Ten Ways to Burn More Calories When You Work Out
- By incorporating one or more of the 10 tips presented in this article into your exercise regimen, you can potentially shorten your workout while achieving a higher calorie burn
- Tips from listening to music and drinking coffee or adding weights and using inclines can help you take your fitness routine to the next level
- To be successful with respect to exercise, you must be willing to change and experiment to find what works best for you, and continue experimenting as time goes on
To lessen the chances you’ll get bored and feel tempted to stop exercising, it’s important to occasionally revisit your routine and make any necessary changes. It’s easy to fall into a rut, doing the same exercise program over and over again, while realizing few benefits.
Eventually, you’ll lose your enthusiasm and very likely start making excuses for why you no longer exercise. Now is a good time to check out 10 tips and proven techniques, presented by Health.com,1 designed to help you burn more calories when you work out.
By incorporating one or more of them into your routine, you may become more enthused about exercising regularly. As you know, regular exercise is a vital aspect of achieving optimal health.
1. Listen to Music
Music and exercise have long been paired together. You may be among those who believe a pair of high-quality earbuds is nearly as essential to your workout as a good pair of athletic shoes. If that’s the case, then you’ll be happy to know listening to music is an easy and fun way to fuel your calorie burn.
Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison2 revealed students who listened to music while exercising on a stationary bike achieved more health benefits compared to those who biked in silence.
Additionally, music with a fast (160 beats per minute) or medium (100 beats per minute) tempo was shown to fuel the participants’ exertion more than music with a slow tempo (60 beats per minute).
Specifically, researchers found students who listened to music during an eight-minute biking workout increased their average heart rate by 10 beats per minute, increased their exertion by 5 percent and burned 7 percent more calories than the non-music group.
A 2010 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports3 also demonstrated cyclists worked harder when listening to fast music as compared to music with a slow tempo. However, music that is too fast was also shown to detract from the workout.
Researchers concluded songs with tempos between 120 and 140 beats per minute seem to benefit exercisers the most.
2. Choose an ‘Exercise Buddy’
Exercise has long been as much of a social outlet as it is a means through which to achieve optimal health. Identifying an “exercise buddy” adds a level of accountability to your workout program. If you plan to meet a friend at the gym but wake up feeling like you’d rather not go, chances are you will be more motivated to honor your commitment because your friend will be waiting for you.
Research conducted at Kansas State University (KSU) revealed you are more likely to achieve greater benefits from exercise when you work out with someone you think is fitter and stronger than you.
In fact, study participants increased their workout time and intensity by as much as 200 percent when exercising with a partner they perceived as better!
Brandon Irwin, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at KSU and principle investigator in the study, designed various exercise scenarios to determine if individuals engage in more intense physical activity when alone, paired with a virtual partner or engaged in team competition. Said Irwin:4
“People like to exercise with others and make it a social activity. We found that when you’re performing with someone who you perceive as a little better than you, you tend to give more effort than you normally would alone. …
By the last session, participants in the team group were exercising almost 160 percent longer than those in the partner group, and nearly 200 percent longer than those exercising as individuals.”
3. Standing Builds Core During Exercise
The goal of any exercise is to involve as many muscles as you can. You will burn more calories by involving as much of your body as possible in your workout. If you go for a brisk walk, for example, move your arms in a motion that helps propel your legs forward.
If you work out using an elliptical, Stairmaster or treadmill, you can strengthen your core by only using the rails for balance. This means no leaning on the rails! Your core muscles are strengthened when you engage them to keep your body upright and in motion while using these machines.
Maintaining good posture and correct form also will help you avoid injury. As much as possible, keep your head up and your eyes facing out. Resist the temptation to hunch your shoulders, slump on the rails or stare at your feet.
If you find yourself frequently leaning on the rails, you may need to temporarily slow the pace of your workout, shorten your workout or take occasional breaks.
4. Using Your Arms Adds More Fat-Burning Oxygen
Whenever your exercise is focused on your legs, see if there is a way to also involve your arms. As mentioned above, when you go for a walk, pump your arms and your feet will follow.
A study5 published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport demonstrated exercisers use more fat-burning oxygen when involving their arms while using an elliptical machine than when using their legs alone.
While it may feel strange and will likely draw some curious looks at the gym, walking on the treadmill with your arms raised above your head will intensify your workout.
Certified personal trainer Sandra Hahamian, who works with clients employed by businesses such as Facebook and Google, told Shape:6 “You may look a little funny, but bringing your arms up really raises your heart rate.”
5. Adding HIIT Can Shorten Workout Time
I’ve mentioned high-intensity interval training (HIIT) many times before and, more recently, variable-intensity interval training (VIIT). Both programs are a great way to reduce the time you spend working out while dramatically increasing the benefits you receive from exercise.
A 2016 study7 involving three groups of exercising men — a control group, a group doing sprint interval training (SIT) and a group doing moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) — underscored the value of brief intervals of high-intensity exercise. After 12 weeks of workouts, researchers concluded brief strenuous activity performed during shorter exercise sessions is as effective as working out for longer periods of time at a moderate pace. The study authors stated:8
“[W]e report that a SIT protocol involving three minutes of intense intermittent exercise per week, within a total time commitment of 30 minutes, is as effective as 150 minutes per week of MICT for increasing insulin sensitivity, cardiorespiratory fitness and skeletal muscle mitochondrial content in previously inactive men.”
As with all types of exercise, HIIT and VIIT also trigger mitochondrial biogenesis, which is important for longevity. By reversing age-associated declines in mitochondrial mass, you slow down the aging process. As noted in a 2011 review9 published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, increasing evidence suggests “exercise can induce mitochondrial biogenesis in a wide range of tissues not normally associated with the metabolic demands of exercise.”
As explained in my book, “Fat for Fuel,” because mitochondrial dysfunction seems to be at the core of most chronic disease, activities like HIIT and VIIT that support mitochondrial biogenesis will strengthen your body and help it fight back. Be sure to allow ample recovery time between workout sessions because as intensity increases, frequency diminishes.
6. Weights Help You Burn More Calories
Adding weights to your workout can be an effective means of not only creating more intensity, but also burning more calories. Walking outdoors or on a treadmill while carrying hand weights works well if you are in reasonably good shape.
If you are new to this, I recommend you start with a 1-pound (0.45 kilogram) dumbbell in each hand. Focus on swinging your arms naturally and bending your elbows slightly, while keeping your arms close to your body.
You’ll be more likely to stress your joints and risk injury if you use overly heavy weights or swing your arms too high or unnaturally. Another option for adding bulk during exercise is to wear a special garment that gives you control over how much additional weight you carry.
A 2016 study10 sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) proposes that wearing a weighted compression shirt that holds additional weight close to your body’s core can increase your calorie burn by 7 percent during a typical workout.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, led by John Porcari, Ph.D., professor of exercise sport science. Porcari offers the following cautions you should keep in mind when using weights during exercise:11
- Do not use weights if you have existing cardiovascular or joint problems
- Do not use weights on your extremities heavier than 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms)
- Do not run while wearing ankle weights
Regarding the popularity of wearing weighted clothing during exercise, ACE chief science officer Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., states:12
“Weighted compression shirts or vests … place the load more centrally on the body, making them likely a more comfortable and safer choice. Another potential benefit associated with adding weight in the form of a compression shirt is it allows for greater freedom of movement with the hands and arms during a wide variety of exercises and physical activities.”
The video featured below, produced by SixPackFactory, shows you how to add weights and inclines when doing pushups.
7. Inclines Can Burn More Calories
Leveraging the effects of gravity during your workouts is another useful tool to burn more calories. After all, your body must work exponentially harder to counteract the forces of gravity when you bike, run or walk on an incline. Exercising on an incline not only intensifies your workout, but it also forces your body to activate more muscle groups beyond those used when you are walking on level ground.
Research performed at the University of Colorado13 looked at muscle activity for the calves, glutes, hamstrings and quads when study participants walked at varying inclines and rates of speed.
They found muscle activity increased significantly with the introduction of inclines of just 3 degrees, with hamstrings displaying 635 percent and glutes 345 percent of the muscular activity of level walking. Muscle activity increased even more when higher rates of speed were introduced with inclines. The study authors concluded:14
- Hip, knee and ankle extensor muscle activities increase with steeper uphill grade
- Only knee extensor muscle activities increase with steeper downhill grade
- Changes in muscle activity with grade are more pronounced at faster walking speeds
8. Caffeine Can Enhance Exercise Performance
Caffeine has been shown to boost your metabolism and can help enhance exercise performance. Caffeine gives you a “lift” because it blocks the normal action of adenosine, which normally slows down your brain’s activity and induces sleepiness. Adenosine forms from the breakdown of ATP or adenosine triphosphate, the molecule that provides cellular energy.
Research by Ori Hofmekler, author of “The Warrior Diet: Switch on Your Biological Powerhouse — for High Energy, Explosive Strength and a Leaner, Harder Body” and “Unlocking the Muscle Gene: Trigger the Biiological Mechanisms That Transform Your Body and Extend Your Life,” showed coffee increases your metabolism by up to 20 percent and can be quite beneficial if consumed before exercise.
In addition to providing you with a temporary metabolic boost, other functional benefits of a preworkout cup of coffee include:
- Enhanced memory
- Improved blood circulation
- Increased endurance
- Muscle preservation
- Pain reduction
When used before exercise, coffee will give you a good boost. Because coffee affects your muscles, you do not want to drink coffee immediately after exercising.
Also make sure it’s organic, and drink it black (sans sugar or milk). While it may be a bit confusing, coffee, like exercise, inhibits one of your body’s inherent mechanisms called mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin). mTOR increases protein synthesis and builds muscle — after exercise. (Remember, you do not build muscle while exercising; but rather, muscle building occurs afterward.) Says Hofmekler:15
“[T]he timing of coffee is very important. Before exercise, it will work with the exercise itself. It really inhibits the mTOR, but at the same time, it will stimulate energy production, burning fat and increasing performance. After exercise, it’s not time for coffee. It’s time for a recovery meal … good-quality whey protein.”
9. Drink Water Before and After Exercise
As you know, pure, clean water is essential for your survival. If you are an athlete or exercise regularly, you must get your fluid/water replacement issue right to avoid the possibility of becoming dehydrated. On the other hand, you also do not want to overhydrate. As a general rule, drink to thirst.
While severe dehydration can be life threatening, even mild dehydration is problematic — causing cramping, headaches, irritability and impaired cognition. Lack of adequate hydration will most definitely affect your sports performance and diminish the effectiveness of your workouts. As reported by CNN, sports dietitian Amy Goodson said:16
“A 2 percent dehydration level in your body causes a 10 percent decrease in athletic performance. [T]he more dehydrated you become, the worse performance gets.”
A lack of proper hydration during exercise diminishes blood circulation, which can make muscles cramp up. If you’ve ever had them during exercise, muscle cramps can be extremely uncomfortable and painful. Keep in mind changes in your potassium and sodium levels due to sweat loss may also contribute to cramping.
Although you may be tempted to drink sports drinks before your workout to boost your energy, or afterward to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes, you’re better off sticking to regular water or coconut water.
Sports drinks contain as much as two-thirds the sugar of sodas as well as many artificial flavors, food coloring and high-fructose corn syrup — all of which are bad for your health. Remember that low-calorie and sugar-free versions most likely contain artificial sweeteners, which are even worse for you than fructose.
You can easily make your own rehydration beverage by simply adding a small pinch of natural, unprocessed salt to your water. I recommend Himalayan sea salt which, unlike processed salt, contains 84 unique minerals and trace minerals your body needs for optimal functioning.
10. Listen to Your Body During Exercise
While it may be tempting to flip through a magazine, read a book, text or watch TV while walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike, you may realize more benefits if you tune in to your body during exercise. Daniel Frankl, Ph.D., kinesiology professor at California State University, Los Angeles, told Health.com:17
“[These activities] take your attention away [from] your workout so you may not be giving it your best effort. Paying attention to your effort — your heart rate, your breathing, the sensation in your muscles — helps you maintain a steady effort so you can burn more calories.”
One concern I have about distractions during workouts is the potential risks for accidents and injuries that accompany them. For example, while focusing on a book or screen, you may inadvertently stumble or trip, not notice your shoelace has come untied, or begin slouching or slumping on the equipment.
As told to Outside Online,18 Dr. John Higgins, chief of cardiology and director of exercise physiology at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital in Houston, Texas, says there are benefits to turning off certain distractions while you work out: “Exercise can often help clear your mind and help you solve problems. If you’re now focused on the movie, you may lose that valuable benefit.”
The Importance of Exercise for Optimal Health
Having been an avid exerciser for nearly 50 years, I wholeheartedly believe a comprehensive fitness routine is essential for optimal health. No matter your level of physical activity, it’s important to make a realistic evaluation of your situation and continually motivate yourself to greater levels of achievement with respect to your personal exercise program.
Listen to your body and be willing to modify, or completely change up, your routine as your life and health circumstances change. To be successful, you must be willing to change and experiment to find what works best for you, and to continue experimenting as time goes on. Start today by choosing one or more of the tips suggested above and incorporate them into your current routine.
If you need help figuring out which types of exercise might be best for you, check out my Fitness Plan. Click on the button below to get started.
- 1, 17 Health.com March 23, 2017
- 2 Journal of Advanced Student Science 2011; 01 (PDF)
- 3 Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports August 2010 Aug;20(4):662-9
- 4 ScienceDaily November 26, 2012
- 5 Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport December 2006; 77(4): 507-13
- 6 Shape, 5 Unique Ways to Make the Most of Your Treadmill
- 7, 8 PLOS ONE April 26, 2016; 11(4)
- 9 Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism October 2011; 36(5): 598-607
- 10, 11 American Council on Exercise PROSOURCE March 2016
- 12 Globe Newswire February 17, 2016
- 13, 14 Gait & Posture January 2012; 35(1): 143–147
- 15 Dr. Mercola Interview with Ori Hofmekler, YouTube
- 16 CNN July 2, 2015
- 18 Outside Online February 12, 2015