Designed to “tone and condition muscles while raising metabolic rate for rapid fat-burning,” Body Pump is supposed to be proven to be “the world’s fastest way to get in shape.”
For this claim to be true, it would need to burn more calories than other forms of exercise, as well as helping you gain more muscle than regular strength training using heavy weights and lower repetitions.
How many calories do you burn during a typical Body Pump class?
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at the calorie-burning effects of a 50-minute Body Pump workout.
Subjects burned, on average, 265 calories during the workout. The men burned a little more calories (315) compared to the women (214). On average, the subjects burned 5.3 calories per minute.
A second trial, this time commissioned (i.e. paid for) by the Les Mills Group (the people who invented Body Pump), compared a Body Pump session lasting 57 minutes with 60 minutes of continuous cycling.
The group (10 men and women) burned an average of 411 calories during the Body Pump session, and 483 and 339 when separated into men and women.
This comes to 7 calories per minute for the group, and 8 and 6 calories per minute for the men and women, respectively.
Taking the results from both studies, women can expect to burn anywhere between 5-6 calories per minute during a typical Body Pump class. Men will burn somewhere between 6 and 8 calories per minute.
In the cycling session, subjects burned an average of 623 calories when expressed as a group and 706 and 540 when separated into males and females. This equates to approximately 10, 12 and 9 calories per minute for the group, males and females, respectively.
In other words, you’ll burn more calories cycling than you will during a typical Body Pump class.
Even though cycling might burn more calories during the workout itself, the muscle that Body Pump builds will increase your metabolic rate so you burn more calories during the day, right?
You probably know that muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat. And, in theory at least, an increase in muscle mass means that more fat will be burned.
Unfortunately that’s only partially correct. The resting metabolic rate of muscle is a lot lower than most people think – around 6 calories per pound.
As I’ve explained in Why Building Muscle to Lose Fat Doesn’t Work, burning an extra 10,000 calories a month — enough to lose almost 3 pounds of fat – would mean adding over 50 pounds of muscle. That’s a lot more than the average person is going to build over the course of their training lifetime.
Beginners, or anyone returning to exercise after a few months off, may gain a little muscle with Body Pump. However, Body Pump involves the use of light weights and high repetitions.
As the Auckland researchers themselves point out, this type of workout will increase muscular endurance rather than add a significant amount of muscle.
“It is unlikely that strength gains and hypertrophy would occur for already fit subjects such as those who participated in the present study. However, for individuals without a history of resistance training Body Pump may provide sufficient stimulus to elicit strength gains.”
Or to put it another way, for beginners, Body Pump does offer some of the benefits of regular strength training. But if you have a few years of serious training under your belt, you’ll need to use heavier weights if you want to get stronger.
Body Pump has also been shown to help you lose fat. In a 13-week trial comparing Body Pump, Body Step, Body Attack, Body Combat, and RPM (also paid for by Les Mills) subjects in the Body Pump group actually lost the most percentage body fat.
And if you’re someone who gets bored training on their own, or you’re more motivated in a group environment, then a Body Pump class provides obvious benefits. When I used to teach aerobics, there were many people who (no matter how many times I told them about the benefits of strength training) wouldn’t set foot in a gym for love nor money simply because they found it so boring.
However, while it does provide some of the benefits of conventional strength-training programs, Body Pump is still a long way from being the world’s fastest way to get in shape.