Which Exercises Burn the Most Calories?

Laura Williams, M.S.Ed.
Female sprinter

Many people are interested in knowing which exercises burn the most calories. After all, life is busy! The more calories you can burn in a given period of time, the more efficient your exercise program will be.

Top 10 Calorie Burning Exercises

According to lists compiled by the American Council on Exercise and the Mayo Clinic, the following exercises comprise the top 10 calorie burning activities. These calorie estimates are based on an average, 160-pound individual performing the activity for one hour.

Calorie Burn by Activity and Activity Level
Activities Calories Burned Per Hour
Running, 8 mph 986
Rollerblading 913
Jumping Rope 730
Tae Kwon Do 730
Stair Climbing 657
Swimming (crawl, moderate intensity) 618
Skiing, Cross Country 600
Aerobic Dance 588
Jogging, 5 mph 584
Playing in a Basketball Game 584

Maximizing Calorie Burn

Estimating the number of calories burned in an hour for any given activity is not a perfect science. The numbers given here are estimates that may vary based on your age, sex, body weight and body composition. Calorie burn can also increase or decrease based on exercise intensity, so remember that the harder you work, the more calories you'll end up burning.

For any exercise that you participate in, you can maximize your calorie burn by ramping up the intensity and incorporating additional movements or skills into your workout. Learn how you can do this with the top three calorie burning exercises: running, rollerblading and jumping rope.

Running

You don't have to run at an eight-mile-per-hour pace in order to blast lots of calories. Even if you're new to the sport, there are ways to burn up calories without killing yourself in the process. Try increasing your total calorie burn by performing intervals while you run. Basically this means you will speed up and really push yourself for 30 to 90 seconds, then you'll slow down and perform "active rest" for another 30 to 90 seconds, continuing to alternate between high intensity exercise and lower intensity exercise for as long as you can. Because your body has to continue challenging itself to adjust to the increased exercise intensity, then to recover, you actually end up burning as many or more calories as you would running at a steady state.

Another way to maximize calorie burn while running is to incorporate hills into your routine. When you run up a hill, you actually have to lift your body's weight up the hill, forcing your muscles to work harder and burn more calories.

Rollerblading

Rollerblading blasts lots of calories because it requires your body to engage during the movement, plus you have to constantly work to retain your balance while in motion. You can increase your calorie burn while rollerblading in a similar fashion to running: add intervals and rollerblade up hills. You may also want to try wearing a weighted vest while you rollerblade to increase your body's weight and increase calorie burn. Essentially, it's harder to move a heavier mass than a lighter mass, so wearing a vest will force your body to work harder.

Jumping Rope

Jumping rope is one of those exercises that seems like it will be fun and easy but is really a killer. Because it's such a high-impact exercise, consider working your way into a routine slowly, starting with brief 30 to 60 second jumping intervals followed by 30 to 60 seconds of rest. Once you get into the swing of things, speed up the rate that you turn the rope, incorporate trick moves like backward jumping, side-to-side jumping, one-legged jumping or criss-crossing your arms to challenge your body and burn more calories. You may also want to consider picking up a weighted jump rope that will challenge your arms and shoulders more as you perform the exercise.

Making Choices

Activities resulting in the highest number of calories burned per hour are the ones that generally make you sweat the most and leave you the most exhausted, but remember that almost any moderate- to high-intensity exercise is sufficient for health and weight maintenance. The most important thing is to choose exercises that you enjoy and that you'll perform on a regular basis.

Which Exercises Burn the Most Calories?