How Many Calories Do You Burn Pole Dancing?

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I'm wondering how pole dancing compares to other kinds of exercise. I want to do something fun for my fitness program. Will pole dancing help me burn a lot of calories or is it mainly for toning up?
~ Question submitted by Alison

Keeping in mind that the two goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive, pole dancing definitely has the potential to help you burn a lot of calories, and yes, it's also great for toning up your muscles and building strength.

These two outcomes are more closely related than you might think, and we'll dive into this in a minute. But first, let's tackle the calorie question.

Why "how many calories does pole dancing burn?" is a loaded question

The fact is that with any given activity, the number of calories burned depends not only on what activity you're doing, but also on the intensity of the activity. That's important, because if you read that pole dancing burns 800 calories an hour, but you're at a beginner level doing workouts that consist mainly of simple, ground-based moves, then an 800 calorie hourly burn is probably being overly optimistic.

The simple truth is that a person performing very basic pole dance moves that elevate the heart rate only slightly, will burn significantly fewer calories than someone of similar age, weight and body composition who performs a continuous series of advanced tricks.

In other words, your current weight, age and body composition also help determine the number of calories burned while pole dancing. The reasons for this are fairly straightforward:

  • The more you weigh, the more energy (calories) it takes to move your body.
  • Our metabolism (the rate at which we burn calories) naturally decreases as we age, mostly due to a gradual loss of muscle mass.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so if you have a higher percentage of muscle mass you'll burn more calories no matter what you're doing.
  • Finally, men typically burn more calories than women, assuming all other factors are equal. This is because men in general have a higher proportion of muscle than women (thanks, testosterone!).

So if you're a lean, muscular 23 year old male, you're going to enjoy a significantly higher calorie burn than a 50 year old woman with an average amount of body fat. And that's true no matter what the activity or intensity, and even if both of you weigh exactly the same.

A General Guide to Calories Burned with Pole Dancing

As you can see from the information above, there are several variables that make it impossible to provide an exact number for how many calories are burned pole dancing, since this number will be different for each person. However, as a general guide, let's compare pole dancing to aerobic fitness classes, since this is something most people are familiar with.

Pole dancing at a beginner level, where few spins or tricks are involved, burns a similar number of calories per hour as a mild-moderate aerobic fitness class. This level of pole dancing would involve floor-based moves almost exclusively, with perhaps a couple of basic spins.

Intermediate level pole dancing, where some spins and other airborne moves - such as climbs and holds - are interspersed with more basic moves, is roughly equivalent to a moderate-intense aerobic fitness class in terms of calorie burn. At this level you will also typically be working on building strength, so you will be starting to benefit from the ongoing calorie-burning benefits of increasing your muscle mass (more on this in the next section).

And at an advanced level, such as that shown in these pole dance competition videos, the number of calories burned per hour is obviously very high. At this level, pole dancing is both a cardio and strength workout, one which places heavy demands on the body's energy systems and muscle resources. This results in a high rate of caloric burn both during and after the workout. It would not be unreasonable to assume a rate of 800+ calories per hour at this level, though sustaining that level of activity for a full hour is unlikely!

Pole Dancing and Toning Up

It's also worth mentioning that "toning up" is actually one of the best ways to burn calories. Most people focus on the hourly calorie burn of a given activity when they are trying to lose weight and/or reduce body fat. This is understandable since we all like instant results, but it's not the whole picture. In fact, it's a relatively small part of the weight loss equation.

To understand why this is, we need to understand that muscle burns significantly more calories than fat. So the more muscle you have, the more calories you'll burn, even at rest. In other words, when you engage in aerobic exercise you're increasing your calorie burn for the period of time that you're exercising. But when you increase the amount of muscle on your body, you're increasing your calorie burn 24/7.

Yes, the number of calories burned per hour will be higher during aerobic exercise, but let's keep in mind that while 1 hour of moderate exercise might burn 400 calories, there are 23 more hours in the day. And more muscle tissue equals more calories burned every hour of every day, not just for the hour that you're exercising.

Let's check the science. 1 kg of muscle burns about 13 calories per hour, which translates into about 6 calories per hour for each pound of muscle. Given that adipose tissue (fat) burns only about 2 calories per hour per pound, if you swap 5 lbs of fat for 5 lbs of muscle, keeping your overall body weight the same, that extra 5 lbs of muscle will burn an additional 20 calories per hour (6-2=4 additional calories per hour burned by replacing 1 lb of fat with 1 lb of muscle, multiplied by 5 lbs=20 lbs).

Then multiply those 20 calories by 24 hours in a day, and you're looking at an additional calorie burn of 480 calories per day just by dropping 5 lbs of fat and replacing it with 5 lbs of muscle. And this, dear pole dancer, is the reason that "toning up" does a whole lot more for your calorie burn than you might think.

Now of course this doesn't mean that you should NOT do any aerobic exercise. This type of exercise definitely benefits your heart and lungs in a way that muscle toning doesn't. Nor  does it mean that you need to "bulk up" to benefit from the calorie-burning benefits of increased muscle mass. As you saw in the example above, replacing just a few pounds of fat with muscle can make a huge difference.

What does that mean in practical terms for someone who is looking to reduce body fat and/or lose some weight? Keep the cardio for sure, but also make strength training a regular part of your fitness routine to see long term, sustainable results.

Lucky for you, pole dancing does double duty. It's a great calorie burning activity that also builds muscle, so you can keep on burning calories even after your pole workout is done!

So the short answer to the question of how many calories do you burn pole dancing?

It's less important than you think!

Do your cardio, work your muscles, and choose activities you enjoy (like pole dancing!). Remember, if you have fun with your fitness program you're much more likely to stick with it. And in the final analysis, the calorie burn of any activity remains purely theoretical unless you actually do it!

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