Whether you’re trying to lose weight or you’re simply working out to stay healthy, it can be hard to determine how many calories you need to burn to meet your goals. And even if you know that number, it can seem trickier still to figure out exactly how much time and effort you’ll need to put in to get there. The good news? POPSUGAR spoke with a trainer to help break it down.
How Many Calories Should You Burn During a Workout?
Let’s start with the most straightforward benchmark: if you’re simply trying to maintain your weight, you don’t have to worry as much about your calorie burn. Just aim to exercise for 150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes, five days a week, explained Holly Perkins, BS, CSCS, author of Lift to Get Lean and creator of The Glutes Project. (This is the standard recommendation for heart health.)
If your goal is weight loss, you’ll need to track your calories more carefully. “If you’re trying to lose one pound of body fat per week, you need a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories per week,” Holly told POPSUGAR. She suggests still working out five days during the week, with the goal of burning 250 calories per session. You’ll need to reduce your calories by a total of 500 each day to reach a deficit of 3,500, so plan to save 250 calories from your diet on workout days, and 500 calories from your diet on rest days.
How Long Should You Work Out to Lose Weight?
Calorie burn depends on a number of factors, but Holly explained that a woman who weighs between 150 and 160 pounds will burn approximately 500 calories per hour when working out at 80 to 90 percent of her maximum heart rate. Therefore, she suggests putting in 30 to 40 minutes during a cardio session.
You’ll expend fewer calories with strength training, but building lean muscle helps your body burn more calories even at rest, which helps to offset the difference. So, “you should also aim for 30 to 40 minutes during a strength training workout,” Holly said.
Of course, the most accurate way to track your calorie burn is with a heart rate monitor, which can be programmed with stats like your height, age, weight, and BMI. Still, Holly cautioned against getting too wrapped up in the numbers. “Ultimately, if you aren’t losing weight while maintaining this exercise schedule, for the most part it comes down to the fact that you’re eating too many calories,” she said. Working with a registered dietitian can help get you back on track.