fit girl with barbell doing squatts

Active Calories Vs Total Calories For Greater Fitness


Billy Hughes
August 25, 2021

If you like to count calories to see how many you’re burning during an exercise routine, you’ll need to know that not all calories are the same.

There are active and total calories of which you should be aware. 

What’s a calorie, exactly?

A calorie is a unit of energy, and all types of food contain calories that you require to live and function.

It’s important to know what active and total calories you burn every day as this will ensure you can maintain your weight-loss goals while also being aware of days when you’re burning more calories so that you can schedule in a day or two of rest.

With that in mind, let’s explore active calories vs total calories. What are they and how do they differ?  

What Are Active Calories? 

what are active calories

Active calories are calories that you burn when you work out, whether you’re hiking, jogging, walking, or doing other types of exercise.

They’re affected by various factors, such as your age, medical conditions, how active you are, and your weight. The more you weigh, the more calories you’ll burn as compared to someone who weighs less than you. 

There are also heart-related factors that will affect how many calories you burn during exercise. These include the following:

  • Your heart rate fat-burning zone. You should be aware of your heart rate during exercise as this directly influences the intensity of your workout. When you push yourself harder to work out more vigorously, your heart will pump blood faster to send oxygen to the muscles. It’s been said that working out in the “zone” between your maximum heart rate and your resting heart rate is when you will burn the most fat. There are five heart rate fat-burning zones of which you should be aware. To find out more, read our article, “What Is The Heart Rate Fat-Burning Zone?” 
  • Your resting heart rate. It’s not just your heart rate during exercise that will enable you to burn calories. Your resting heart rate, which is between 60 and 100 beats per minute for healthy adults, will also affect your workout. If you have a higher resting heart rate you will usually remain in a higher fat-burning zone for longer so you’ll have to ensure you take more breaks during exercise.  

What Are Total Calories? 

preparing fruit salat

Total calories are active calories and the calories you burn when you’re lounging around the house or sitting down.

So, basically, your total calorie burn will be the amount of calories you burn over the course of 24 hours. As with active calories, total calories are influenced by a variety of factors, like your medical conditions, age, weight, and fitness level.

Total calories make use of different types of energy:

  • Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). This is energy that your body needs to maintain your body’s basic functions, like building cells and breathing. Your RMR will be affected by factors such as your age and weight. Your RMR contributes 60 to 70 percent of your total calorie burn every day. You can calculate your RMR in this way:
    For men: 88.362 + (13.397 x your weight in kilograms) + (4.799 x height in centimeters) – (5.677 x age in years)
    For women: 444.7.593 + (9.247 x your weight in kilograms) + (3.098 x height in centimeters) – (4.330 x age in years)
  • Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). This is the amount of energy your body will use for daily activities, such as typing on your computer or laptop, walking around the home or office, and so on. Your activity level will influence how much energy gets burned from NEAT.
  • Exercise calories. These are the calories you will burn during your workouts. Of course, this amount is dependent on how long and intense your workouts are. Both NEAT and calories burned during exercise make up 15 to 30 percent of your total energy per day.
  • Thermic Effect of Food (TEF). Your body also burns calories when you chew and digest your food. How much this contributes to your daily calories is minimal – it’s approximately 10 percent. FYI, eating protein is what burns the most calories. 

How Many Calories Should You Burn When Exercising? 

The amount of calories you should strive to burn during a workout will vary depending on your fitness goals.

If you want to maintain your current weight, you won’t have to worry about how many calories you’re burning as much as if you’re trying to lose weight.

In that case, you’ll have to carefully monitor the amount of calories you’re eating and burning. To lose one pound of fat, you will have to burn 3,500 calories per week. So, you’ll probably have to work out every day.

If you’re taking part in vigorous exercise, such as spin classes, you should avoid working out daily as it can put too much pressure on your body’s muscles.

Instead, you should aim for three to four sessions per week. This can help you to reach your calorie goal because an hour-long spin class session will burn between 400 and 600 calories.

High-Intensity Vs Low-Intensity Exercise: Which One Is Better? 

High-Intensity Vs Low-Intensity Exercise

You might assume that engaging in high-intensity workouts will make you burn more calories, but is this true?

What about low-intensity exercises – do they have any value when it comes to calorie burn?

The truth is that when you work out at a lower exercise intensity, your muscles burn more fat than carbohydrate but not necessarily a greater amount of total calories or total fat as compared to high-intensity exercise.

When your muscles burn fat instead of carbohydrate, this means you’ll burn more calories – fat has more than twice the amount of calories. Your muscles, however, require more oxygen to burn fat because fat is denser. This is where things get interesting.

If you exercise too hard or fast, a lower amount of oxygen will reach your muscles. What happens next is oxygen debt, which basically means carbohydrate becomes the preferred fuel because it requires less oxygen to burn than fat.

What Exercises Burn The Most Calories? 

What Exercises Burn The Most Calories?

There are various exercises that will burn more active calories than others.

If you want to increase your calorie burn, you’ll achieve that with the following exercises:

  • Running. You can burn between 10 and 16 calories per minute by running. The faster you run, the more calories you’ll burn. Running not only burns calories but makes you stronger and more flexible. One of the best things about taking up running is that you can do it without requiring any equipment. Of course, you can choose to purchase a treadmill for your running workouts and this does have various benefits, such as by giving you a smoother platform on which to run than outdoor terrain.
  • Dance workouts. Another popular way of increasing how many calories you burn is to engage in a dance workout. Dancing is cardio that raises your heart rate, especially if you choose a dance workout like Zumba. Dancing can burn between six and 9.8 calories per minute, and what’s great about it is that it doesn’t feel like exercise because it’s so much fun.
  • Kickboxing. If you want to give your core and upper body a great workout without putting too much impact on your legs, like if you’re battling knee pain or are trying to recover from a recent injury, kickboxing is an excellent activity. It not only boosts your cardio and strength, but it also helps you refine your coordination, balance, and agility. Kickboxing burns around 9.7 to 14.4 calories per minute.
  • Spinning. If you love working out on a stationary bike, you should try spinning. While you won’t get much of an upper-body workout, you will work lots of muscles in your lower body. You will be able to burn around 6.6 to 10 calories per hour! Spinning does feel difficult when you start, but it’s a vigorous and fast-paced exercise that’s great for weight loss as well as your heart health. FYI, if you want to add a bit of upper-body exercise to your spinning session, add some weights.
  • Jumping rope. If you still have a jumping rope lying around from your childhood, you should make use of it again. Jumping rope is great for boosting your core strength, cardiovascular health, coordination, and posture. It also works well to burn more calories. You can eliminate between 11 and 16.5 calories per minute by jumping rope. However, jumping rope can be tough so you want to do it for 30 seconds at a time and stop in between bursts so that you can get used to it.
  • Swimming. A person who weighs 150 pounds will burn around 6.6 calories per minute if they swim at a moderate speed, whereas swimming more vigorously will result in a calorie burn of 11.6 calories per minute. Swimming is a great way to lose weight all over your body, while building your endurance, cardiovascular health, and building muscle strength.

Active Calories Vs Total Calories On Your Apple Watch 

calories count on apple watch

There are many fitness devices that will show you your active and total calories.

If you have an Apple Watch, you will be able to find out how many active and total calories your body burns every day. Apple Watch’s fitness is focused on three rings: Move, Exercise, and Stand.

These rings are basically goals that you want to achieve every day. You can track your performance on the Apple watch itself or via the Fitness app (which used to be called the Activity app) on your iPhone. 

  • The Move ring on your watch shows you the active calories you’re burning, from running during your workout to taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • On the Fitness app on your iPhone, you’ll be able to see the Activity rings. Underneath the Move data, you’ll get to see your total calories – the amount of total calories you burned for the day. Subtract the active calories from your total calories to find out how many passive calories (in other words, calories from when you’re not doing anything physically active) have been burned. 

Related Questions 

Do women and men burn a different amount of calories?

Men burn more calories when at rest as compared to women, as a result of how they contain less body fat and more muscle mass. 

How does the Apple Watch calculate how many calories you burn?

The Apple Watch uses personal data, such as your weight, gender, age, and height to calculate your calorie burn.

How many calories do you need to burn to lose weight?

You need to burn 400 to 500 calories per day, five days a week during your workouts in order to lose one to two pounds of weight per week. This is a safe weight-loss goal. 


While you might already track the calories that you eat every day, it’s a good thing to know how many calories you’re burning with exercise.

In this article, we’ve looked at active vs total calories, and what you need to know about them. We’ve also given you information on how to track your calorie burn on Apple Watch.

Start tracking your active and total calories to get a bigger picture of how many calories you’re burning and keep an eye on your fitness goals! 


Billy Hughes

Billy Hughes is a fitness trainer based out of New York. She has registered success in training clients at multiple fitness centers and thus aims to establish her module relevant to the post-pandemic era. Her space,, is an attempt towards encouraging and educating more people on the scope of indoor fitness. She believes the power of fitness can transform attitude, personality, and way of living. She also finds it rewarding to help people achieve their goals and make their lives better.