In light of my post yesterday on Crossfit, I wanted to say a few words about calorie burn. It crossed my mind because Crossfit doesn’t actually burn a ton of calories (I’ve estimated around 200-300 for each class).
I’m actually fine with that because I’ve come to realize that it’s pretty fruitless to count calories during a workout (plus, I don’t think calories are all that meaningful anyway). There are a few reasons I’ve come to this realization — and why I think you should stop counting calories burned, too:
- It’s nearly impossible to accurately count calories burned. Even gadgets designed to track calories used have proven to be less than accurate. And we already know the number on that cardio machine is totally off.
- Calories burned isn’t an indication of how fit you’re becoming. I can walk at a moderate pace on the treadmill for three hours and burn a ton of calories but not be any more fit. You can burn a fair amount of calories without challenging yourself at all.
- Tracking calories burned might not encourage you to pursue activities you enjoy. For example, if I were really concerned with calories burned, I might not want to keep going to Crossfit. A mere 200-300 calories isn’t a ton to burn, especially when you consider how tough the class is. But I know it’s making me more fit (see above).
- Burning a ton of calories tends to make people pretty hungry, which can lead to overeating — or eating foods you otherwise wouldn’t. I’ve talked about this before, but I actually gained weight when I trained for a half marathon a couple years ago. I think this is because I was burning nearly 1,000 calories during each of my long runs, but I was hungry enough to eat 2,000 extra calories (and I was so hungry that I didn’t care where they came from half the time!). Burning lots of calories makes your body crave them, but your body isn’t going to be able to do exact math, so you’ll probably end up overcompensating.
- It can take away from the enjoyment of a workout. I’ve noticed that when I’m focused on calorie burn, I don’t pay attention to the workout at all. The only thing I care about is that number. I do enjoy working out (and I believe every can enjoy it if they find something they love!), but focusing on numbers can detract from the pleasurable experience of exercise.
So what SHOULD you count during a workout? Whether you like it or not, for starters. But also, whether you feel like you’re pushing yourself. You know when you’re pushing yourself or not, and you definitely don’t need a number to tell you that. I like focusing on perceived effort and making sure you’re spending at least a few intervals in the high perceived effort state.