Burning 500 calories is no easy feat, as anyone who’s taken an intense cardio class can attest to. And though the benefits of exercises go well beyond burning calories, sometimes we do have a target expenditure in mind. After all, we can track how much we eat and set fitness and body composition goals, but if we don’t know how many calories we are burning when we hit the gym, we might miss the mark with our goals.
Though 500 calories is a lofty calorie burn, it’s certainly doable, depending on your body size and fitness level. But how do you know how long you need to work out to burn 500 calories? And what types of exercise can even burn this many calories? Running only? Crazy HIIT classes? Does yoga count? To answer all these questions and more, we enlisted the help of two personal trainers to learn the best workouts to do to burn 500 calories no matter how you choose to move your body.
Ready to torch some serious calories? Keep scrolling to learn how to burn 500 calories with 10 of our favorite types of exercise.
Meet the Expert
How To Estimate Calories Burned
Despite all the gadgets and gizmos available to us these days, it’s unfortunately still difficult to precisely measure the number of calories you burn during a workout. “Things like your age, weight, fitness level, body composition, diet, BMR, and sleep can all affect your individual calorie burn per workout,” explains Smith. "However, you can use tools like METs (metabolic equivalent for task) to make a rough estimate.” The formula for calculating your energy expenditure during exercise with METs is:
Total calories burned = Duration (in minutes) x ((METs x 3.5 x weight in kg)/200)
For those of us who aren’t so mathematically inclined, or prefer something that involves less number crunching, Smith says that technology will probably do a good enough job. “You can also use a fitness tracker like an Apple Watch or Fitbit, but again, these will only give you an estimate and have been shown to be up to 80-90% inaccurate.”
For the following types of exercises and workouts, we used an arbitrary weight of 150 pounds to approximate the number of calories you’ll burn. If you weigh more than this, you will burn more calories, and if you weigh less, you will burn fewer calories. The most important thing to keep in mind is that no matter what size your body is, you are beautiful, strong, and capable.
Running is one of the quickest ways to burn 500 calories. Smith says that an 150-pound person would only need to run about 40 minutes to burn 500 calories if they maintain a 12-minute mile pace (5 mph). “Running at a steady pace keeps your heart rate up and your cardiovascular system working hard. This exertion leads to high calorie burn during the activity,” explains Smith. “If you want to speed up the rate at which you get to the 500-calorie mark, you can add in hills or intervals.” She recommends focusing on pushing through short, but near maximal-effort intervals interspersed in your steady-state run. This will increase the efficiency of the workout and get you to that 500-calorie mark closer to 30 minutes.
Why does an interval running workout burn more calories than, say, running steadily the whole time? "A 30-minute jog will give you 30 minutes of a metabolic boost and that’s it,” DeGrazio explains. “It’s better than doing nothing. However, a 20-minute high-intensity interval workout will burn more calories during the workout, burn more fat throughout the day, and give you a metabolic boost for two to three days afterward, where you will continue to burn fat.”
For a calorie-torching interval workout you can do on the treadmill, DeGrazio suggests the following:
Feel free to start slowly and complete as much of this 45-minute workout as you can. As you get fitter, you'll be able to run further and faster.
“Cycling is another cardio-heavy modality that serves to raise your heart rate and crush some serious calories in a short period of time,” notes Smith. “A 150-pound person can expect to burn around 250 calories per 30 minutes of moderate-intensity work, which means they would need to spend an hour cycling to hit the 500-calorie mark.” She says you can reduce this time by increasing the intensity by pedaling at a higher cadence or upping the resistance (either by using a harder gear or heading uphill). “The faster you move the pedals and the higher the resistance, the more your body will need to work, which means that your body will expend more energy and burn more calories faster,” says Smith. Spinning and indoor bike workouts also work well, and there are many apps and streaming platforms that offer interval-based workouts to help ensure you’re pushing yourself. “If you want to gauge your work accurately and calculate your total calorie burn most effectively, a system that uses your individual heart rate, like MYX Fitness, is going to be the most accurate and most tailored to your body’s actual output,” notes Smith.
“When performing a HIIT workout, you’re giving each exercise all you have for a specified amount of time, maxing out your energy expenditure. These short, intense bouts of work help you burn more calories in less time.” She says HIIT-style workouts top her list of favorite calorie-torching workouts, with challenging exercises like burpees, alternating jump lunges, kettlebell swings, box jumps, sprints, and skater lunges being her go-to moves.
“With HIIT, the goal is to work hard but also recover hard. So during the movement, you’re giving it 100% of your effort which means that you should be breathless and in need of a recovery before being able to repeat the movement or move onto the next,” explains Smith. “Your recovery can be short, but it should be full (stopping completely before beginning again).” She recommends working in a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio for your HIIT workouts, meaning that your hard intervals are either the same length as your rest period (e.g., 30 secs of work and 30 secs recovery), or your work intervals are twice as long as the rest (e.g., 60 secs work and 30 secs recovery). Calorie expenditure increases as intensity increases. According to Smith, “You should be striving to [hit] 70-90% of your maximal heart rate during HIIT activities.”
Though isn’t always the first activity that comes to mind with burning calories, if done correctly, fitness boxing can actually pack quite a powerful punch. “Recently, boxing has seen more recognition in the fitness industry for being the calorie-burning powerhouse that it is. It’s a physically demanding workout that revs your heart rate and gets your whole body in on the action,” shares Smith. “As a bonus, many people find this to be one of the best ways to release stress and let go of any anger or anxiety.” Smith says that 45 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity boxing can burn 500 calories.
To maximize your calorie burn, keep your feet moving throughout the entire workout.
“The beauty of swimming is that you're working hard, but the work doesn’t present the same physical strain on your body as [higher impact] workouts do,” notes Smith. “Swimming to burn calories can almost feel like you’re cheating the system, but the truth is, your body is working hard in the water, exerting a ton of energy.” Because swimming is non-weightbearing, it’s a great cardio option for those with joint pain. Smith says you can burn 500 calories in about an hour of vigorous lap swimming. However, a more recreational pace will lower your expenditure rate to about 300-350 per hour for someone weighing 150 pounds. Adding intervals will increase the intensity and efficiency of the workout.
Yoga has many benefits, from increasing strength, flexibility, and balance to reducing stress and anxiety. But, it’s not typically the most efficient workout for burning calories, so if you want to burn 500 calories, you’ll have to spend considerably more time on the yoga mat than you would if you were doing a more strenuous workout like running or cycling. With that said, Smith says it’s very possible to burn 500 calories doing yoga, especially if you choose a more challenging modality. “Hot yoga has been proven to burn more calories than a non-heated yoga class because your body is working harder to regulate due to the high temperatures,” she says, and adds that Vinyasa is also a good option. Both of these varieties can potentially burn 500 calories in an hour or so. “For classic Hatha yoga, you would need to spend a couple of hours or more to see that kind of burn. To ensure you’re burning the most calories, add in some challenging bodyweight movements like lunges, jumps, and pushups,” advises Smith.
“Pilates is an amazing way to tone and tighten the small muscles in your body, but it isn’t typically a high calorie burner due to the fact that most movements are slow and controlled as opposed to explosive and intense,” explains Smith. “But, that doesn’t mean that you’re not burning calories! You can reach the 500-calorie point doing moderate-intensity Pilates within 90-120 minutes or so.”
But, if you don’t have two hours to spend working out, you can accelerate your calorie burn by throwing in bursts of cardio like jumps. And, Smith has another tip: “If you want to really ramp up your calorie burn, try a Pilates class that uses a reformer—you’ll get your heart rate up quickly and reach your 500-calorie burn in less time than traditional Pilates.”
When most of us think of burning calories, we think of cardio exercises that spike our heart rate and leave us drenched in sweat. Because of this, weight training has traditionally been a very underrated form of exercise for calorie burning. But, weight training as an activity does burn calories (500 calories in two hours or so), and the real magic in the metabolic benefit comes from the fact that it helps build lean muscle. “The more muscle you have on your frame, the higher your metabolism and the more calories you burn throughout the day naturally, even when the workout is done,” explains Smith. “If you want to speed up your calorie burn during your weight training workout, add in some weighted jumps like jump squats or jumping lunges.” Circuit training also keeps your heart rate up and will accelerate your calorie burn.
The world of dance is vast, and as the styles and their intensities vary significantly, so too does the potential calorie burn. Smith says that depending on the type of dancing you’re performing, you can burn anywhere from 100-500 calories in an hour, with most ballroom dances burning about 250 calories in an hour for an 150-pound person. A slow dance or waltz will burn far fewer calories than a high-intensity option like hip hop or salsa, for example. “If you want to dance for exercise and your goal is to burn 500 calories, I recommend that you choose a form of high-intensity dancing like a hip hop dance routine or one that includes movements that challenge and exhaust your muscles,” shares Smith.
Housework Or Yard Work
Though vacuuming, cleaning the bathtub, raking leaves, or other chores around the house and yard are not typically our favorite way to spend time, we can sweep, mop, and mow a little happier knowing we are burning calories while cleaning up. After all, any time you’re moving your body and expending energy, you’re burning calories, although the exact amount will depend on your body and activity. “For an average 150-pound person, you would need to spend about 2.5 hours doing housework to burn 500 calories,” shares Smith. “There’s a good chance that the thought of cleaning for 2.5 hours is a little daunting, so you can find ways to ramp up your burn. I like to make it a game by adding in a few extra trips up and down the stairs or stopping and doing “X” number of squats every 15 minutes.”
Smith says that yard work like raking and mowing tend to be more efficient calorie-burning chores, especially if you are doing things like moving dirt, sand, and stones. According to Smith, someone weighing 150 pounds can potentially burn 500 calories in 60-90 minutes.
Burning Calories During Exercise
So, the good news is that no matter how you like to exercise, you can potentially burn 500 calories. And, as Smith explains, “You can increase your calorie burn during a workout by limiting your rest times and aiming to always stay in motion. Some examples can include using supersets, adding in cardio bursts between sets, and limiting your rest time between movements. For cardio-based workouts, you can ramp up your burn by adding in intervals, hills, HIIT segments, and overall increasing your speed and exertion.”
Smith says that the most important thing when exercising for weight loss and burning calories is that consistency over time is ultimately what will dictate your results. It’s also valuable to remember that there are plenty of physical and mental benefits of exercise that have nothing to do with calories or weight management. “By focusing more on staying consistent, enjoying the movement you choose, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, and focusing on progressing (getting stronger and/or faster), you’re naturally going to see a shift in your body,” shares Smith. “Also, if you love what you’re doing and you’re working hard, reaching that 500-calorie burn goal during your workout will come easily!”