We all want to get into better shape but there are so many ways to do it. So which form of exercise is most effective? What burns the most calories? How can certain exercise be maximized to get results fast? We will examine these and other issues related to aerobic and anaerobic exercise for fat burning, toning, and enhancing cardiovascular health and fitness.

To understand the benefits of various forms of exercise, it is important to look at the biochemistry of muscle energy. The human body contains three distinctive systems of energy production from various sources. The first one is called the ATP-CP energy system. This is for short term (usually under 12 seconds) energy and uses creatine as the main energy source. ATP is energy and is utilized for muscle contraction.

This energy system produces energy very quickly for a short period of time. It does not require oxygen to work so it is called an anaerobic (without oxygen) source of energy. Supplemental creatine is used by many athletes to maximize this energy system and enhance the reproduction of ATP quickly to enhance strength and speed.

The second energy system is called the glycolytic or lactic acid energy system. This system usually uses carbohydrates as fuel (which generally comes from glycogen stored in muscles). ATP (energy) can be produced effectively by using carbohydrates in a process called glycolysis.

This process occurs anaerobically and aerobically. When it occurs anaerobically, lactic acid is produced which allows this process to continue, however, excess lactic acid can lead to fatigue and cause a burning sensation in muscles. If you’ve ever ventured on a hard bike ride or a fast run (or even a weigh training workout to failure), you may have experienced this painful sensation caused by excess lactic acid. Aerobic glycolysis produces something called pyruvate which also helps keep the energy cycle going. This energy system is useful for exercise under three-five minutes.

The third major energy system and the one you mainly use for long term energy need is the oxidative or oxygen energy system. This system depends primarily on carbohydrates and fat for fuel. This aerobic system uses glycogen stores in the liver and muscle and free fatty acids. If you are looking to burn fat, this is the system that needs to be maximized. It is also very useful for long distance aerobic activity.

That is why many endurance athletes will consume lots of complex carbohydrates (such as brown rice, pasta, sweet potatoes, and oatmeal) before a big race or event to maximize glycogen (carbohydrate) storage in the muscles and liver. This system is not as fast as the other two systems but it provides much greater amounts of energy over a longer period of time. Most exercise over five minutes uses this system. (Check out our fat burning foods list and our recommended fat burning foods and fat burning fruits for plenty of healthy eating and snack ideas).

How does all that relate to various forms of exercise? It is important to understand the type of fuel your body is using to produce energy to maximize your particular goals (whether it is to lose fat or enhance aerobic health). Different types of aerobic activities burn different amount of calories.

The amount of calories you burn during exercise is based on many factors including body weight, intensity of workout, conditioning level and metabolism. Let’s look at some exercises and discuss their benefits. The values given for the number of calories burned per hour of the exercise is based on an average 170 pound male.

Excellent form of exercise especially if you are looking for fat loss. One of the best ways to lose fat is to perform cardiovascular work at a moderate pace for an hour first thing in the morning to maximize the oxidative energy system (taking 100-200 mg caffeine and plenty of water before cardiovascular activity can enhance fat burning). A moderate pace would be defined as about 70 % of your maximum heart rate (maximum heart rate = 220-age). This form of cardio is also useful for health. It is a bit hard on the knees and you mainly use your legs and your arms to much lesser degree. An hour of brisk walking burns about 300 calories.

Great for cardiovascular health and fat burning. May cause lean muscle loss to occur if done frequently at a fast pace for extended periods of time. It is hard on the knees and mainly works the legs and some arms and shoulders.
An hour of running at a moderate pace burns about 760 calories.

This is an excellent form of exercise for both fat burning and cardiovascular health. It is easy on the joints and vigorously works the muscles of the legs especially the quadricep and calf muscles. This can be done indoors at a stationary bike or outdoors. An hour of moderate cycling burns about 530 calories.

Good for mainly cardiovascular health. Is a bit hard on the joints as there is a lot of stop and go involved. It involves the legs including thighs, hamstrings and calves and arms and some upper body work. An hour of competitive racquetball burns about 780 calories.

This may not sound like an aerobic exercise until you do it for an hour! It works every major muscle group and relaxes the body as well. It can also help prevent injuries such as pulled muscles if performed before AND after exercise. An hour of yoga type stretching burns about 280 calories.

This is an intense form of aerobic exercise that is excellent for cardiovascular health and fitness. It works virtually every muscle group especially arms and legs. There is a downside to swimming–swimmers tend to hold subcutaneous fat as a means for the body to enhance floating capability. This is evident when you compare the physiques of world class swimmers vs. olympic gymnasts. An hour of casual swimming at a moderate pace burns about 460 calories.

Good for cardiovascular health but not necessarily for fat burning since it’s a stop and go sport. It is hard on the knees and involves mainly the legs but shoulders to a certain extent. This is one of the most enjoyable forms of aerobic exercise specially when playing on a team. An hour of a basketball game burns about 600 calories.

This is another enjoyable team sport that uses mainly the legs but also the shoulders and arms. It is good for enhancing aerobic health but is a stop and go sport as well. One hour of competitive football burns about 700 calories.

Weight training
This is the best way to increase lean muscle mass and improve general health. Not the best aerobic exercise as most weight training is anaerobic. It is important to stretch before and after weight training to prevent injury and maximize the workout. An hour of moderate weight lifting burns about 230 calories.

This is yet another fun sport but is limiting to those that have access to ski resorts and mountainous areas. It is hard on the knees but works the muscles of the legs especially the quadriceps intensely. An hour of moderate downhill skiing burns about 460 calories.

The best all around workout is a mixture of weight training with a good form of cardiovascular exercise such as walking or running. Weight training 3-4 times a week and performing a cardio workout 3-4 times a week can help maximize fat loss, lean muscle mass gain, and improve cardiovascular health. Adding variety to aerobic exercise can help make it enjoyable and yet beneficial to the body!

Chart of calories burned per hour for an average 170 pound male:

ExerciseCalories Burned Per Hour
Brisk Walking300
Running- Moderate pace760
Cycling- Moderate540
Racquetball – Competitive750
Stretching – yoga type280
Swimming – moderate pace460
Basketball- Competitive600
Football -Competitive700
Weight Training – Moderate230
Skiing – moderate downhill460
Tennis- Singles match610
Golf – regular game310
Cross Country Hiking450
Canoeing – Rowing- Moderate530
Roller skating – moderate520

Calories are calculated and estimated based on data from Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, The Official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. Check out some of our recommended exercises to flatten your stomach and our review of rowing machines you can use at home.

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