The 1,000 Calorie Workout…Fact or Fiction?


What’s the quickest way to grab the attention of an unsuspecting, and oh so vulnerable fitness enthusiast?  Well, short of throwing a seductively airbrushed photo that would be better suited for a porn set than the cover of a health magazine, hitting them with the tried-and-true Burn ____ Calories in 1 Hour, GUARANTEED! is a pretty good start….

Of course, the fill-in-the-blank figure is always something mind-blowing.  Promises of slashing through 800, 900, or even 1,000+ calories in a single workout aren’t all that uncommon.  These claims are often associated with those large group fitness classes you’ll find at your gym, on the cover of aforementioned fitness mags, or tied to DVD programs and other for-sale merchandise.  Marketers know these cold-hard numbers are going to stop people in their tracks and make them say, “WOW!  A thousand calorie workout!?  Sign me up!”  If only things we’re this simple – why would anyone do that “wasteful” 500 calorie workout when that 1,000 calorie behemoth was only a few page clicks away?

Today we’re going to look into these calorie burning claims, help you better understand what goes into total calories burned, and determine whether or not some of these workouts actually deliver what they’re promising.

Putting The 1,000 Calorie Workout to the Test

Who here wouldn’t like to cut through 1,000 calories in just one, single workout?  Sounds pretty amazing right?  That’s almost half a pound of body fat lost, PER workout.  Multiply that by 5 workouts a week, and an overly simplistic point of view might conclude they’ll be dropping up to 10 pounds of body fat a month!  And to think you were contemplating a little lipo…psshh, child please!

So let’s get real for a second.  There’s a class in my local gym that claims to help participants burn 800+ calories per hour (okay, not quite 1,000 calories, but close).  It’s a fusion of cycling and weight lifting – a pretty novel idea and I admit, a fun class that helps mix things up.  But does it really deliver on its calorie busting claims?  Call me a skeptic, but I had a feeling from the get go this class wasn’t burning anywhere close to 800 calories a workout.  To test my hypothesis, I brought my heart rate monitor to the next class I attended.  I made a promise to work as hard as I possibly could, not take any extended breaks, and simply mirror the exact movements of the instructor.

I did my best to avoid looking at my heart rate monitor during the workout, so I literally had no idea where I was at.  After an hour, I glanced down, not knowing where I stood in the calorie burning department.  The number glaring back at me?  A healthy, but far from promised, 502 calories burned.  Not bad for a workout, but almost 40% less than advertised.  What gives?

Understanding How You Burn Calories

As I’ve preached for close to four years now, fitness is not an exact science. What works for one, may very well not work for another.  Just because one person is able to burn an astronomical amount of calories in one workout, doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to replicate their results.  When you see these claims of some insane new workout able to help you shed four digit calories in one session, you’ve got to take them with a grain of salt.  Sure, someone out there probably has burned the calories claimed by completing that specific workout – I don’t doubt this for a second.  The problem is, that person is almost assuredly not going to be you.

There are several factors that go into determining how many calories a specific workout will help you burn.  Some you can control, some you can’t, but let’s take a quick look at what they are so you have a better idea what’s going into this gargantuan calorie claims…

  • Gender. Men will burn 10-15% more calories than women, as attributed to their generally higher percentage of muscle mass.
  • Age. Metabolism (and calories burned per workout) will slow with age.  A 25-year-old is going to burn more calories than the 50-year-old, doing the exact same workout.
  • Weight. Think about the Biggest Loser for a second…some of those contestants have weekly weight losses of 25+ pounds.  The more you weigh, the more you have to burn.  A 350 lb person is going to burn more calories than a 150 lb pound person doing the same workout.
  • Body composition. Those with a higher percentage of muscle mass will burn more calories per workout than those who have more body fat, to an extent (see point above).
  • Intensity.  Finally something that is completely under your control. The longer and harder you workout, the more calories you’re going to burn…pretty simple concept, right?

The first two bullet points are completely out of your control.  Get over it.  The third, well, you wouldn’t intentionally gain weight just so you could burn more calories, right?  So just accept that you’re going to have to work harder the more fit you become.  Your body composition is a bit more in your control. You certainly have some control over how much muscle you’re building and/or maintaining, and as mentioned, this will affect the total number of calories burned per exercise.  Lastly, the duration and intensity of your workout is 100% under your control.  This is the area you need to focus on improving if you want to get close to incinerating as many calories as you’re hoping.

An Amazing Calorie Killing Method

Believe me, I understand the allure of these crazy calorie burning claims.  We all want to maximize our time spent working out and be the most efficient exercisers we can be.  With that in mind, I set out to create a fitness program built around two vital concepts for anyone wanting to maximize their total calories burned.  First, the plan had to include a strong strength components.  While strength workouts alone don’t come close to cardio workouts in terms of calories burned, they do help you improve your body composition, which in turn spikes that metabolism and allows you to churn through calories at a higher rate.

Second, I tested out a variety of cardiovascular workouts with my handy-dandy heart rate monitor, and only selected those that helped ME burn at least 700 calories.  I’m not making any claims about how many calories it’ll help you burn, I’m simply saying, personally, these workouts are considered high-calorie burning for myself, and my body type. For a frame of reference, I’m a male, 165 pounds, 9% body fat, 29 years old.  I also work out really hard.  Work out really hard and you should be able to approach the calorie burning potential that I realized.

This program, which has been aptly named, The Cardio/Strength Challenge is 6-weeks in length and consists of a great mix of pure strength workouts, seriously intense cardio sessions, and a healthy dose of metabolic conditioning routines sure to knock your socks off.  Most workouts are paired with a full-length video so you’ll be able to follow along with your trainer just as you would a standard DVD program or at a group fitness class.

A sample day’s workout from the Cardio/Strength Challenge looks something like this:

So you want to put a little more muscle on that frame, huh?  Devil’s circuit was specifically designed with this goal in mind.  This is a complex workout which involves working almost all of the major muscle groups in your body to complete exhaustion.  Complex workouts are perfect for building a strong, lean, and athletic physique.  This workout is going to be tough, but you’ll thank yourself later.  If you’re struggling with the push ups, there’s no harm in going from your knees – do what you have to do to make it through the workout!

You’ll be moving from exercise to exercise and limiting your rest breaks to (hopefully) the end of each seven exercise circuit.  Give yourself a full one minute rest after each circuit…believe me, you’ll need it.

7 rounds of:

  • 8 Dead Burpees
  • 8 Cross Push Ups
  • 8 Snatches (per arm)
  • 8 Super Climbers
  • 8 Bent Over Dumbbell Rows
  • 8 Twist Burpees

1 minute rest after each round.

This workout helped me (keyword, ME) burn 715 calories.  It’s brutal. My muscles were drained from head to toe.  I was gasping for air.  I was drenched in sweat.  I KNEW, before even checking my heart rate monitor, that I had put up big numbers.

This is what the Cardio/Strength Challenge is all about – helping you put up big numbers…whatever that means for YOU.  We’re going to help you maximize your own calorie burning potential and make progress faster than you have been.  And again, to ensure you’re keeping a great intensity, it’s recommended you complete workouts WITH the trainer on your video – we’ve set these workouts to a specific pace, so by matching their movements you’re guaranteeing yourself to work at the level we’ve intended.

So if you’re ready to get started, check out the Cardio/Strength Challenge and start maximizing your own calorie burning potential.

To tie everything together, I want you to remember, the number of calories a specific workout is going to help you burn, is completely dependent on a multitude of variables, most of which are not under your control.  Take calories burned claims with a grain of salt, and simply focus on improving the variables you CAN effect.  Work hard, strive to build muscle, acknowledge your metabolism, and over time, you’ll find that improving the rate at which you burn calories will drastically improve.

Stay hungry, and as always, if you have any questions, concerns, or need a little advice, I’m only a comment away.



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