What Are METs? Calculate Your Exercise Intensity With This Helpful Tool

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Whenever you do a workout or some type of physical activity, it can be helpful to know how many calories you are burning during the workout.

The type of exercise that you perform, the intensity at which you are working out, and your body weight will primarily determine the number of calories that you burn per minute.

One of the ways to rank the relative intensity of any type of physical activity and calculate the number of calories burned is by using METs, which stands for metabolic equivalents.

But, what are METs? What are the METs values for common types of exercise? In this article, we will discuss what is meant by METs, how to calculate METs, and the METs values for different types of workouts. 

We will cover: 

  • What Are METs?
  • How Are METs Calculated, and How Do You Calculate Energy Expenditure from METs?
  • Examples of METs for Various Types of Exercise
  • Why Are METs Important In Your Workout Routine?

Let’s dive in! 

People doing toe taps on medicine balls in a gym class.

What Are METs?

METs, which is short for metabolic equivalents, is essentially a ranking or numerical system that denotes the ratio of the metabolic cost or energy expenditure of an activity or type of exercise relative to sitting quietly at rest.

The METs values for an activity are based on a scale. Sitting at rest is set at the baseline of the scale, so it has a metabolic equivalent of 1 (1 MET). This is essentially your resting metabolic rate, or RMR, which is just slightly above your basal metabolic rate (BMR).

Every other type of physical activity or exercise is scored or assigned a metabolic equivalent relative to the resting metabolic rate. 

So, an activity with a METs value of 3.0 requires three times more energy per minute (or burns three times the calories per minute) than sitting at rest. 

If you do a vigorous activity that has a METs value of 8.5, you are exerting 8.5 times more energy per minute than you would be at rest.

The higher the METs score for an activity, the more calories you will burn doing that activity per minute.

A person in a gym doing a bicep curl.

How Are METs Calculated, and How Do You Calculate Energy Expenditure from METs?

METs are calculated based on your oxygen consumption for an activity relative to rest. Your resting metabolic rate (1 MET) is approximately equal to 3.5 mL of oxygen consumed per kilogram of body weight per minute. 

The METs values for other activities have mainly been determined by testing oxygen consumption while performing the task in an exercise physiology lab.

From the METs score, you can calculate your energy expenditure or the number of calories you burn per minute doing the activity using the following equation:

Calories burned per minute = (METs value x 3.5 x body weight in kg) / 200

For example, if you weigh 165 pounds (75 kg) and run 6 miles per hour or 9.66 kph, which is equal to 9.8 METS: 9.8 METS x 3.5 x 75 / 200 = 12.86 calories per minute.

Then, if you run for 30 minutes, you multiply the number of calories burned per minute by 30 minutes = 12.86 x 30 = 386 calories. 

In fact, you can use our Calories Burned Per Activity Calculator for free to calculate calories burned for over 800 activities, which uses the calories burned per minute formula above.

People participating in a step aerobics class.

Examples of METs for Various Types of Exercise

The table below shows the METs values for various types of physical activity and exercise as per data pulled from research studies and the Compendium of Physical Activities.

Exercise ActivityMETSExercise ActivityMETS
Standing1.2Running 5 mph (12 min/mile)8.3
Yoga (Hatha)2.5Swimming, front crawl, medium speed, 50 yards/min, vigorous8.3
Pilates3Rowing, stationary, 150 watts, vigorous effort8.5
Walking 2.8-3.2 mph on a level surface3.5Spin bike class workout8.5
Walking 3.5 mph on a level surface4.3Stair climbing, fast pace8.8
Golf (General)4.8Jumping Rope, slow pace, < 100 skips/min, 2-foot skip, rhythm bounce8.8
Walking 4.0 mph on a level surface5Stationary Cycling, 101-160 watts, vigorous effort8.8
Elliptical trainer, moderate effort5Cross country, 4.0-4.9 mph, moderate speed, and effort9
Water Aerobics5.3Running, 5.2 mph (11.5 min/mile) 9
Hiking (general)5.3Orienteering9
Walking 2.9-3.5 mph uphill at a 1 to 5% grade5.3StairMaster or Stair Climber machine9
Boxing on a punching bag5.5Treading water, vigorous9.8
Horseback riding5.8Running 6 mph (10 min/mile) 9.8
Resistance training (weight lifting, free weights, nautilus or universal), powerlifting or bodybuilding, vigorous effort6Rollerblading, in-line skating, 17.7 km/h (11.0 mph), moderate pace, exercise training9.8
Rowing (erg), moderate effort6Snowshoeing, vigorous effort10
Basketball games or vigorous play6.5Swimming, front crawl, fast 75 yards/min10
Vigorous dancing6.8Outdoor bicycling, 14-15.9 mph, fast, vigorous effort10
Cross-country skiing, 2.5 mph, slow or light effort, ski walking6.8Martial arts, vigorous effort10.3
Ski machine6.8Slide board exercises11
Racquetball7Running 7 mph (8.5 min/mile)  11
Walking, 4.5 mph, level, firm surface, very, very brisk7Stationary Cycling, 161-200 watts, vigorous effort11
Kickball7Running 8 mph (7.5 min/mile)11.8
Rowing, stationary, 100 watts, moderate effort7Jumping Rope, moderate pace, 100-120 skips/min, general, 2-foot skip, plain bounce11.8
Active video games such as Dance Dance Revolution, vigorous7.2Rowing, stationary, 200 watts, very vigorous effort12
Tennis7.3Squash12
Rollerblading, in-line skating, 14.4 km/h (9.0 mph), recreational pace7.5Jai alai12
Rock climbing7.5Outdoor bicycling, 16-19 mph, very fast, vigorous effort12
Step aerobics, vigorous7.5Rollerblading, in-line skating, 21.0 to 21.7 km/h (13.0 to 13.6 mph), fast pace, exercise training12.3
Health club/gym exercises conditioning classes (aerobics, cardio, general conditioning)7.6Jumping rope vigorously, 120-160 skips/min12.3
Circuit training, including kettlebells, some aerobic movement with minimal rest, vigorous intensity8Cross-country skiing, 5.0-7.9 mph, brisk speed, vigorous effort12.5
Ultimate frisbee, competitive games8Running, 9 mph (6.5 min/mile)  12.8
Calisthenics (e.g., push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, jumping jacks), vigorous effort8Mountain biking, vigorous, uphill14
Ice Hockey8Stationary Cycling, 201-270 watts, very vigorous effort14
Walking 2.9-3.5 mph uphill at a 6 to 15% grade8Outdoor bicycling, > 20 mph, racing, not drafting15.8
Handball8Mountain biking racing16
People hiking in the woods, an activity that score 5.3 METs.

Why Are METs Important In Your Workout Routine?

The metabolic equivalents, or METs values, for different activities can be divided into categories of exercise intensity.

In other words, there is a range of METs for low-intensity, moderate-intensity, and vigorous-intensity, respectively.

The reason this is important or can be valuable information is that it can help you determine whether you are doing enough exercise per week based on the intensity of your workouts to satisfy the guidelines for physical activity for adults.

Using the METs for the types of workouts you choose to do can therefore help you determine whether you are racking up minutes of “moderate-intensity exercise“ or “vigorous-intensity exercise” when you work out.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, light-intensity activity is any activity that is 3.0 METs or less. Moderate-intensity activity spans from 3.0-6.0 METs, while vigorous-intensity activity is anything at or above 6.0 METs.

A person playing golf.

Overall, once you understand the meaning of a metabolic equivalent and have some familiarity with how to calculate calories burned based on METs, using them to help quantify and categorize the intensity of the types of physical activity and exercise you choose to do can be a useful way to keep track of the amount of activity you are doing per week. 

Knowing the METs scores for various common types of exercise can also help you make decisions about the most efficient calorie-burning workouts to do when you are short on time or how to space out and schedule different types of exercise on your training plan throughout the week based on the intensity or METs level.

If you are looking for some tough workouts, we have a great list of the top calorie-burning activities in our article:

What Exercise Burns The Most Calories? 60 Serious Contenders.

Two people playing squash.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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