There I was, beads of sweat dripping down my face, heart pounding, as I pushed myself to jump rope just a few more minutes. All to hit that elusive calorie burn goal on my Apple Watch. Little did I know that soon, an ordinary mistake would change my entire approach to fitness.
1. The Tipping Point: Breaking Free from the Apple Watch
It wasn't a single, earth-shattering (or sweat dripping) moment that led me to reevaluate my relationship with my Apple Watch. It was an ordinary mistake - I left my charger behind and found myself unable to use my watch for two whole months. But during that time, something shifted within me. My workouts became less about hitting calorie targets and more about connecting with my body and enjoying the unique benefits of each activity.
When I finally retrieved my charger and strapped the watch back on my wrist, I realized the spell had been broken. I no longer felt bound by the tyranny of calorie counts and activity rings. Instead, I feel guided by intuition, variety, and the unique benefits each workout brings to my mind, body, and spirit. If you're tired of chasing calorie targets and feeling like your workouts are never enough, you're not alone. In this blog post, I'll share my story of moving beyond the Apple Watch and the honestly outdated metric of calorie-burning. Get ready to redefine what it means to have a good workout and enjoy a more balanced, fulfilling fitness journey.
Did you know: 80% of the Movement Calling community uses a fitness tracker wearable and 67% say they often or always rely on their tracking device to monitor their caloric burn from daily activities or workouts.
2. Debunking the Calorie Obsession: Why Closing Your Rings Isn't the Key to Fitness
Raise your hand if you can relate: you've just finished an incredible workout, feeling strong and accomplished. But then, you glance down at your Apple Watch and see that you haven't closed your rings. Suddenly, that sense of accomplishment fades, and you're left feeling like you didn't do enough. Sound familiar? If so, it's time to break free from the myth that closing your calorie rings is the key to fitness success.
When I first started to question my reliance on my Apple Watch and its calorie metrics, I realized that I wasn't alone in my calorie-burning obsession. It's a widespread belief that burning more calories means getting fitter or achieving a better physique. But here's the thing: exercise is just a small part of the equation when it comes to our total daily energy expenditure.
Numerous academic sources show that physical activity (including both structured exercise sessions and non-exercise activities like walking, standing, and household chores) accounts for just 15-25% of your total daily energy expenditure. It's essential to recognize that exercise is not the place to tip the scale in the calories-in/calories-out equation. [1,2]
If you're still not convinced that burning more calories isn't a winning strategy, consider this scientific evidence: when we burn more calories through exercise, our bodies may compensate elsewhere to stay in a narrow range of calorie expenditure by downregulating our metabolism, immune system, and body temperature. 
That's a big deal, so let's run that back! Because your body stabilizes your total daily energy expenditure, any extra calories you burn in your workout may be offset by downregulation of your essential systems, making exercise one of the smallest contributors to your overall calorie deficit. The difference of even a few hundred calories on your Apple Watch isn't worth all the attention! 
But don't worry – there is a better way! In the next section, we'll explore how you can shift your focus from burning maximum calories to more effective strategies for achieving your fitness goals.
3. Embracing a Holistic Approach: The Unique Benefits of Varied Workout Intensities
I wanted to know, does this community think that tracking calorie burn is the most important metric when it comes to measuring workout success?
I listened to what you had to say and found a lot of opinions and differing ideas. While a lot of you felt it was important, many of you were ready for something more meaningful. What do you think?
As we move away from obsessing over calorie burn, let's explore the incredible gains we can make by focusing on the diverse benefits of different workout intensities. You'll soon find that this new approach to fitness will not only make you feel stronger but also more connected to your body and mind.
A crucial factor in achieving your desired physique and a higher basal metabolic rate is building and preserving muscle mass. A main goal of your fitness routine should be muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth). This means that during your workouts, you should be aiming to push your muscles close to their limits. And guess what? Muscles don't care about the calorie count on your watch!
As you work towards building and preserving muscle mass, it's important to balance high-intensity exercise with low-intensity activities that offer unique benefits. While strength training 2-4 times a week is crucial for muscle hypertrophy, other types of movement can benefit your overall health in different ways. For example, low-intensity exercises like walking, yoga, or leisurely swimming (activities that stay below 70% of your max heart rate) may not burn as many calories, but they offer unique advantages for your brain. Research shows that engaging in low-intensity exercise can activate brain regions associated with improved cognition and attention. So next time you opt for a calming walk or stretching session, know that you're not only benefiting your body but also nurturing your mind. 
On the other end of the spectrum, high-intensity activities like sprinting, spinning, or HIIT workouts involve exercising at around 90% of your maximum heart rate. While these workouts may burn more calories, they offer so much more than that. High-intensity exercise is known to stimulate the release of mood-enhancing endorphins and improve motor function. So when you push yourself in an intense workout, you're not only torching calories but also uplifting your mood and sharpening your coordination. 
Playfulness and social connection also cannot be overstated. Imagine yourself grooving in a dance class, sharing friendly grimaces during circuit training, or moving in new planes in a fusion workout. You're not just gaining the perks of varied workout intensities – you're also building meaningful connections with your fellow fitness enthusiasts. Embrace the lighter side of exercise, and you'll find that fitness can be fun, social, and incredibly rewarding, all while leaving the calorie obsession behind.
By appreciating these benefits I experienced a profound shift and positive impact on my overall well-being. In my strength workouts I am engaging my muscles to push the boundaries of my capabilities. On my walks and hikes I am fully present where my feet are and elevated by the sense of exploration and freedom. In my yoga classes I feel into my fascia and use my breath to move stuck energy. In my high intensity, high heart rate workouts I focus on being explosive and on my endurance. I feel so much more rewarded thinking about the benefits to my whole system rather than one narrow definition of success. An essential aspect of embracing a holistic approach to fitness is embracing consistency, but appreciating that your body and mind need different movement day-to-day. By tuning into our body's natural inclinations, we can optimize our workouts for cognitive function, mood, and performance.
If you're the type who still craves to track something to see your progress and capture a sense of achievement, stay tuned because in the next section I will share my tips on what to measure instead of calories on your path to holistic health.
4. Redefining Success in Your Fitness Journey: Alternative Metrics to Track and Improve for Holistic Health
I asked if you agreed or disagreed with the statement "Calorie burning is overemphasized in fitness culture". The results are in:
While many people in our community still find value in tracking the burn, I was happy to see that the majority feel that calorie burning is an outdated and distracting metric.
Are you ready to shift your perspective and focus on what truly matters in your fitness journey? Let's dive into a world of exciting and insightful metrics that will not only keep you engaged but also inspire you to embrace a holistic approach to your health and well-being. Say goodbye to calorie counting, and hello to a more empowered you!
Pen and Paper Metrics: The Old-School Approach
Workouts: Keep a fitness diary! Record your daily workouts for a year and watch your progress unfold. This simple practice brings accountability and a sense of achievement.
Nutrition: Be your own nutrition detective. Track essential nutrients like protein to ensure you're fueling your body with what it needs to thrive.
Sleep: Become a sleep superstar! Monitoring your sleep patterns helps you prioritize rest and recovery. Check out "Why We Sleep" by Mathew Walker for sleep inspiration.
Mood and Energy: Champion your well-being from within. Note your daily mood and energy levels to discover the incredible connection between your body and mind.
To help you stay accountable, motivated, and focused on the metrics that matter, I've created a printable workout tracker template just for you! This easy-to-use template will help you keep track of your workouts and celebrate your achievements.
Ready to track your progress and reach your holistic fitness goals? Download my workout tracker freebie and start tracking your workouts today!
Smart Watch Metrics: High-Tech Health Tracking
VO2 Max: Unlock your endurance potential! Tracking your VO2 Max offers insights into your cardiovascular fitness and prepares you for peak performance.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV): Become a stress-busting guru. HRV helps you understand how well your body adapts to stress and recovery, empowering you to optimize your training.
Smart Scale or DEXA Scan Metrics: Body Composition Breakdown
Body Fat Percentage: Reveal your inner makeup. Monitoring your body fat percentage offers a reliable glimpse into your overall body composition and fitness level.
Muscle Mass: Embrace your inner strength! Tracking your muscle mass highlights the effectiveness of your resistance training and diet, keeping you motivated and focused.
Blood Test Metrics: The Science of Success
HbA1c: Flex your glucose-controlling muscles. Healthy muscle mass improves insulin sensitivity and impacts HbA1c levels, making this metric a key player in your fitness journey.
HDL: Be a cholesterol crusader! Exercise boosts enzymes involved in HDL metabolism, helping your body maintain healthy blood vessels.
Hs-CRP: Fight inflammation like a champ! Tracking Hs-CRP levels sheds light on how exercise enhances your body's production of anti-inflammatory cytokines.
These metrics will help you gain a comprehensive understanding of your fitness journey and overall health. You'll develop a deeper appreciation for varied workout intensities and the holistic approach to fitness, empowering you to live a vibrant, healthy, and fulfilling life. Keep coming back to these metrics and watch your transformation unfold!
5. Conclusion ( & A Freebie You Don't Want To Miss)
Those who burn the most calories are not necessarily the healthiest, the fittest, or the happiest. So why are we chasing this outdated metric in our own routine? Calorie burning should not be your primary focus because it contributes minimally to your daily deficit and can lead to a strained relationship with exercise. A holistic approach to health and fitness focuses on the unique benefits that different types of workouts bring to your body and mind.
So keep on using your Apple Watch if you enjoy it, if you aren’t experiencing symptoms of overuse or over-exercise (like constant soreness/tightness/joint pain, exhaustion, etc.), if you can leave the house without it and not obsess or worry, and if it’s a good reminder for you to move throughout the day. However, if you feel unsatisfied if you don’t close your rings or do extra things outside your workout if you didn’t “burn enough” calories during your workout, then try one of my other methods of tracking your workout's effectiveness. Don't forget to download my printable workout tracker template, which can help you keep track of your workouts and progress. I also welcome you to share your experiences and join the conversation – let the community know how you're redefining success in your fitness journey and what alternative metrics you're focusing on!
Love and lunges,
American Council on Exercise. (n.d.). Exercise and calorie expenditure. In this study, the authors demonstrate that active exercise accounts for only a small percentage of daily calorie consumption, highlighting the importance of focusing on factors like basal metabolic rate and non-exercise activity thermogenesis for overall energy expenditure.
Westerterp, K. R. (2017). Control of energy expenditure in humans. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71(3), 340-344. This study highlighted that energy expenditure is compensated to maintain energy balance. The research suggests that both physical activity and diet-induced thermogenesis are regulated to maintain energy balance, and that an increase in one component can lead to a decrease in another component. `
Melanson, E. L., Keadle, S. K., Donnelly, J. E., Braun, B., & King, N. A. (2013). Resistance to exercise-induced weight loss: compensatory behavioral adaptations. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 45(8), 1600-1609. In this study, the authors discuss the phenomenon of resistance to exercise-induced weight loss. They explain that some individuals experience compensatory behavioral adaptations, such as reduced energy expenditure outside of exercise or increased energy intake, which counteract the expected weight loss from increased physical activity. These compensatory adaptations may limit the effectiveness of exercise-based interventions for weight loss and weight maintenance.
Loprinzi, P. D., & Kane, C. J. (2015). Exercise and cognitive function: a randomized controlled trial examining acute exercise and free-living physical activity and sedentary effects. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 90(4), 450-460. This study found that engaging in low-intensity exercise, such as walking, had a positive impact on cognitive function, including attention, memory, and executive function.
Tartibian, B., Maleki, B. H., & Abbasi, A. (2009). The effects of ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids on perceived pain and external symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness in untrained men. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 19(2), 115-119. This study demonstrated that high-intensity exercise can lead to the release of endorphins and other mood-enhancing chemicals, improving mood and motor function. Participants who engaged in high-intensity workouts reported a reduction in pain and muscle soreness, suggesting a positive impact on their overall well-being.