“Ugh, I hate squats. They burn so much.”
If this sounds like you, you may not even notice you squat throughout the day. We squat when we lift things, when we play with our pets, and when we go from sitting to standing. (And who doesn’t like sitting down?)
No, squats aren’t always as fun as patting your pup. But squat workouts are a great way to work your muscles and increase your strength, balance, and flexibility.
Let’s drop it like it’s squat and calculate the calorie burn.
Before we dive into it, an important PSA…
There are several factors to bear in mind when calculating the number of calories your squats sesh is gonna burn:
- your body weight in kilograms (kg) (If the metric system isn’t your jam, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your shiny, metric, kg measurement.)
- total time you spend exercising (in minutes)
- your workout’s MET level (aka its intensity)
Wait… what’s a MET?
MET stands for metabolic equivalent (not an exclusive fashion gala, sorry). It’s the value that’s going to help you determine just how many calories you’ll be kicking to the curb at any given intensity.
The easiest way to find your MET value is to take a look at a MET table. You can also estimate your MET value by evaluating how you feel while exercising:
- Can you easily talk while squatting? Then you’re probably using light-to-moderate effort, which would make your MET value 3.5.
- Are you huffing and puffing during your squat sets and finding it difficult to say things out loud? This likely qualifies as more vigorous effort, which puts your MET value at 8.0.
The magic formula
Once you have your MET value, it’s math time (yay!). Follow this simple formula to determine how many calories you’re burning each minute:
.0175 x MET x weight (in kg) = calories burned per minute
“I didn’t sign up for math,” we hear you cry at the other side of the screen. That’s fine — here’s the formula in motion to make it hella easy.
This demo uses a person who weighs 165 pounds. Let’s call them Jeremy.
First, you’ll want to convert pounds into kilograms: 165 lbs / 2.2 = 75 kg
Next, determine the MET value. Jeremy is really bringing it, getting super into a high-intensity exercise. He’s clearly at a MET of 8.0.
Then, plug these values into your formula:
.0175 x 8 x 75 = 10.5
Jeremy is smashing up 10.5 calories every minute.
To find out how many calories he’ll burn during the entire workout, multiply this number by the total number of minutes you’re exercising. Let’s say Jeremy plans to do squats for 5 minutes:
10.5 x 5 = 52.5
And there you have it: 165-pound Jeremy will burn 52.5 calories during 5 minutes of high-intensity squats! Go towel yourself down and have a green smoothie, jeez. You’ve earned it.
The handy chart below shows you the range of calories that a 140-pound (63.5-kilogram) person generally burns:
|Length of exercise||3.5 METS (low intensity)||8.0 METS (high intensity)|
|5 minutes||19 calories||44 calories|
|15 minutes||58 calories||133 calories|
|25 minutes||97 calories||222 calories|
Squats are a great way to get your body moving, your heart pumping, and those calories crunching away. They work a variety of muscles, including your:
- hip flexors
- lower back
They’re also a super safe way to work out (when you pull them off correctly, of course).
So how do you do a squat the right way? It’s all in the form.
Follow these steps to get your best basic squat down pat:
- Stand with your arms at your sides and your feet shoulder-width apart. If you’re just starting out, you can use a chair as a guide for how low to dip.
- Breathe in while bending your knees and pressing your hips backward. As you lower yourself down, bring your hands together in front of your chest. Stop going down once your hips are below your knees.
- Breathe out while you press your heels into the floor and raise yourself back to a standing position.
- Let your arms return to your sides.
Secrets for the perfect squat
Bump up your squat game by putting these tips into action:
- To make sure you’re focusing on the right muscle groups, put your weight into your heels rather than your toes when raising up.
- Keep your back aligned and neutral by keeping your chest up and your hips back.
- When you’re in a full squat, take a peek at your knees to see if they’re in line above your ankles, and not extended past your toes.
Once you’ve conquered the basics, try these fun (and calorie-crunching!) variations that take it up a notch.
Choose which one you’d like to try, and start with 3 sets of 8 to 15 reps. As you master each one, you can increase the number of reps.
Plié squats help activate those inner thigh muscles.
A plié is a common ballet move, but don’t worry. You don’t have to be a prima ballerina to add these into your squat routine. Barre workouts feature a heck of a lot of ballet technique, and this is no different.
The focus here is the positioning of the feet to point outward at an angle, rather than forward.
- With your feet hip-width apart, angle them out 45 degrees.
- Breathe in as you lower yourself down into the squat, letting your hips dip slightly lower than your knees.
- Breathe out as you return to standing position. Squeeze those glutes and press up through your heels as you exhale.
Pro tip: Add in a set of weights for extra intensity.
Throwing a set of hand weights into the mix can help boost your muscular strength.
- Stand with your feet a hip-width apart. With your arms bent, hold a dumbbell in each hand, so that the weights are just below chin-level.
- Breathe in as you lower into a squat (A-OK if your elbows touch your knees!).
- Breathe out as you raise yourself back up.
Pro tip: New to weights? Start with lighter ones, then add more pounds as you become more comfortable with the moves.
Want to hone in on one leg at a time? Add in a lunge and make it a split squat! You can also choose a set of weights to add extra variety to this move.
- Start in a lunge position, with one foot in front of the other. Let your arms hang by your sides.
- Breathe in as you lower your back knee to the ground. As you do this, raise your arms to meet at chest-level.
- Breathe out as you squeeze your bottom and raise yourself up to your standing lunge.
- Repeat. Once you’ve done your set number of reps on one leg, switch to the other.
Pro tip: make it a Bulgarian side squat by elevating your back leg onto a chair or bench (or whatever you have at home that works!) that’s several inches off the ground.
Then do the steps above. This is a bit of an advanced move, so don’t add in weights until you’ve mastered it.
Put a little pep in that squat step with a little plyometrics (aka jumping). Plyo exercises help build strength and speed, while adding some heart-pumping cardio to your routine.
- Get into your standard squat position: arms at your sides, feet hip-width apart.
- Squat down while lowering your arms behind you.
- Raise yourself back up by swooping your arms forward and jumping off the ground.
- Land and repeat.
Pro tip: This is an advanced move and not recommended for beginners. Work your way up to jump squats by mastering other variations first.
If you live with knee or joint pain, it may be best to skip jump squats entirely, as they’ll put force on your lower joints. This could lead to injury if this is already a problem area for you.
If jump squats aren’t your jam but you still want to up the ante with your squat sesh, try doing some squat pulses. This variation keeps your muscles moving and engaged the whole time you’re doing them.
- Get into your standard squat position.
- Lower yourself into your squat and hold your position. Make sure you’re in proper form and that your upper body isn’t leaning over your legs.
- Raise your rear a quarter of the way back up.
- Pulse back down, getting back to your lowest squat.
- Repeat and pulse for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Pro tip: Looking for an advanced move? Combine squat pulses with jump squats. To do this, lower into your squat, pulse once, then jump up. Land back into your squat, pulse again, and repeat.
Squats are a great way to get in a good workout while burning calories.
The number of calories you can burn while doing squats depends on a variety of factors, including your weight, intensity, and how long you spend doing them.
If you’re a squat newbie, start by mastering the basic squat. Make sure you’re practicing your form and using the right muscles, so that you don’t put yourself at risk of injury.
Once you’ve become a pro, spice up your workout with one of the many squat variations out there, working in pulses, jumps, or dumbbells.
There are so many variations out there, you won’t know when to stop.