What Workout Burns The Most Calories?

Calories. In the fitness and health world, as well as the nutrition world, you hear people go on and on about calories. Nutritional facts on foods put calories in big old bold letters, along with fat and sugar content. We’ve been programmed, as a society, for many years to count calories and fat intake, and we directly equate this to how healthy, or unhealthy something is.

Well, burning calories is indeed important, and we’re going to talk about some high-intensity exercises to do just that. Before we do, though, let’s take a moment to understand what calories actually are, how they relate to fitness, and why cutting calories in excess can harm you.

Calories are, put simply, units of energy a food contains. Carbohydrates and sugars are higher-calorie foods than proteins or foods that are mostly fiber and vitamins.

That said, caloric intake is more complicated than “too much is bad.” You need a minimal caloric intake daily because this is the fuel your body uses. Your body is always using fuel, even when you’re sleeping (albeit that’s the least amount of fuel you ever burn). I’m burning fuel just sitting here writing this, and you’re burning fuel as you sit and read it.

The trick is, this is a very minimal fuel burn versus physical activity. We evolved to be a pretty active species, being hunter-gatherers originally, always on the move, always foraging, chasing prey, and evading predators.

When we figured out how to build civilizations, create specialism, and begin farming, we still had a lot of physical activity. Life was hard, very hard, until not that long ago. Our modern, lazy lifestyles are a recent development of the past half a century. This change is why obesity is on the rise so severely. We blame television and video games for this, but in truth, those are just symptoms – machines do a lot of the hard work for us that we used to do ourselves. Modern food production means that first-world residents often don’t miss many meals.

One of the solutions for this, obviously, is a balanced diet. It’s not about cutting calories out aggressively but reaching a happy medium of what we need. Since everyone’s body varies wildly, some need more caloric intake than others, and some require more intense exercise to burn excess calories than others. Before you adopt a regimen, consult a physician, a dietician, and a fitness expert to determine what your necessary caloric intake is, and the volume of exercise needed to burn a base unit.

The bright side is, if you’re willing to endure the intensity needed to burn calories, you can be a foodie if you want! Screw it, have that extra slice of pizza, just accept that you’ll have to run a little further to pay for it. Fair trade really!

Now, I’m going to break the mold here, and categorize these into two sets – exercises for outdoorsy people, and exercises for people who aren’t. For a lot of people, it’s not the physical exhaustion or hard work of calorie-burning activities that turn them off; it can be a hardship being outside for lengths of time. Not everyone likes being outdoors or working out with other people. That’s fair.

For the Outdoorsy

Outdoorsy people have more options than the non-outdoorsy. So if you do enjoy going out, being in nature, and being around other people, you have a large variety of engaging and effective activities. The social aspect of these can be enriching as well.

When combined with wearable technologies and gamification of activities like running, jogging, and backpacking, you have a lot of options to burn calories and have a lot of fun with friends while doing so. For example, geocaching is a great way to incentivize hikes and long walks.

Fast-Paced Running

Running is something our ancestors did all the time, be it chasing food, or striving not to be food themselves. This is why we have such long, articulated legs. It is also why so much of our complex musculature is in our legs.

Running works most of our muscle groups to some level, to keep balance, to aid in locomotion, to keep a proper posture, or bearing the mechanical work itself. The advantages of running are that it’s good for your joints, it promotes fresh air and getting out there, and it’s the simplest thing you can do. All you need is a pair of shoes (or not, if you’re running somewhere safe enough to barefoot it, like the beach).

However, for running to be super effective, you have to run for about an hour at about 8mph, to burn around 1,074 calories (estimate for a 200lb individual). However, these are hard lab numbers – the best way to handle this is to do sprints of 10-20 seconds (alternately 100-200 meter distances), with recovery periods of power walking between them. Running full out for an hour isn’t something a lot of us can do.

Also, bear in mind, running is not good for people with pulmonary or cardiovascular issues, or those with respiratory or severe joint problems. Jogging is an option in these cases, or power walking on a treadmill.


If you don’t like nature or long walks, you’re not going to like backpacking, and that’s fair. For the outdoorsy or nature lover, however, this is an excellent and engaging way to burn some serious
calories, while enjoying the splendor of nature.

While you’re not running intensely, as opposed to, well, running, you’re carrying a lot of weight across varied terrain. This allows you to burn up to 637 calories an hour at 200 pounds, while also building muscle and strengthening your back and legs. If you love nature, it’s a perk too.

Water Skiing

This activity doesn’t initially sound like much of a workout. However, when you consider the amount of work it puts on your torso, arms, and legs to maintain form, verticality, and steering, you see that it’s actually a pretty strenuous activity. It’s also fun!


You can burn up to 683 calories per hour (at 200 pounds) rollerblading. It works your glutes, your back, and your core to achieve balance. It is also a fun, free-form style of exercise that while slightly dangerous without proper gear, most people can learn and enjoy. It’s not just for 90s kids or the young – rollerblading with proper safety is growing in popularity among middle-aged and even senior citizens these days!


We’re going to lump these sports together, as they’re ultimately a fun, high-intensity aerobic workout and endurance test. Tennis, racquetball, basketball, and flag football are among the most active and aerobic sports going, and they’re all fun and easy to pick up. You don’t have to be good at these to get a great workout from them, either! These also have the benefit of being optionally indoor sports if you have access to such facilities, and aren’t much of an outdoorsy person.

In the case of flag football, you can burn up to 728 calories per hour, basketball at about the same, and racquetball, 637 calories per hour. The number for racquetball may be lower, but it can be a longer game with rest periods being less detrimental, allowing you to pursue this
activity for more extended periods of time.


Jogging is great for people who can’t or won’t go backpacking or handle the demands of running. We alluded to this a moment ago, but jogging does merit its own look-see here. You can sustain a jog much longer than a run, at a fairly leisurely 5mph, and burn up to 755 calories an hour. Jogging is also a lot safer for cardiac, pulmonary, and joint issue sufferers, and is, unsurprisingly, popular among older people. I know a 78-year-old woman that jogs daily, and she can outpace me sometimes.

Running Up Stairs

This one isn’t for everyone, as most of us hate stairs when we just have to stroll up the things. It’s also something that, depending on weather and environment, could be dangerous. However, if you can do this safely, you can burn a whopping 819 calories (for a 200lb person) per hour. Since you’re repeatedly lifting your weight against gravity at a steady pace, working most of your body and your core, it can be a great workout. Rocky was onto something with this, just be careful!

For the Non-Outdoorsy

Some people appreciate nature only from afar. Some people aren’t of a terribly social bent either, preferring to be homebodies. This could be in part due to climate, as many parts of our country have particularly nasty summers or winters. Still, others may just live in areas where it’s not very practical to spend a lot of time out and about.

No matter why outdoorsy activities are off the list, there are still plenty of activities you can pursue which burn serious calories. Many activities can be completed from the comfort of your garage or living room. Some of them may still require you to go to a public place, but at least it’s probably a climate-controlled.

Vigorous Swimming

If you don’t have a swimming pool, then you will need to visit the local YMCA or a full-featured gym or spa to get the most out of a good swim. However, unless you live on the dark side of the moon, such a facility is rarely far away nowadays, nor is access terribly costly.

Swimming burns calories in two ways; one is the workout, the other is maintaining the average 98.6-degree body temperature. Pool water tends to be cool, but not cold, at around 80 degrees, thus acting as a heat sink. Between that and the physical workout of swimming vigorous laps, you can burn up to 892 calories for a 200lb person, per hour.

Of course, this activity requires you to be a competent swimmer and not to be sensitive to chlorine. However, it’s a safe activity popular among all age groups, growing in particular with senior citizens.

Jumping Rope

Jumping rope is often looked in popular media as an activity reserved for little girls. The truth is it’s an excellent aerobic workout, and it keeps your reflexes and coordination in tip-top shape as well. Working most major muscle groups, stimulating heavy breathing, and elevating your heart rate, you can burn up to 1,074 calories per hour for a 200lb person. Don’t overdo it though, sticking to around 100 reps, walking in place for a minute, and then resuming. This keeps you from losing your rhythm and reduces strain on your legs.


Most martial arts are good varied workouts, especially the more advanced you become. Taekwondo, a grappling-oriented Okinawan martial art, has been practiced for two millennia. Heavy on speed, focus, and strength via one-on-one competition and sparring, you can burn up to 937 calories per hour for a 200lb person. It is more social, yes, but has benefits in discipline, self-defense and of course, in fitness.

High-Impact Aerobics

This category is pretty obvious, really caught on in the 1980s, and remains strong. High-impact aerobics raises the heart rate, works the core and the legs, and can burn a vast amount of calories. The nice thing is that you can learn some routines and do it alone to music, to instructional videos, you name it.

Rowing Machine

This activity may require you to go to a gym unless you have a slightly expensive machine at home. However, rowing machines work your legs, arms, and your core very hard in slow but powerful motions, burning a lot of calories in the process. Depending on resistance, reps, and duration, the caloric burn can vary.

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