else.
Guidance & Support: again, if you need guidance and a bit of encouragement any of these will do with the exception of weight lifting (of course you could use a personal trainer as you weight lift as well).
Low Calories Burning Exercises (below 450 calories per hour):
If you’re interested in this level of exercise, your top fitness goal is most likely something other than burning the most calories possible during a given workout. However, that doesn’t mean you aren’t getting a great workout with these workouts:
Cost: expect to pay between $15-$50 per session depending on frequency of exercise.
Shaping & Toning: interestingly enough, the exercises in this group don’t exactly shape and tone your body, but in order to do them fully and correctly you need to be in pretty good shape (for the most part). For example, you don’t have to be in great shape to do trapeze a few times, but to do it well (especially the swing and a number of the advanced “tricks”), you will need to be in excellent shape.
Time: the time required for these exercises is all about the same, depending on whether and where you are able to find specific classes or a Trapeze rig.
Guidance & Support: all of these exercises provide support and guidance with some of them having more “down time” and breaks than others. Most likely a combination of these exercises would best meet your needs (and help you achieve your fitness goals). For example, Pilates provides all of the benefits of developing better body control and alignment, while Yoga can provide a great opportunity to focus yourself and, as contrived as it sounds, quiet your mind. My experience with Hot Yoga was very helpful on this front.