How Many Calories do you Actually Burn in a City Strongman Class?

03 Aug How Many Calories do you Actually Burn in a City Strongman Class?

You can burn 1,000 calories in just one hour”

Sound familiar? If you’ve ever wondered on what evidence these claims are based, you may be surprised to hear that, as with much of the marketing in the fitness industry, the answer is ‘not much’.

This article aims to achieve two things. Firstly to dispel some of the myths around calorie expenditure as a means to lose weight and secondly to provide our members with an accurate reflection of the intensity of City Strongman sessions and the results they can realistically expect (assuming their diet doesn’t revolve around food groups based on M&M colours).

Everyone knows that being physically active has the following benefits:

  • It ‘can’ be good for your heart and lungs
  • It ‘can’ relieve stress and boost your mood
  • It ‘can’ burn body fat
  • And it ‘can’ improve your body shape

Not everyone who comes to our classes wants to ‘lose weight’. We preach a message of health, fitness and performance as primary goals. However, losing body fat and changing shape are common and legitimate reasons people want to exercise and our offering is no different. Anyone playing the weight loss game knows how important daily calorie intake is. Regardless of your opinion on hormone regulation, nutrient timing and the biochemical effect of different quantities of micronutrients, if you are in a net negative calorie balance by the time you’re tucked up in your spiderman PJs you will lose weight.

But this is where it gets complicated. Different types of foods have different effects on your body which in turn can affect your body composition and athletic performance. That’s a whole different kettle of wild, line caught fish! But the fact remains that if you want to lost weight you need to swing the calorimeter in your favour.

And so many people turn to exercise as a means to burn more calories in conjunction with eating less. However this leads to a few problems.

The first problem is that the more cardiovascular exercise you do to burn extra calories, the more your body will adapt to the workout and become more efficient. This means you will burn fewer calories with the same amount of work. As you lose weight (especially if you lose muscle mass) you will burn even fewer calories. This means you either need to work out for longer or increase the intensity of your workouts. Since we live in a time poor society, it’s unsurprising many people turn to high intensity interval training (HIIT) as a way to achieve this goal.

This throws up another problem which is that endless cardio depletes your energy stores and can leave you with insufficient fuel in the tank when it comes to resistance training. Slowly in the last few years exercisers have come round to the fact that resistance training is essential to changing body shape. The more muscle you have the more calories you burn watching paint dry. However, as you improve, you can’t just use tiny pink dumbbells either; the weight must be progressively challenging.

This leads us to the marriage of resistance training and HIIT as the most popular fat burning workout for time poor people who want the most bang for their buck. Whether it’s crossfit, bootcamps or modified strongman training, the principles remain pretty similar. Where City Strongman differs to most is the level of resistance training and the maintenance of form under fatigue. Our belief is that if you can flip a 100kg tyre and carry 80kg of farmers walks for 30 seconds (which the vast majority of our members can and do in as little as a few weeks) you’re going to struggle to get the same level of progressive overload with light dumbbells.

How many calories can you really burn exercising?

If you pop your details into one of those calorie expenditure calculator things all over the internet you might get the following answers or similar for an hour’s worth of exercise (based on my weight of 83kg):

Circuit Training 650kcals

Running at 6mph 800kcals

Cycling at 15mph 830kcals

Swimming 600kcals

The main problem with tracking calorie expenditure this way, aside from individual variances such as fitness levels and weight (although most calculators take this into account) is that they misleadingly refer to the total calorie burn (TCB) of exercise rather than the net calorie burn (NCB). To workout the NCB you must subtract the calories your body would have burned even if you were sat at home watching BBC period dramas.

You rarely hear anyone in our industry discuss the NCB of workouts, because fitness is sexy dammit and we love big, impressive numbers which make good marketing. The reality though is that no bootcamp you attend can really, truly burn ‘1000 calories an hour’ as you’d burn a proportion of that number if you’d never set foot in the gym. This is important as it’s a common error those who do calorie count (that’s another article) make which can overestimate the size of your calorie deficit.

To work out this number you need to establish your resting metabolic rate (RMR) which tells you how many calories you need simply to survive each day. You can then use this as a basis to estimate how many calories you burn per hour. Here is a link to a calculator:

The other problem with only relying on calorie burn as a measure of exercise effectiveness is it ignores both the after-burn or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) effect and the metabolic effects of resistance training.


Caption: “Resistance training provides a wide number of health and fitness benefits”

The EPOC effect exists after both anaerobic exercise and aerobic exercise but they are hard to compare and there is lots of argument about how important these figures really are. Generally speaking studies suggest aerobic exercise burns more calories during exercise and anaerobic exercise (and we’re primarily looking at HIIT) and resistance training burns more afterwards through this oxygen debt. Whether or not this is more than the total amount of calories performed in the same amount of time doing steady state cardio is still fiercely argued. Research does suggest that HIIT not only burns a more favourable proportion of subcutaneous and abdominal body fat, but it can also increase both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, significantly lower insulin resistance and cause skeletal muscle adaptations which can enhance skeletal fat oxidation and improved glucose tolerance. In conclusion it certainly has its place in a group fitness environment.

The main metabolic effects of resistance training in addition to EPOC come from increased lean body mass gains. The more muscle you have, the greater your RMR (if you can remember back that far).

How tough is a City Strongman workout?

By combining resistance exercises with cardiovascular demands strongman training naturally challenges all the metabolic pathways but with the added benefit of serious resistance training.

Despite the name, strongman is rarely an all-out maximum test of strength and certainly not in the way we adapt the exercises and exercise periods. City Strongman classes are primarily anaerobic in nature (the energy systems which don’t require oxygen as a fuel), and predominantly anaerobic lactic (the horrible burny leg feeling after 40 plus seconds of activity). As we’ve seen, these two forms of exercise ensure that, all things being equal, you’re primed for fat loss during the workouts and after.

Over the course of three weeks we have charted the heart rates of 8 City Strongman members of different genders, with over a 10 year age variance and ranging from 50kg to 130kg in body weight using Myzone heart rate monitors. This has helped to give us an overall picture of the intensity of a City Strongman workout in addition to the other fat burning benefits we’ve discussed.



This is an example of the heart rate data from one of our male members. This 60 minute workout consisted of a warm up, 3 circuits and twice around a team medley to finish with a cool down. I would describe him as having a ‘rugby build’ so his calorie burn, as you can see, was much greater than the smaller females we monitored.

  • The calorie burn varied between 600 to 900 total calorie burn amongst all attendees.
  • This variance was chiefly down to weight rather than effort as the intensity of sessions remained consistently high.
  • Attendees spent on average 10 minutes at 60%, 12 minutes at 70%, 15 minutes at 80% and 10 minutes at 90% of their theoretical maximum heart rate.

Thankfully this backs ups our aims to create a group training environment which includes heavy resistance training in a safe environment compared to technical barbell exercises, which primarily targets anaerobic energy systems.

Can we legitimately claim it’s “Better Than The Treadmill?” Well, as we’ve demonstrated in this article it’s totally subjective based on your goals. However we can say if you want a challenging anaerobic, high intensity workout which incorporates progressive resistance and mobility training you’d be hard pushed to find another similar class…and we love a tag line as much as the next fitness company.



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