Weightlifting burns more calories than you might have realised. Because we perform weight lifting for strengthening, toning, recovery and building muscles, we rarely consider it in the same bracket as cardio for burning calories.

According to Harvard Medical School, a general 30-minute strength training session burns an average of 90 calories (180 calories per hour) for a 125-pound person, 112 calories (224 calories per hour) for a 155-pound person and 133 calories (266 calories per hour) for a 185-pound person. When you lift weights, the strain and effort put into countering that strain by your muscles uses up energy – in other words, the calories and nutrition you consume. For mass muscle gainers, a surplus of calories is required to avoid losing weight. For lean gainers, a balance of cardio, weightlifting and adequate nutrition builds your muscles and burns your fat. The more muscle fibres an exercise puts to work, the more energy you will use and the more calories you will burn. Your legs are one of the largest muscle groups on your whole body, meaning there are the most muscle fibres to put to use.

As mentioned, the more muscle fibres you put to work, the more calories you will burn. That means you need to focus on the exercises that will hit the biggest muscle groups. To do that you should go for multi-joint compound lifts, which work for several muscle groups at once. These include squats, deadlifts, leg presses and their varying forms such as trap bar lifts, weighted lunges, sumo lifts and the likes. That isn’t to say you should neglect isolating exercises such as leg extensions and curls, rather you should use them to pre- and post-exhaust at the start and end of a session.

As for how many reps and how much weight you should lift, that depends on your goals. Lower reps of higher weights will build your mass and strength, but if it’s calorie burning that you’re looking for, choose a moderate weight and 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. Timing is just as important when deploying leg exercises for calorie burning; by performing them first thing at the start of a session you’ll be at full strength. If it’s arm day, or you have cardio lined up, by exercising your legs at the end of the session you’ll continue to burn calories once you’re back home after the gym.

Barbell Squat.
Leg Press.
Dumbbell Walking Lunge.
Leg Extensions. …
Romanian Deadlift. …
Lying Leg Curls. …
Standing Calf Raises.

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