Looking For a Big Burn? These 5 Exercises Burn the Most Calories

The benefits of physical fitness go far beyond calorie burning: exercise helps reduce the risk of heart disease, improves mental health, lowers blood sugar, strengthens your bones, and reduces the risk of some cancers, just to name a few of its manifold perks. That said, we understand that sometimes calorie burning is a priority, and for those times we have a breakdown of the best bang-for-your-buck moves for that purpose. We’ll review the top five exercises for calorie burning with input from trainers Ashley Joi and Luke Zocchi

Before jumping (pun intended) into these exercises, it’s important to mention that lower body weight doesn’t always equal better health, or even better fitness. It’s possible to be fit at any size, and numerous studies in the last decade have clarified that thinness doesn’t intrinsically denote a higher level of wellness than being overweight does. We’re sharing these tips for people who are looking to lose weight for health reasons or the advice of a physician because it’s helpful to know what the most efficient calorie burning exercises are, not with the intent of telling anyone that their own fitness should be focused on calorie burning or weight loss. 

Ashley tells us that “the secret to getting results is working at around 75-90% max effort for the working phase to get your body into that fat burning zone, so any moves that get you into this intensity are great whether the format is HIIT, HIRT, Tabata or heavy lifting if you have access to heavy weights.” Knowing that there are many options to turn exercises into massive calorie burners, these are her two favorite moves:

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Jumping Lunges

woman lunging

Also known as split jumps or plyometric lunges, this quad focused jumping move is essentially a super charged lunge. You’ll start in a lunge position with one leg forward, then jump up and move that leg back and your other leg forward, landing back in a lunge again on the other side. (That means that if you started with your left leg forward, after the jump your right leg will be in front.) Make sure to avoid locking your knees so that you can land gently, and start slow and small to ensure you don’t fall off balance. 

This is a plyometric movement, meaning it is meant to increase muscle power by combining speed along with force, and Ashley notes thatany plyometric moves are going to be great for getting your heart rate up and burning calories.” For jumping lunges, she suggests they “can be scaled up or down depending on how you’re feeling,” but recommends “going full out with your jumps to really get your heart rate going.”

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A cardio exercise that has you jump laterally (meaning from side to side on a parallel plane), while moving your arms in coordination with the jumps, skaters will quickly get your heart rate up thanks to the combination of jumping back and forth with your legs while swinging your arms in time with the jumps. Using your full body is understandably a powerful way to burn calories. It’s one of Ashley’s favorites because “I love anything plyometric! These are a great move for your legs, for cardio, and to work on your stabilizing muscles.”

Luke’s methodology for top calorie burners is to go with complex movements that will also get your heart going. He suggests that “to burn calories, compound movements that engage multiple muscle groups and spike your heart rate are the way to go.” Here are his favorites:

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Mountain Climbers

woman doing mountain climbers exercise


Another full body move, mountain climbers begin in plank position on the floor, with your hands directly under your shoulders. You’ll lift one leg, pushing it forward to your chest, then you’ll put that leg back into plank position and repeat on the other side. Mountain climbers can be done slowly or quickly; to do them slowly, you’ll allow the first leg to come back into plank before pushing the other leg forward, and with a speedier version you’ll be moving your legs quickly enough that it feels like running, with no leg paused back in plank position for more than a brief moment. Luke suggests this move because “mountain climbers are a high intensity bodyweight exercise that burns serious calories while also toning your abs and arms.”

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If you’ve ever gone to a fitness class, you’ve likely heard a collective groan when the teacher said it was time for Burpees. That’s because this full body move is a challenging one that can tire you out quickly. To do a burpee, you’ll start by standing up with your arms at your sides. Then, quickly lower yourself into a squat. Put your hands on the floor in front of you, and jump your feet back so you move into a plank position. Jump your feet forward, towards your hands, and raise your hands above your head while jumping up into the air, landing back on your feet. Variations of this move will have you do a pushup while down in the plank position, and/or end the move with a small jump once you’re back in the initial standing position, before repeating it. Luke loves burpees because they “are a great all round movement. They work muscle groups across your body including your hamstrings, quads and calves, your abs and obliques, your triceps, pecs and deltoids.” Just in case burpees aren’t challenging enough (!!), he says that “for an extra challenge, add a mountain climber while you’re on the floor.” I think you know what his next top calorie burning move is...

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Jump Squats



This movement is a jumping version of a squat, just like how jumping lunges are an airborne take on standard lunges. Squats are already famous for sculpting and reshaping, so it’s no surprise that the jumping variety made this list of powerful calorie burning moves. To do a jumping squat, you’ll stand with your legs hip width apart, squat down, jump explosively up as high as you can, then land softly back down into another squat, and repeat. Your arms will help propel you, pushing back as you jump up.

Luke recommends that “repetition and correct form are key, so start off with the basics: keep your back straight and squat low, making sure that your knees are in line with your toes and your core is engaged. You can do higher reps / shorter rest periods to keep your body guessing and to burn a ton of calories.”

Article Sources
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  1. Booth FW, Roberts CK, Laye MJ. Lack of Exercise Is a Major Cause of Chronic DiseasesCompr Physiol. 2012;2(2):1143-1211. doi:10.1002/cphy.c110025

  2. Flegal KM, Kit BK, Orpana H, Graubard BI. Association of All-cause Mortality with Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysisJAMA. 2013;309(1):71-82. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.113905

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