How Many Calories Does CrossFit Really Burn?

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The health benefits of CrossFit have been well documented, but do you know how many calories you actually burn during a CrossFit workout?

In this article, I’ll go over some of the different research out there that estimates the number of calories you burn during a typical CrossFit workout. There’s also a calculator at the bottom of the article to help you figure out how many calories you’ll burn by doing your own numbers.

Over at  The American Council on Exercise, they estimate you burn between 350 and 400 calories in an hour and a half of CrossFit, but that you burn anywhere between 600 to 800 calories for shorter workouts. 

Based on these three studies alone, we can say that the range of calories burned is somewhere between 350-800 calories per workout for an average person. We’ll talk about some other estimates later on.

Estimating Metabolic Equivalent Task (MET) for CrossFit Workouts

Before we go over some research that looks at how many calories you burn during a CrossFit workout, I want to discuss metabolic equivalent tasks (MET). If you’re not familiar with MET, you can think of MET as the amount of oxygen and energy used when doing a specific activity. The higher the MET, the harder your body has to work.

Let’s take an example of jogging (3-4 miles per hour) vs. running a mile in 6 minutes for a 150lb person:

Calorie Expenditure (calories burned) = VO2 x Work / 6600

When you’re jogging, your body burns about 5 MET, whereas if you’re running at a 6 min/mile pace during mile sprints, that’s closer to 21 MET.

Calorie expenditure = VO2 x Work / 6600

So in this case, our 150lb person would burn roughly 88 calories in 15 minutes of jogging and 731 calories in 15 minutes of running sprints.

So how do we get from MET to calories? 

As a rule of thumb, the average person burns about 2 MET on an incline and 3-5 MET on a flat surface. I’m not sure where these numbers come from, but I found this article very helpful when researching for this article.

The 1-6 MET category is equivalent to a level of activity equal to rest or very light exercise (e.g., walking slowly). The 7-10 MET category is equivalent to moderate exercise (e.g., brisk walking, ballroom dancing). The 11+ MET category is equivalent to heavy exercise (e.g., running at 5 mph, competition cycling).”  – Exercise Physiology textbook

So how many MET do some of the CrossFit benchmark workouts fall under?  Nate Harvey of Games.CrossFit.com took a look at this and said that running 1 mile or rowing 2k is 4-5 METs for him, whereas doing Fran in 6 minutes was 6-8 METs.

Calculating Calories Burned using Previous Estimates and Video Analysis Here’s the great part: we can take some of these estimates from above, combine them with our understanding of MET, and use things like video analysis to estimate how many calories you burn during a workout. 

Here’s an example of something Nate Harvey did:

We know that Nate Harvey weighs 150lbs, so we can use the calculator from  LIVESTRONG.COM  to find out that a 150lbs person burns between 416-466 calories jogging for 30 minutes at 4mph. Here’s a photo of Nate’s MET level during one of his runs.

Since we know that the average person burns between 0.5-2 MET walking, our estimate of 2 MET is pretty spot on. From there, it’s just a matter of calculating how many calories he burned in 15 minutes: 416 calories x 4/15 = 264 calories.

So Nate Harvey, who is 150lbs, burned about 265 calories jogging for 15 minutes at a pace of 4mph (2 MET).If we wanted to look at his workout on Fran in 6 minutes (6-8 MET), he’d burn roughly 521 calories in that time period.

This is pretty exciting because we now have a way to calculate calories burned from video analysis and some estimates on our part. I’m not sure how many people are willing to actually stop their workout and find out how far they ran in 15 minutes, but with tools like the Microsoft Band or FitBit, you could theoretically take your heart rate readings throughout the workout and figure out the exact calories burned for your workout.

This is a big time saver, and I’d imagine that once we have some data from workouts like Murph or Cindy, we could then calculate the average calories burned during the workout and use this to tell you how many calories you burn in X amount of work. This would also give you a good idea of how long the workout takes and what pace you should be at.

I’d be interested to hear how accurate the calorie estimations are from workout videos that you find CrossFitters put up online.

So the ultimate conclusion is: Yes, CrossFit burns a lot of calories. It’s definitely comparable to running and maybe even better (depending on how your body reacts to different benchmarks). It’s also very fun!

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