Learn everything there Is to know about fItness, performance, fat loss and lifestyle from Adrian McDonnell.
Fitness watches have become a huge phenomenon nowadays.
They can track your daily steps, estimate the number of calories you have burned each day and even analyse your sleep.
Having these watches can be great – especially if it encourages people to move more.
However, how accurate are they for estimating the number of calories you have burned during a session?
And more importantly, should the number of calories you have burned dictate the quality of your session?
More Calories Burned = More Effective Training, Right?
We’ve all done it before – we complete a workout, press the stop button on the fitness tracker and the first thing we check is how many calories we burned.
Is it more or less than last time? To our delight we’ve burned over 500 calories in just 45 minutes and this makes us feel proud and accomplished.
Why wouldn’t it? The higher the calorie burn, the more effective the session and the more gains that were made right?
On top of this, because I’ve burned 500 calories alone in a strength session, it means I better eat back some extra calories to make up for the energy deficit from the session.
Have you ever felt this way too?
I Was Wrong In The Past
When I first invested in a fitness watch years ago, I attached a lot of meaning to the calorie burn during each session. I roped myself into the danger of believing that I needed to burn more calories to make more progress.
It got to a point where I’d almost feel disappointed or that I didn’t work hard enough if I hadn’t burned at least 700 calories per session.
Thankfully, just like my training has evolved over the years, so too has my knowledge and mindset – particularly around the long-term benefits of strength training and the fact that most fitness trackers drastically over estimate the number of calories burned during a session.
Benefits Of Strength Training
When it comes to strength training, most of the benefits occur after you leave the weight room. During a weight’s session, you break down and damage your muscle fibres. The reason we do this is because when we return & recover, we’ll (hopefully) come back stronger and be able to progress and do a bit more than last time.
Traditional strength training protocols requires you to lift weights for a given number of reps, rest between sets and repeat until finished. If you’re pursuing strength, rest particularly becomes important so you’re able to repeat your best efforts during each set.
However, as we rest and recover between sets, your heart rate decreases. And just like your heart rate decreases when you rest, so too does the number of calories you burn during that period of time.
Dangers of Judging Your Sessions by Calories Burned
And therein lies the danger of judging your weights session by the number of calories you’ve burned. As a result of this, it might be tempting for you to turn your strength training into a cardio workout.
What do I mean by this? If someone told you to do 10 Burpees, 20 Jumping Jacks and 30 Mountain Climbers for an hour, you’d certainly burn a lot of calories. But did the session actually benefit you? Were you working out or were you training?
If you do want to get a burn, light a match! Don’t sacrifice seeking an immediate feeling over your long-term results.
Short & Long-Term Calorie Burn of Strength TraininG
Compare doing the above workout with doing a typical weights session where you lift, rest and recover. Though it might not have the same calorie burn during the workout, your metabolism can be boosted for up to 38 hours post-workout. This means that your body may even continue to burn more calories as you chill out on the couch for the evening after strength training.
How cool is that? After you pay your dues in the gym and sit down and relax for the evening, your body will continue to burn more calories as you rest.
I like to use the analogy of driving from Galway to Dublin. Once the journey is complete, it takes the engine time to get back to its normal, restful state. It doesn’t just cool down immediately. And the length of time it takes to get back that baseline state will be the period of time in which you will continue burn calories post-workout.
Not only does strength training burn more calories in the short-term window post-workout, but it also has more of a long-term calorie burning effect as well.
Why is this? Muscles are more metabolically active than fat. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn even while you rest. That is why strength training is not only a good short-term strategy for fat-loss, but long-term too. The more lean muscle mass you have on your body, the more calories you burn around the clock.
How Should I Measure Progress
My advice would be to keep the goal the goal.
These metrics aren’t displayed on a fitness watch yet are much better and more accurate metrics of progress.
Use your fitness watch as a tool to monitor your training.
However, I don’t advise you to use the number of calories you have burned as the only metric to assessing your progress.
Identify your goals at the start and make the goal the goal. Not the number of calories you have burned.
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