How to Burn More Calories During Your Favorite Workouts

How to Burn More Calories During Your Favorite Workouts

It’s no wonder High-Intensity Interval Training, aka “HIIT,” workouts have become so popular. These workouts alternate intense bursts of heart-pumping exercises with short periods of rest, putting them at a calorie-burning advantage. In fact, you can think of HIIT workouts as a “BOGO” in the fitness world: The exercises creates an oxygen deficit that your body has to work hard to overcome in order to recover, which then helps torch extra calories even after the workout is over.

But, just because you’re all about “HIIT” doesn’t mean your other favorite workouts are a miss. As it turns out, you can easily turbo-charge many of the go-to workouts you already enjoy — from swimming laps to hiking with friends — to make them even more efficient. Here are some trainer-approved, science-backed tips to help you burn more calories during your favorite workouts.

A Primer

A general rule to keep in mind: Your body will adapt to the workload and stress you place on it, explains Emily Paskins, an iFit Personal Trainer. “This means over time your body will begin to plateau and you will stop seeing results if you don’t give it something new to adapt to,” Paskins says.

You can continue to progress, though, by increasing resistance. That can be done by using resistance bands, dumbbells, or incorporating inclines. You can also increase the duration of your workouts by either extending your workout in length or increasing the length of higher intensity intervals.

“The longer you are able to work at a higher rate of intensity, the higher your calorie burn,” Paskins says.

The Workout: Swimming 

The beauty of swimming laps? You can engage a lot of different muscle groups during this low-impact workout.

  • Try EMOMs: When you hop in the pool, incorporate EMOM training, which stands for “Every Minute on the Minute,” suggests Paskins. The way it works: Start a timer and on the minute begin a 50-meter swim. If it takes you 40 seconds to complete, you get 20 seconds to recover. If you complete the next interval in 30 seconds, you get 30 seconds to recover. “It’s a great way to get yourself to push hard and earn recovery,” she says.
  • Change your strokes: Alternate between freestyle, butterfly, backstroke, and breast strokes. “By adding different training styles to your workout regimen, you are able to shock the body regularly to promote change,” Paskins says.
  • Finish laps with just kicks: Try finishing the last quarter of each lap by just using your legs, suggests James Shapiro, a NASM-certified New York City-based personal trainer.
  • Swim in warm water: While you may be able to torch a few more calories swimming in cold water, it’s probably not worth it because your post-workout cravings can negate that slight difference. A study from the University of Florida found that those who exercised in cold water (68 degrees) consumed 44 percent more calories after working out than those who exercised in warm water (91.4 degrees).

Bonus tip: Do you have a hard time remembering how many laps you’ve logged? Bring some pennies with you to the pool and place them at the end of your lap lane. When you’ve finished a lap, push a penny to the side.

The Workout: Pilates

burn more calories: pilates
Photo by Bruce Mars.

Pilates is certainly a fitness fan favorite, using small movements to make a big impact. A 2015 study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that two months of pilates can be a boon for balance, flexibility, and ab muscle endurance.

  • Focus on your muscles: Don’t just go through the motions. Rather, be mindful of the muscles you’re working and be sure to squeeze and connect to each targeted muscle group as you’re going through movements, says Corey Phelps, a pilates and yoga instructor based in the Washington, D.C. area. This causes you to recruit more muscles, increasing your calorie burn and sculpting potential.
  • Increase your weights: Wear ankle or wrist weights during your next pilates session, suggests Phelps. Or, try a weighted vest. “Adding additional weight will not only increase your caloric burn, but added resistance and weight will challenge and tone your muscles, too,” she says.
  • Do super-sets: Instead of resting between exercises, work a different muscle group, suggests Jennie Gall, a fitness trainer and certified yoga and pilates instructor who is the owner of Releve Pilates. As an example, if the plan was to perform three leg exercises and three core exercises, then do legs-core-legs-core-legs-core. She also suggests wearing a heart rate monitor so you’re more aware of when you’re in your cardio and fat-burning zones.

The Workout: Paddleboarding

burn more calories: paddleboarding
Photo by YesManPro.

Paddleboarding is a fun way to work out in the warmer months. If you’ve tried the water sport, you may have wondered: “Am I getting a good workout in?” You absolutely can, but you’ve got to be in proper form. Also, since you’re on water, doing exercises on your paddleboard (hello, planks!) will help you engage your stabilizer muscles.

  • Deepen your stance: You can burn more calories by deepening your standing squat while on the paddleboard, and reaching wider with the paddle, says Andrea Metcalf, a Chicago certified personal trainer and certified nutritionist. “The further the paddle is away from the board, the more the core has to stabilize the body and your board,” she explains.
  • Add in bodyweight movements: Instead of just paddling around the lake, add in some bodyweight movements on your paddleboard, suggests Greg Peters, a trainer with Equinox in Lincoln Park. Try this by doing 3 minutes of paddlework, followed by 15 bodyweight squats, 15 push-ups, and 15 bodyweight good mornings. Including these movements involves more muscles, resulting in more work and more calories expended, he explains.

The Workout: Yoga 

burn more calories: yoga

While yoga has been around for 5,000 years, the ancient practice is hip to trends. (Here are some of the biggest yoga trends that have come about in the past year). Yoga has far-reaching health benefits — the practice can help you increase flexibility as well as improve your heart health. Yoga can also be great for your waistline because it encourages mindful eating and helps with weight control, according to Harvard Medical School experts.

  • Challenge yourself on a mental level: When you’re practicing yoga, think about making a true mind-body connection and really feel your muscles working, says Katie Schmidt, a certified yoga teacher and personal trainer with Equinox in Highland Park. “If you’re passive during your yoga routine, your body doesn’t burn as many calories,” she explains. “It takes more calories and more energy to focus on taking your poses to the next level and actively engaging muscles that are working in each pose.”
  • Hold those hard poses longer: One way to up your calorie burn is to hold those tougher poses — like warrior, tree, and airplane — for longer, Peters says.
  • Use a thicker mat: The unstableness of the squishy mat makes more muscles work, Metcalf suggests. “A harder surface is easier to balance and stabilize on than a softer one,” she says.

The Workout: Cycling

burn more calories: cycling
Photo by Roman Pohorecki.

Whether you’re on an indoor stationary bike or peddling outdoors, cycling is a low-impact sport with plenty of health benefits. Among the latest studies is one that came out in March 2018 that shows that cycling can slow down the effects of aging and help keep your muscles and immunity in good shape as you get older.

  • Up your resistance: “Push your resistance as high as possible while still holding your target RPMs,” suggests Sarah Pelc Graca, a NASM-certified personal trainer who teaches at Cyclebar Fulton Market, located in the heart of Chicago’s West Loop. Higher resistance, she explains, forces your muscles to work harder, which translates to a higher calorie burn. Plus, it helps tone your hamstrings, quads, and glutes. Bonus!
  • Focus on your hamstrings: One way to increase intensity when cycling is to focus on the hamstring work, Metcalf says. To do this, focus more on the pull up of the foot while keeping it flat in the pedal.
  • Add upper-body resistance: If you’re using a stationary bike, try adding in some upper-body exercises to help tone the upper body as well, says Clarence Hairston, certified personal trainer and fitness director for The Bay Club Company in San Francisco. “You can use the handlebars to work the chest, biceps, and core with simple exercises as you’re riding,” he says.
  • Challenge a partner: “Grab a partner at or above your level and compete to see who can get further distance in the same amount of time,” says Schmidt. “This will up your calorie burn and give you bragging rights.”
  • Change up your route: The terrain, route, and length of rides should vary each day, says Léa Thompson, personal trainer and nutritionist at Daily Fitness Zone. For example, day one may include a steady route, but day two could include a route with more hills. Day one could include a shorter route at a faster speed and day two could include a longer ride on different terrain. Of course, the more hills and the rockier the route, the harder a workout it is, and more calories are burned, she says.

The Workout: Running 

burn more calories: running
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom.

Running is one of the best forms of exercise for burning calories, notes Meghan Kennihan, a Chicago certified personal trainer and running coach. The average person can burn about 8.5 calories when moving at a comfortable pace, she says. “However, the more miles you log, the more efficient your body becomes at running and the fewer calories it burns,” she says.

  • Hit the trails: Skip the treadmill and opt for the trails instead, suggests Kennihan. You can burn up to 10 percent more calories when you walk or run outdoors rather than on a treadmill, even if you’re going the same speed, she says. “The treadmill pulls your foot along so it makes running easier,” she says. But when you’re outside, you’re using more energy to propel yourself over the ground and pushing against the wind, grass, rocks, and uneven ground.
  • Add inclines: If you do need to run on the treadmill, add in some inclines, suggests Kennihan. Warm up for 10 minutes, then set the incline for 1 percent and increase it 1 percent every 2 minutes until you get to an incline of 8 to 10 percent, then go back down to 1 percent, she suggests. Try to keep your speed the same throughout the inclines. “Shorten your stride and lift your knees as the incline gets higher and higher,” she suggests.
  • Combine running and strength: Every 10 minutes of your run, stop at the corner if you’re outside or jump off the treadmill if you’re inside. Do a bodyweight strength circuit that includes 10 reps each of push-ups, air squats, lunges, dips, and jumping jacks. Then, resume your run.

The Workout: Hiking 

You don’t need any studies to tell you that being in the great outdoors feels, well, great! While you’re out enjoying nature, a few easy adjustments can supersize the benefits of your next hike.

  • Increase the tempo: Hairston suggests jogging up some of the smaller inclines or adding squats or jumping jacks when you reach stopping points.
  • Add weight: Adding some extra weight to your body with either a weight vest or a backpack can help your torch more calories, Hairston says.
  • Do lunges: Add in some lunging motions and push off each leg from the hips to engage the glutes while you’re hiking, suggests Shapiro. Or, try doing high knee steps with kickback motions if the incline isn’t too high.
  • Hike with poles: A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that hiking poles increase calorie burn even though you don’t notice you’re working harder.


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Brittany AnasBrittany Anas is a freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness, and travel writing. She also contributes to Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, Trip Savvy, Simplemost, Orbitz, and Eat This, Not That! She spent a decade working at daily newspapers, including The Denver Post and the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and she is a former federal background investigator. In her free time, Brittany enjoys hiking with her gremlin-pot belly pig mix that the rescue described as a “Boston Terrier” and coaching youth basketball. She also works with domestic abuse survivors, helping them regain financial stability through career coaching. Follower her on Twitter and Instagram