How Many Calories Do Squats or Power Cleans Burn?

I’m often asked how many calories different weight training movements burn. The big, compound movements, such bench press, squat, and power cleans can use significant amounts of weight, and one would think, burn plenty o’ calories. In case you’ve been sleeping during my rants however…. It’s not the weight that you burn during the lifts, but for the hours afterward, as your elevated basal metabolic rate goes to town.

For those of you hell bent on discovering how many calories you burn every time you hoist a bar at your next power clean session, here goes. Yeah, you were told there would b no math, but that was a lie… too bad!

If you’re doing 100 kilo squats, for example. (Yeah, that’s 220lbs for those of us who haven’t graduated to the metric system. Science is metric, and it makes the math a heck of a lot easier. Deal with it!)

  • Force of gravity you must overcome to lift the weight = 9.81m/s^2
  • (100)(9.81)=981 Newtons of Force lifted.
  • Now, a a squat moves the bar about 1.5 meters
  • (981)(1.5)= 1,471.5 Joules.
  • 1 calorie is 4.184 Joules, so divide by that number to get calories 1,471/4.184 = 351.7

Wow! 351 calories per rep! You can burn off a pound of fat every 10 reps. Damn, I’m headin’ to the gym right now…..

Uhh, One Problem…

The human body calories usage measurement that we commonly use is really 1,000 calories, so that 351 calories is actually 0.351 calories per rep for a 220lb squat. Good thing you typically lift twice that, so you’re burning 0.7 calories! It’s not really all that bad though. For one thing, you probably noticed something important missing from the equation; your weight. You have to include how much body weight you’re lifting with each rep, in addition to the iron. You can’t just add your scale weight though. You’ll have to use what the automotive guys call “unsprung weight”. It’s the part of your body weight that you’re actually lifting each time. Part of your body is ground supported, such as your lower legs.

Oh, and we’re not done yet.

Plenty More Enters the Calorie Burn Equation

Many other factors affect the final number, such as muscle efficiencies, metabolism changes, and stabilization forces required. Most generally accepted theories place average muscle energy efficiency at about 20%, so multiply that .351 by 5 and you’re up to 1.71 calories burned per squat rep. Blazin! Say the other factors mentioned get that up to a full 2 calories. Even if you’re doing 5 sets of 10, a pretty intense squat program, you’re only burning 100 calories for your squat workout.

Even if you’re no math whiz, you probably figured out that squats, power cleans, or pretty much any other exercise’s calorie burn is determined by how much weight you lift, and how far you lift it. It’s basic physics. Keep in mind that’s the work component of the equation.

There’s More… How to Burn Calories by Doing No Work

How Many Calories do Squats Burn per Rep

Squats and power cleans are 2 of the best fat burning exercises. They target multiple large muscle groups with each rep, perfect if you want to maximize fat burning on a tight schedule.

Your muscles do burn calories, even when you’re technically doing no work at all, especially if you’re trying hard to do something, but moving nothing. Tell your sig other that the next time they want you to do something while you’re sitting on your ass! It’s like this: From a physics standpoint, if you strain against a weight, but don’t move it, you’re doing no work. As you can plainly tell however, you are burning calories, so you can burn calories by doing no work…. technically.

That also enters the equation when you’re keeping weights stabilized. Holding a barbell over your head, or at the top of a completed power clean is doing no work, but sure as hell takes energy.

Thankfully, it’s not the 100 calories you burn doing squats that really help you get ripped. It’s the elevated metabolic rate that keeps the calories torching. In fact, one of the primary authorities on this is a 1971 study that discovered “Resting metabolic rate accounts for 60–75% of total energy expenditure in sedentary people” Plenty of studies validate that resistance training leads to an elevated basal metabolic rate.

For example, in case you’re feeling academic, there’s:

Effect of Acute Resistance Exercise on Postexercise Oxygen Consumption and Resting Metabolic Rate in Young Women

That study found that 16 hours after a single 100 minute resistance training session, metabolic rates were still 4.2% higher than baseline. Impressive, but that doesn’t account for the long term effects of high intensity weight training. One interesting funding from the research team was “Resting fat oxidation as determined by the respiratory exchange ratio was also significantly elevated on Day 2 compared to Day 1.” So, the women were still burning fat more effectively the day following exercise.

Then, there’s The Effect of Strength Training on Resting Metabolic Rate and Physical Activity from back in 2001. That study examined both men and women, young and old for metabolic rated increases during a 24-week strength training program. Interestingly, once adjusted for fat free body mass, men showed a robust 9% resting metabolic rate increase, whereas women showed virtually none. This was consistent throughout all age groups.

Finally, here’s another study that reveals, without meaning to, why eating a low calorie, low protein diet can actually hurt your calorie burning and fat loss efforts.

Then, there’s Effects of Dieting and Exercise on Resting Metabolic Rate and Implications for Weight Management

This one showed why dieting can actually hurt fat loss, especially if you are not doing resistance training too, or doing it on an inadequete diet. Researchers split subjects into 3 groups, no exercise, cardio exercise only, and cardio plus resistance training. All subject had approximately 1,200 calories daily, and here’s something that’s worth noting: The diets were high fiber and roughly (ha ha) 70% carbs, 15% protein and 15% fat. We’ll come back to that in a second.

By 12 weeks there were significant decreases in percentage body fat among the 3 groups: 5.8, 8.0 and 4.3%, respectively. Now, here’s what we’re getting back to:

There were no significant changes in fat-free mass in any of the groups at any time period.

When I read that, my first thought was “Of course not, the subjects were on a low protein, severely calorie restricted diet.” Because there was no muscle mass increase, there was also no observed resting metabolic rate increase in any of the 3 groups.

Moral of That Calorie Story?

Cut back calories, but not to the extreme. Otherwise, your body tries to hang on to some of your fat as a defense mechanism, and the low calories will lead to protein oxidation as your body tries to keep functioning. Combining protein oxidation with a low protein diet will pretty much guarantee no muscle mass increase, no matter how much you’re training. In fact, it puts you into an over-training scenario right out of the gate.

So, squats and power cleans will burn maybe 80-120 calories whilst you strain mightily under the bar. However, although it feels like you’re burning enough energy to light LA for a week, that’s really a fairly piddling calorie number. Long term though, the resting metabolic rate increases really add up to calories burned and fat lost, since you are burning more calories throughout the day.

If you’re trying to burn calories and peel away the fat, check out this 23 second exercise that works wonders  CLICK HERE to SEE IT