When I first start working with my female clients, one of their top concerns is how many calories they should burn in a workout. They’re a little obsessed with their FitBit (I do love the FitBit Surge….) or Apple Watch calorie burn estimates. They’re hyperaware of how many calories running a mile burns. And while awareness can be helpful, estimating the number of calories burned during exercise keeps us from seeing long term results.
Yes, fat loss is a result of proper energy balance (read: expending more energy than you take in). But, if we focus TOO much on the number of calories burned during exercise, we’re going to struggle. And that, my friends, is why I encourage my clients to completely ignore the number of calories burned during exercise. Instead, we focus on the things that actually matter to changing our bodies.
When they ask me why, I’ve got plenty of reasons to ignore the number of calories burned during exercise. Here are my top 5 reasons to ignore that pesky calorie burn estimate on your Apple Watch.
5 reasons to ignore the number of calories burned during exercise
Whether you’re using the treadmill calorie estimate or your Fitbit output, the number may not actually be very accurate. Most of these devices simply use your weight + duration to determine an estimated calorie burn. Obviously, this is not super accurate, because it ignores many factors:
- How much muscle you have
- How hard you’re actually working
Even if you’re using an implement that tracks your heart rate, you can’t rely on that to be 100% accurate either. Traditional heart rate monitors and wrist based trackers are not designed for circuit training or lifting, making them less accurate at reading your heart rate during these activities. I know this from personal experience. So many times, I’m doing super heavy barbell squats and my Garmin reads my heart rate in the 90s (yaaaa…no).
It encourages the “burn it off” mentality.
When we start counting, tracking every calorie we burn, we’re on a slippery slope. Once we count our workout calories, it’s a natural progression to start counting the calories we eat. This can be SO hard to stop (I wrote about how to stop it without stressing here), and it perpetuates the idea that we need to burn off every calorie we eat.
With most of my clients, we find better success losing weight without counting calories (here’s how) and skipping the idea that exercise is a punishment, a way to burn off our nutrition mistakes.
It ignores EPOC (aka – afterburn).
If we only think about the calories burned during exercise, we ignore the fact that certain types of training (think metabolic conditioning and heavy weight training) raise your metabolic rate for HOURS after you finish your workout.
It encourages steady state, long duration cardio.
When all we’re thinking about is how many calories we can burn in a workout, we seek out exercise that’s going to give us the biggest number.
And what exercise shows the largest calorie burn, as estimated by a machine or heart rate monitor?
Steady state cardio for long periods of time…
And while this style of training has its benefits, it does NOT raise your metabolic rate after you finish your workout and can negatively impact your hunger and cravings (think RUNger aka intense hunger after you finish a run).
Of course, if you’re training for an endurance event or just love cycling, go for it. Do long duration cardio. Just know, that it is not the most effective way to train for body change.
It diminishes the importance of muscle building.
Look. Workouts are about MORE than burning calories; for many of us, they’re about building strength and muscle mass.
When we’re thinking too much about our calorie burn, we forget that building muscle is KEY to fat loss and achieving that ‘toned’ look. When we have more muscle on our bodies, we burn more calories at rest, something completely ignored in these calorie tracking models.
Lovely, I get it. You’re tracking those calories because you wanna see results so damn bad. And let’s be real. Don’t we all wanna see results from our workouts?
If you want a weekly workout plan that will help you STOP overexercising, get CONSISTENT, and see RESULTS, my #GoldilocksFitness Program is for you. I’ve designed a week of workouts for you so that you can rest assured you’ve done just enough. Because the answer isn’t always “more,” and it’s not always “less.” It’s juuuuust right.
Check out the details and grab your copy here.