Athletes around the world work every day to achieve great lengths at their respective sports. Their mind are constantly focused on winning, not burning calories. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t burning them by the truckload.
At their elite level, many of these athletes put their bodies under almost superhuman amounts of stress. Not all sports are equally stressful, however — even the world’s best curling team clearly isn’t matching the effort of the slowest speed skater. So what sport burns the most calories per minute?
One good place to look for the answer is the Compendium of Physical Activities, a standardized guide that lets researchers compare the physical demands of activities ranging from sports to household chores. The compendium ranks activities by METs, or metabolic equivalents. One MET is roughly equal to the resting metabolic rate of an average person. Our calorie burning calculations are based on the average weight of North American adults: 177.9 pounds.
So What Sport Burns the Most Calories per Minute?
- Cross country skiing tops our list at 15 METs. That’s good for 21 calories per minute, or 1260 calories per hour. While it’s not the most exciting event to watch, the grueling effort makes this one of the most exhausting sports there is.
- Not far behind is figure skating, listed in the compendium under “ice dancing,” at 14 METs. It may look graceful and relaxed, but the average American torches 20 calories per minute skating at that level.
- At 13.5 METs is the skiing portion of the biathlon, the sport that tests athletes’ muscle control by combining cross country skiing with bouts of target shooting. You’ll blast away 19 calories per minute in this event. Same goes for the fourth-place finisher, competitive speed skating, at 13.3 METs.
- Farther behind is competitive hockey at 10 METs, which still consumes 14 calories per minute and is one of the top calorie burning activities in team sports.
How Many Calories do Popular Sports Burn?
If you don’t live in a winter climate or are more of a casual sports enthusiast, the compendium can make decisions a little easier for those just looking to boost their metabolism. Some of the most exhausting sports in the ranking are boxing at 12.8 METs (18 calories/minute), handball, jai alai and squash at 12 METs each (17 calories/minute) and track and field, racquetball and soccer all tied with hockey at 10 METs.
Up for a game of basketball? At 6.5 METs, you’ll work off 9 calories per minute. Tennis anyone? You’ll sweat away 10 calories per minute at 7.3 METs. Perhaps something a little more leisurely, like bowling? At 3.8 METs, you’re still consuming 5 calories per minute.
What Are the Top Calorie Burning Activities of All?
- If you’re swinging for the fences in your calorie-burning quest, the compendium says you can’t do better than running — at 14 miles per hour. Sustain that 23 MET pace for a minute, and you can say goodbye to 32 calories. Dial that pace back to 12 mph (19 METs) or 11 mph (16 METs) to burn 27 or 23 calories, respectively.
- Running up stairs is tied with cross country skiing at 15 METs. But it comes in just behind mountain bike racing’s 16 METs.
- Towering above both of those sports at 17.5 METs? Chopping wood with a 2.75-pound ax at a rate of 51 blows per minute. Lumberjacks performing at that level can lose 25 calories per minute, all while making a respectable living.
Even if you never melt calories at these stunning rates, remember: slow and steady wins the race. You can burn calories doing all sorts of things, from cleaning your home to playing with your kids, and even watching sports. The compendium rates “sports spectator, very excited, emotional, physically moving” at 3.3 METs — five calories per minute just for being a true fan!
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