Sex is, famously, a workout. Think about it: How many times have you seen a blissful couple on TV falling into bed post-coitus, sweaty, breathless, and exhausted? How many times have you fallen into bed post-coitus, sweaty, breathless, and exhausted? Still, while sex is no doubt contributing to your cardio, it can be difficult to determine just how much of a workout you’re actually getting. “I’m not gonna tell you that I haven’t thought about keeping my Apple Watch on while I do the dirty work,” says Leigh Weissman, a certified personal trainer, glute specialist, and nutrition coach. “But then I thought about my mom texting me and seeing it on my watch …”
So, to avoid the many indignities of wearing a fitness tracker while you get it on (the Fitbit does not stay on during sex), we’ve asked Weissman, who is based in New York City and is also founder of the Leigh Taylor Method, and personal trainer Charlene Ciardiello, CEO of the holistic fitness program Shut Up and Move, to calculate exactly how many calories are burned during 30 minutes in five common sex positions. They used the MET formula (short for “metabolic equivalent,” a unit of measurement used to describe how many calories are burned during an activity): MET x 3.5 x weight in kg/200. While there’s a lot of different sexual configurations, as a starting point and for consistency here, the numbers in this article reflect those that happen in heterosexual sex between a cishet woman who weighs 150 pounds and a cishet man weighing 195 pounds.
The verdict? A romp in the sheets isn’t exactly substituting your usual gym time. But remember, calories aren’t everything! Sex is also a great way to engage a variety of muscles and, most importantly, is a good time to connect with your partner and have fun. Below, our experts break down what each of these five positions are doing for your body.
1. Missionary Position
Missionary is one of those positions where one partner is doing a lot more work than the other, so it’s no surprise that there’s a big disparity in calories burned. Ciardiello estimates the person on top will burn 143 calories, while the partner on the bottom will burn 44 calories. But Weissman says that the bottom participant can do more in missionary to engage their muscles.
“From a muscle-activation perspective, the top partner is working their upper body to support the hips and stabilize the torso, the gluteus maximus to push the hips into extension, the core to assist the hips and back in maintaining a modified plank,” she says. “The bottom doesn’t have to do much, but a willing participant will likely be moving their hips alongside their partner, engaging their glutes to do this.”
If you’re looking to actually turn this into an intentional workout of sorts, Ciardiello recommends that the partner on the bottom thrust back when the partner on top thrusts toward them. “This requires a lot of core strength and the calories will start burning. Also, squeezing your booty will give your glutes a great workout to help tone!” An optional step? Try using your body to hold up your partner for some isometric work.
2. Doggy Style
Ciardiello ventures that a female partner bent over in doggy style will burn 98 calories, though she says that holding onto a wall, which will lift your body and engage more muscles, will raise the number to 118. The partner behind them in doggy style will burn 151 calories, though Ciardiello says they can burn 211 calories by speeding up the tempo of those thrusts. Friendly reminder, though: Speed isn’t everything. Nobody likes a jackhammer.
According to Weissman, doggy style is a workout for all parties. “The bottom position is using mostly the upper body and core to keep the body in either tabletop or a modified elbow version with hips raised,” she says. “The top will be using all hip extensors, pushing the gluteus maximus into extension and contracting the hamstrings. They may also be using some upper body to pull the partner on the bottom closer to them and consequently helping them to stabilize their hips.” But beware of the cursed hamstring cramp if you’re on top. Consider pregaming with some light stretching and a banana.
3. Legs Up
A partner in this position will burn 116 calories — and get a good stretch in — while the thrusting partner burns 127. “The woman will be working and stretching her leg muscles, such as quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves,” Ciardiello says.
Weissman endorses the legs-up position, since it relieves some pressure on the top partner while allowing for deeper penetration. But still, everyone’s getting a workout! “They will undoubtedly be using their abs and core muscles as they will be in a contracted position, and hip flexors to keep the legs up,” she says of the top partner. And if the bottom partner is pulling her legs closer to her chest, she will also be engaging the upper body. As for the top partner, he will be engaging similar muscles as in missionary position, though he may face a little more pressure if he is using his body to support his partner’s legs.
A partner lying flat on their back burns, you guessed it, zero calories during this position, though they can achieve the equivalent of a light walk if they assist their partner with thrusting. It’s no surprise that the person on top will be getting way more exercise. Ciardiello estimates a round of cowgirl will burn 122 calories. If you want to ramp up the difficulty, Ciardiello suggests squatting on top of your partner to “add a little hip movement with bouncing up and down.” This gets the heart rate up and burns 172 calories instead of the original 122.
Still, unless you plan on staying in cowgirl for the length of an entire session, you may not achieve that full calorie burn. But don’t worry: Your muscles are still getting a great workout. The person on top is engaging their ab muscles, hip flexors, glutes, and quads in cowgirl, “hence why most people either avoid the position altogether or would never stay in it for ten minutes,” Weissman says.
While spooning sex might not feel like much of a workout, Ciardiello calculates that a woman actually burns 103 calories while a man burns 113 in this position. A bonus: While each person lies on their side, they’re engaging their core and obliques. To burn more calories, Ciardiello suggests speeding up the tempo with the hips “to add some muscle endurance and extra cardio burn.” With this added challenge, a woman could burn 153 calories and the man could burn 173.
Although spooning may be a great cooldown position, Weissman emphasizes that both partners are still working their muscles at about an equal rate. “There’s some hip extension and flexion happening and maybe some upper-body use,” she says.
The conclusion? Sex is a workout, but it’s not burning many calories. Most of these positions burn about as many calories as a light 30-minute walk. But don’t get too worked up about the numbers; you’re still putting your muscles to work. Maybe working out can be fun after all.