Here's How Many Calories You Actually Burn During Yoga
For maximum burn, master your flow.
Yoga can be an effective workout that incinerates calories long after you leave the mat…or it can be a sage-scented nap. Depending on who you ask, there are anywhere from eight to 28 different styles of yoga—and they all offer varying degrees of calorie burn. If you're wondering how many calories yoga burns, the short answer is 50 per hour, on the low end, and 1,500 on the high end.
"Yoga is not traditionally considered to be in the same category as calorie burning sweat-inducing activities, like running or high-intensity boot camp classes," says Alex Carneiro, a personal trainer and the founder of Modevo Fitness in Lakewood, Colorado. "That said, the amount of calories you may burn in a class will differ from person to person and class to class."
Ultimately, not every type of yoga is created equal, and the yoga that burns the most calories depends on a whole bunch of factors: the poses, the duration of the class, your size and muscle mass, your experience level, and your body temperature, among others. Still, yoga is all about setting intentions—and if your intention is to burn calories, there are plenty of ways to accomplish exactly that. Here's everything you need to know about using yoga to kick your calorie burn into overdrive.
What styles of yoga burn the most calories?
Hatha and Vinyasa yoga styles burn the most calories, while Restorative and Yin styles burn much less.
"Hatha Yoga on average will burn around 200 calories," says Carneiro. "Vinyasa Flow is usually associated with the highest number of calories burnt with an average of 550 calories per hour."
Vinyasa yoga offers the most promise from burning off yesterday's drunk nachos because it's the most aerobic form, and strings together a variety of athletic postures typically referred to as a "flow." Power yoga is a bit like Vinyasa yoga, but is more athletic. The two forms are different, of course, but are similar in that they're both rooted more in fitness than meditation. Both forms also come under fire for that very reason (and for the fact that they're more injury-prone, too).
Hatha yoga may burn fewer than half of the calories that Vinyasa does, but it also presents a gentler, lower-risk option—and that's essential to consider. After all, getting injured is a surefire way to push your calorie burn levels off a cliff.
What yoga poses burn the most calories?
Yoga postures that require strength, balance, and stretching burn more calories because they force the body to multitask, says Michelle Thielen, a yoga instructor and the founder of YogaFaith. For instance, complex poses (like dancer, extended side-angle, warrior II, and boat) will burn far more calories than restorative ones (like corpse, happy baby, child's, and hero).
Regardless of the pose, the longer you hold it, the more calories you'll burn—but that doesn't mean holding a pose for an eon is always a good idea. Holding calorie-burning postures for longer periods of time requires an advanced level of skill and, again, presents a greater risk of injury. This weight-loss hack should be utilized carefully by experienced yogis.
"The caution here, as with any physical activity, is we don't want to compromise form or function if fatigue is present," Thielen warns. "Don't hold a posture if your body is misaligned, or if you are having difficulty balancing."
Heat helps—but not as much as you'd think.
Beyond Vinyasa and Hatha yoga, Bikram and other warm and hot versions of yoga burn the most calories by far because they utilize many calorie-burning poses in a sweltering room. Bikram classes typically take place in rooms around 110 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas warm or heated Power or Vinyasa yoga can be anywhere from 90 to 110 degrees. (Any yoga hotter than 115 degrees is dangerous even for expert yogis.)
Some sources state that hot yoga can melt anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 calories off of sweaty participants. Though both Thielen and Carneiro acknowledge that is possible, research out of Colorado State University found that, when men and women did 90 minutes of Bikram yoga at 105 degrees, women burned 330 calories and men burned 460 calories on average.
The upside of hot yoga may be slightly overstated, but it's not a total myth either. Extra energy used to cool the body with sweat burns extra calories, and hot forms of yoga further maximize gains by promoting strength, stamina, and endurance. (Yes, it's a win-win-win.) Hot rooms boost cardiovascular health and lung capacity by working out respiratory and circulation systems, say both Thielen and Carneiro.
Of course, Bikram and other hot yoga styles come with the risk of—you guessed it—injury. Dehydration is an obvious concern, but hot rooms increase flexibility. And, while that can be great for pushing certain poses to the limit, rookies are more prone to overdoing it—and stretching too far.
"Often times, you feel like Gumby in a hot room and can overstretch a muscle or tendon that cannot be repaired to its original state," Thielen notes. (If one thing's for sure, it's that Gumby knew squat about counting calories.)
Other factors are in play.
Style, poses, and temperature are all important for maximizing the amount of calories you can burn during yoga, but there are other variables to account for. Size, muscle mass, heart rate, effort, and even what you eat before class can have an effect on how many calories you burn. For instance, larger, more inexperienced people have to exert more energy during yoga, and will burn more calories as a result.
"Traditionally, if you're a novice in yoga, your body may burn more calories, since it's not used to the movements and patterns of holding the poses," Carneiro points out. "As you get more advanced, your body will conserve more energy, and the amount of calories you burn will decrease."
Expert yogis may look cool holding their headstands for ages, but they're actually burning fewer calories because their bodies have acclimated. So beginners have that going for them!
Yoga is for losing weight, not for burning calories.
Even though there are plenty of ways to burn a gazillion calories during a yoga class, yoga experts agree that that's not the point of going to class. It's important to note that, even though yoga doesn't prioritize the burn, multiple peer-reviewed studies suggest that yoga helps people lose weight. Now, this isn't because yoga burns calories, per se, but because it teaches mindfulness.
"The benefits of yoga go beyond the mat and flow itself, and that means that weight loss is also achieved off the mat," says Caleb Backe, a personal trainer and a wellness expert at Maple Holistics.
Mindfulness comes from the meditative side of yoga, and it basically means the ability to stay present in the moment. Mindfulness has been linked with better sleep, improved mental health, and healthier eating habits, all of which lead to weight loss that people can maintain without ever having to count calories.
"These are things that can allow you to burn calories even after you've finished your yoga workout," Backe says. "With this in mind, burning calories is more of a byproduct than a goal of doing yoga."
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