What are some exercises that use weights or focus on strength that will increase your heart rate somewhat in order to burn more calories while also building muscle mass?

One thing I thought of is boxing as punching focuses on your muscles as well as getting your heart rate up and also you're bouncing on your toes which works the calfs a lot and also gets the blood pumping. Although this example isn't as focused on the muscles as I'd like.

What I want are some exercises to maintain muscle mass but will also burn a decent number of calories. My goal is fat loss, while maintaining or increasing muscle mass. Currently I do cardio (cycling) and then do weights, bench press, bicep curls, etc. and bodyweight exercises too, pushups, wall sits. But since I have a stronger focus on weight loss I'd like to use strength exercises that also burn calories.

  • This is a bit broad as it's asked. Just about every exercise has an element of cardio and strength, from walking to snatches. What kind of exercise context is this in? What's your program, what's your goal, what exercises do you do now? Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 4:28
  • yes a small element, like you're not gonna burn many calories doing bicep curls though. I want some exercises to maintain muscle mass but will also burn a decent number of calories. My goal is mainly fat loss, while maintaining or increasing muscle mass. Currently I do cardio (cycling) and then do weights, bench press, bicep curls, etc. and bodyweight exercises too, pushups, wall sits. But since I have a stronger focus on weight loss I'd prefer some 'muscle' exercises that also burn calories.
    – Aequitas
    Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 4:35

4 Answers 4


I'm going to grade my recommendations by how deep your caloric cut is, because that affects what you can safely do. In general you will find that the larger the muscle group involved, the more calories expended in doing the exercise. I am assuming the OP is in generally good health and only has to worry about a few extra pounds. Also, my body fat percentages should be adjusted up by roughly 5% if you are a woman.

Very little or no caloric deficit: only increasing activity

Expect a very slow decrease in body fat at this rate. It's really for that last 5% body fat you need to lose.

You want to emphasize exercises that involve your whole body and elevates your heart rate. During these exercises, it's advantageous to have a heart rate monitor to make sure you aren't pushing too far into the red zone. It gets easier to overdo it the older you get, so monitoring yourself is just good insurance.

  • Olympic Lifts or Power Cleans: involves just about every muscle in your body and increases your heart rate pretty significantly even for short sets.
    • Focus on short sets (3-6 reps) and many sets to build volume
    • Just keep adding sets until you feel like your form is starting to break down
    • Pick a threshold of 5-10 sets where you increase weight
  • Weighted carries: Examples are farmer's walks, waiter's walks, and suitcase carries.
    • Focus on speed
    • When you can move a weight 50 ft without dropping in under 25 seconds, increase the weight
    • Strengthens your grip, weight plus movement also gets your heart rate up, but not as intensely as Olympic lifting
  • Barbell or dumbbell complexes: these are quite flexible, and can also fit the bill. Be conservative with your weight and limit it by your weakest lift in the group
    • Consists of 4-5 exercises that can flow from one to the other without letting the implement go.
    • Work with a starting set of 6 reps per exercise, rest 60s after you do all the exercises, and repeat with one less rep each set until you hit 0.
    • Try and get all that work done in 24 minutes or less.

These are very demanding, and should be followed by a nice slow walk for active recovery. 1-2 mile walk keeping your heart rate in the active recovery zone (typically somewhere around 100-110 BPM but varies by individual).

Moderate caloric deficit

The caloric deficit should be enough to lose about 1 pound per week, any more than that and you are looking further down the list. This should get you from about 20% to 15% body fat.

You can still build strength, but you will be working against a bit of a headwind. At this range we'll be combining weighted endurance work and active recovery.

  • Squats: 10-20 rep sets. These are pretty brutal, but you want a weight that you can have 1-2 reps left in the tank with your current energy levels.
  • Any of the above activities: adjust the intensity of your work as what you can perform will be affected by the caloric deficit. Allow more rest between sets of that type of work.
  • Simply minimize rest between sets: adds to the affect of fatigue, but also keeps the heart rate from cooling down too much. If you have to choose, keep normal rest on major work, and reduce rest on assistance work.

Don't forget the recovery walk.

Deeper Caloric Deficit

We are talking 2 lbs / week or more by diet alone. You simply won't have the energy to do high intensity work very well, and might not be able to get enough volume to have any training effect. Use this for when your body fat is over 20%.

  • Weighted carries: just with lower weight and moderate speed
  • Reduced rest times: same as with moderate caloric deficit.
  • More focus on endurance work (20 rep sets): don't use anything heavier than 65% of your one rep max (if you know it).

Finish up your work with a recovery walk.

Straight ketogenic diet

The only way I know of to preserve muscle mass with a severely restricted caloric deficit is a ketogenic diet. Please only consider this if your body fat is 30% or more. Drink lots of water, and make sure you get the required amount of protein to build muscle--it will be required just to maintain the muscle you have.

The only thing you can really safely do at this level of diet is endurance work and recovery walks.

The biggest risk with a ketogenic diet (no carbs, or below 100g of carbs per day) has to do with catabolizing your muscle. To preserve muscle while exercising you want 1g of protein per pound lean body mass. A bit more wouldn't hurt, but definitely no less. Additionally, you need to keep your body using the aerobic energy system to burn fat but not increase the demand for quick energy. With glycogenolysis and and phosphogen systems, your body needs carbs (or glycogen) to burn. In it's absence your body will attempt to convert protein to a suitable replacement. While the body is smart enough to use dietary protein before it's own musculature, demands for quick energy with intense exercise will quickly outpace your body's ability to use dietary protein.

  • In ketosis, stay with aerobic work only
  • Eat 1g protein per pound lean mass, up to per pound total body weight
  • Drink plenty of water, since the body's demand for it will increase
  • Why do you say "safely do at this level of diet"? Since I fall under the last category (>30% (~40)), are you recommending <65% of 1RM of any of the above exercises or just of the weighted walks?
    – Aequitas
    Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 22:14
  • Are you doing a ketogenic diet (no carbs), or just keeping a caloric deficit of 2 lbs per week? As long as you are having enough carbs to stay out of ketosis, go with the weighted carries, reduced rest times, endurance work, and recovery walks. If you are are eliminating carbs altogether, you really want to avoid doing high intensity work since the demand for quick energy will come from catabolizing the biggest source of protein you have: muscles. That's why with a ketogenic diet you only want to use your aerobic (fat burning) energy systems. Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 12:41
  • I'm not considering carbs and such in my diet, I am only eating smaller portions of what I normally eat to get a 750-1000 calorie deficit. When you say avoid high intensity work are you talking about heavy weights or going for a fast run/bike? my goal is to lose fat and build (or at least maintain) current muscle mass.
    – Aequitas
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 22:46
  • Carbs make the difference. If you have enough of them to function normally (over 125g per day) then you can enjoy anything that gets your heart rate up into the glycolytic or phosphegen energy systems--which includes both heavy weights and fast runs/biking. If you don't have enough, stay in the aerobic energy systems. Think in terms of heart rate rather than how heavy/fast you are going. That 750-1000 calorie deficit puts you in category three (deeper caloric deficit). I wouldn't try to go for personal bests, but just put in work and make sure you have enough protein to preserve muscle. Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 12:33

All exercises have an element of both cardio and strength. What differentiates them is how much resistance is used (or can be used) and how much of it you do. A one-rep-maximum bench press is extremely 'strengthy' even though you'll probably break a sweat in the few seconds it takes to execute. Walking, despite being one of the easiest forms of exercise, is still resistance training against gravity. It's at the far easy end of the strength scale but it's still there.

A strength workout can be made more 'cardio-y' by removing highly skill-dependent and risky exercises, reducing rest periods and weights, and increasing reps. So if your strength workout looks something like:

  1. Squat 3 sets of 5, 225 pounds (which for the purposes of this example is ~80% of your maximum), with four minutes rest between sets
  2. Three sets of 10 pull-ups (where we'll assume you can do ~15 at your best), with four minutes rest between sets

Then a cardio-ified version of that workout might be:

  • Five rounds: squat 135 pounds 10 times, then 5 pull-ups, no rest


  1. Squat 3 sets of 20, one minute rest between sets, 95 pounds
  2. 3 rounds of: max reps pull-ups, max reps dips, rest 30 seconds

For your case, try using 50% of your current bench press and curl weights, but double the reps and superset them for several rounds. Rest a few minutes and do something similar with a circuit of bodyweight exercises, organized so that you rest one muscle group while using another.

Personally, though, I'd stick to separate cardio and strength workouts, or do an unweighted strengthy-cardio circuit after my pure-strength workout, or use kettlebells for strengthy cardio. These are more effective approaches and safer to boot. For instance:

  1. Do the original workout described above, heavy squats and pull-ups
  2. Run a mile (notice, this goes after the strength work)


  1. Do the original workout described above, heavy squats and pull-ups
  2. Five round circuit of 20 air squats, 15 sit-ups, and 10 push-ups


  1. Do the original workout described above, heavy squats and pull-ups
  2. Five to ten minutes kettlebell swings, aiming for maximum reps. (A dumbbell can be used as a substitute.)
  • what's "superset"?
    – Aequitas
    Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 4:55
  • Do exercise A then immediately do exercise B without rest. Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 4:56
  • Oh my God! No, No, No, and No. Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 7:25
  • So... crossfit, basically.
    – user8119
    Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 11:14
  • 2
    @Misunderstood I've noticed that you have trouble with the concept of an example. Note the words, "for instance" when I mention the example of a mile run. And if you have criticisms of my strength workout, make them instead of posturing. Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 17:07

The trick is to use a weight that is not too heavy (you don't want to be doing single reps) or too light (you want to be stimulating the muscles, not just your aerobic capacity). It's a fine balance.

Thrusters are awesome for this.

Any full-body movement that can be repeated reasonably quickly. Dumbell or kettlebell snatch comes to mind. Something simpler would be a wall ball.

Try something like this. As many rounds as possible of

  • 10 thrusters, e.g. 95lb
  • 10 push ups
  • 10 kettlebell swings, e.g. 1.5 pood (1 pood = 36 lb) a unit commonly used for kettlebells.

in 20 minutes.

If you can't complete the 10 reps without stopping in the first 3-4 rounds, lower the weight. You want to be able to push through each movement and take short rests between movements.

Look up any crossfit workouts from regionals or the games that have movements you can do, divide the weight by 3 and go at it.


Resistance training is not effective in weight loss or body fat reduction without dietary modification.

The best outcomes for weight loss and body fat reduction come from dietary modification.

Physical Activity is most useful for weight management and preventing weight regain and maintaining body weight after weight loss. Physical Activity will promote clinically signification weight loss.

The cardiac and direct caloric expenditure associated with resistance training is minimal. The muscle mass increase from resistance training may (not proven in clinical trials) increase total daily energy expenditure.

A 200 lb. male Running for 15 minutes will burn about 150-200 calories. A 200 lb. male can eat 3000 calories per day and maintain their current weight.

Strength Training has no where near the calorie burn as running. It is so little it is too difficult to measure. There are many that incorrectly believe a heart rate monitor, that estimates (over estimates typically) calorie burn, can be used while strength training. Not true.

The amount of calories burned in a strength training workout is about 10 potato chips at best (10 potato chips = 100 calories).


It was mentioned in this question, some resistance exercises will increase heart rate. This is not necessarily a result of cardio pulmonary response. An increase in adrenaline will stimulate heart rate. For example fright and stress increase heart rate but DO NOT increase cardiac output volume.

The hemodynamics of cario respiratory exercise vs. anaerobic strength training are very different. So complex, no one really knows precisely the metabolic process that causes the heart to beat faster when exercising. Some very good theories, but no one knows for sure.

There was a very significant study done in Denmark recently where they found the increased heart rate did not increase the heart stroke volume because the blood vessels dilated (vasodilatation).

Link: Peripheral Vasodilatation Determines Cardiac Output in Exercising Humans

Study Summary:

  • Ten healthy and recreationally active male subjects participated in this study
  • a catheter was placed in the brachial (4 subjects) or femoral (6 subjects) artery of the experimental leg
  • another catheter was placed in the pulmonary artery going in throughout the jugular vein
  • During exercise, cardiac output is regulated to match oxygen delivery to the metabolic demand.
  • This study evaluated the role of heart rate and peripheral vasodilatation in the regulation of cardiac output during exercise.
  • heart rate was increased by atrial pacing in 10 healthy male individuals during three different conditions: at rest, during exercise, and during femoral arterial ATP infusion at rest.
  • Increasing the heart rate by atrial pacing by up to 54 beats per min did not increase cardiac output in any of the three given conditions as there was a proportional decrease in stroke volume.
  • These results indicate that cardiac output is regulated by changes in peripheral vasodilatation, whereas an increase in heart rate is less important.

The increased heart rate that occurs with cardio respiratory exercise is the result of the need for increased cardiac output to transport oxygen to the muscles. The heart must pump more blood to meet the energy demand of the activity. Heart rate increases because of a demand for blood volume directly related to hemodynamic performance, pulmonary respiratory gas exchange adequacy, and muscle metabolism efficiency.

The increased heart rate that occurs with strength training is the result of changes in intrathoracic pressure and an increase in afterload stress. There is no corresponding increase in cardiac output, and thus only a modest increase in oxygen uptake. Heart rate increases because of a perfusion pressure gradient not relative to body tissue's current metabolic needs.

Just by definition anaerobic exercise does not have a "cardio respiratory" component.

anaerobic, adjective
1. (of an organism or tissue) living in the absence of air or free oxygen.
2. pertaining to or caused by the absence of oxygen. -http://dictionary.reference.com

Energy for anaerobic exercise comes in the form of chemical transformation involving energy phosphates, glycolysis, and not oxygen.

Unlike cardio respiratory exercise, the increased heart rate during strength training DOES NOT reflect either an increase in oxygen uptake or a significant increase in caloric expenditure. Moving quickly from machine to machine to keep the heart rate elevated does not change this fact. It is still a pressure load, not a volume load.


Resistance training with a high protein diet has shown some improvement in body fat reduction. Resistance training alone without dietary modification, has not been proven to reduce body fat.

Research Studies

Research studies on the subject are sparse and split on the subject. Some studies reported a modest loss in body fat with resistance training for a period of between 16 and 26 weeks. Other studies showed no reduction in body fat for resistance training periods between 12 and 52 weeks.

One study observing gender and age found fat reduction only in older men and no difference in body composition for young men or women of any age.

There are slightly more studies showing an increase in lean body mass without dietary modification.

Strong Statement from American College of Sports Medicine.

The American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand makes a strong statement with an Evidence Statement Category A (significant Randomized Trials with significant participants to support):

"Resistance training will not promote clinically significant weight loss". - American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand Evidence Category A (A = significant studies with significant participants)

A training plan for weight loss and body fat reduction calls for a cardio respiratory regimen at about 60% of Maximum Heat Rate. The length of a cardio work out is dependent on current aerobic capacity, and resting heart rate. Maximum heart rate is age dependent.

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