To fact-check, we asked the 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 the five most common sex positions (selected from a survey). She used what’s called the MET formula, where the number of calories burned = MET (short for “Metabolic Equivalent,” a unit of measurement used to describe how many calories are burned during an activity) x weight x time. Her estimations account for heterosexual sex between a woman who weighs 150 pounds and a man weighing 195 pounds.
The conclusion? Most positions burn about as many calories as a light 30-minute walk. See how the calorie counts stack up below and remember this: Despite whatever you may have learned from the sex-position-industrial complex, there are actually only six sex positions.
1. Missionary Position
Ciardiello estimates the man on top will burn 143 calories. Meanwhile, the woman on the bottom will burn only 44 calories. She explains the position “requires a lot of hip action, core stability, and upper body work,” so it can also be a great ab workout.
If the woman on the bottom wants to get a better workout from the position, Ciardiello recommends thrusting back when her partner thrusts toward her. “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!” She suggests the man on top tries lifting his partner up for some isometric work. “Add sighing and a little moaning for some extra calorie burn.”
2. Doggy Style
During penetration, a woman in doggy style will burn 98 calories. Being on all fours works the glutes and quadriceps. To tone muscles while in this position, Ciardiello recommends the woman engages her glutes throughout. To burn even more calories hold onto a wall, which increases the calorie burn to 118. Holding a wall also works the shoulders, biceps and triceps.
A man in doggy style will burn 151 calories. Ciardiello says he can burn 211 calories by either speeding up the tempo “for some high-intensity interval training” or maintaining “a steady pace for some cardio work.”
3. Legs up
A woman in this position will burn 116 calories and increase her flexibility, while the man burns 127. “The woman will be working and stretching her legs muscles, such as quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves,” Ciardiello says. To make the stretch deeper, she suggests women have a partner “stretch the legs within different angles to help find a deeper level of penetration.”
A man lying flat on his back burns zero calories during this position, while the woman on top will burn 122 calories. Ciardiello suggests flexing the lower abs and pelvic muscles for an ab workout while on top. To burn even more calories, Ciardiello suggests the woman squats on top of her 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.
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 will burn 153 calories and the man will burn 173.
Her 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.