Wearables, like apple watches and heart rate monitors, are all the rage these days. They can give you a ton of information, and can certainly be a great way to track exercise. However, we often hear about people getting caught up in the calories burned and equating the quality of a training session to amount of calories burned during the workout. This is a slippery slope, and one we encourage individuals to avoid. It is certainly true that these wearable devices have become more and more accurate in recent years with regard to objective data, such as heart rate, mileage, and calories burned. Despite this, most are still likely over-estimating the amount of calories burned during a workout.
Even though data from these wearables can help you keep track of your workouts and
progress, the number of calories burned does not necessarily equate to the quality of
your workout. Of course, knowing approximately how many calories you burned could be
beneficial if you’re trying to stay in a calorie deficit for weight loss, but it should
not dictate the value of your training session. In reality, there are numerous factors
that play a role in how many calories an individual will burn during a bout of exercise.
It will vary person to person, and will likely even vary day-to-day for that same
For example, if you split up resistance training into upper and lower body days, you
will inherently burn more calories on lower body days simply due to use of larger muscle
groups and likely moving around more weight.
As noted in the image, the calories burned during
one of my upper body days was more than 150 calories less than my lower body day despite
being a longer session! Sure, I could have just crammed in a few extra sets of bench
press to try to equate the calories burned, but that would just be silly. By letting
calories burned command your workout, it’s a recipe for poor performance, and even
worse, possible injury. It’s analogous to eating a copious amount of vegetables until
you’re uncomfortably full because you’ve been told they’re good for you! It’s just not
Ultimately, the extent to which you use calories burned for decision making within the
confines of a bout of exercise will depend on the individual and his or her goals. No
one should be emptying the tank every single workout. Some will naturally burn more
calories because of their body type and/or genetics. Others will burn more because of
the type of activity they choose to do (cardio will typically burn more calories than
resistance training because of its continuous nature). Rather than letting the amount of
calories burn dictate your training, use the data as a self-awareness tool for enhancing
your performance and recovery!