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Secret Weapons for Weight Loss - Maximize your After-Burn

Increase the calories you burn after your workouts

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Updated October 11, 2012

3. The After-Burn

Another secret way the body burns calories is with Exercise Post-Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), or what most of us refer to as after-burn. When we exercise, we throw the body into a form of chaos. Once the workout is over, our bodies expend calories to get the body back into its pre-exercise state.

Just how many calories we burn after exercise is tough to answer but in the article, Exercise After-Burn: Research Update, authors Dr. Len Kravitz and Chantal A. Vella reviewed a number of studies related to after-burn and found that a general range is about 30-120 calories for 30-60 minutes of cardio (including cycling and treadmill) at 70% of VO2 max (about 80% of your maximum heart rate).

And, it isn't just cardio that produces an after-burn. High intensity resistance training and circuit resistance training (discussed below) also produce an after-burn as well. Results can differ based on gender and the type of exercise but, in general, the tougher (and longer) the workout, the greater the after-burn.

Does that mean you should get out there and kill yourself with every workout? Of course not. Doing too many high intensity workouts can lead to burnout, overtraining and injury. But gradually incorporating more high intensity workouts can make a difference in how many calories you burn both during and after your workout.

Maximize It

Interval Training

Interval training is a great way to boost endurance, burn more calories and work harder without having the spend an entire workout at a high intensity. The idea is to work harder than you normally do for a short period of time to overload your body (overload is how you make progress). Then you fully recover with a rest interval so that you're ready to do it all again.

You can find specific details about interval training in my article, Interval Training, and the following workouts offer examples of interval workouts you can try on your own:

High Intensity Exercise

Another way to boost your calorie burn is to try higher intensity workouts, or continuous training at about 80% of your maximum heart rate, which is right in your aerobic zone. In other words, you want to be out of your comfort zone, but not so far out that you can't catch your breath. This is about a Level 6-7 on a Perceived Exertion Scale. You might try adding one higher intensity workout a week and start with 10-20 minutes at this level if you're a beginner, gradually working your way up to 30-60 minutes.

Circuit Training and Heavy Resistance Training

Other activities that offer more of an after-burn are circuit resistance training and heavy resistance training. Lifting weights and building muscle will help you burn calories, but focusing on high intensity training can increase your after-burn, though you should be an experienced exerciser before adding too much intensity. For beginners, start with Beginner Strength Workouts for several weeks before increasing intensity.

The general guidelines for heavy resistance training include:

  • 8-10 exercises (e.g. bench press, lat pulldown, overhead press, barbell bicep curls, tricep pushdowns, squats, leg extensions and leg curls)
  • 2-4 sets of 3-8 reps
  • Use enough weight that you can ONLY complete the desired number of reps - you should lift to momentary failure
  • 2-3 minutes of rest between sets

The guidelines for circuit resistance training are:

  • 6-10 exercises (e.g., leg press, bench press, leg curl, lat pulldown, bicep curl, shoulder press, triceps pushdown, upright row, leg extension, and seated row)
  • 2-3 circuits, performing each exercise one after the other
  • 10-12 reps using a medium-heavy weight for each exercise

Split Your Workouts

Doing cardio and strength during the same workout won't necessarily double your after-burn but splitting your workouts can. If your schedule allows for it (and you want to workout more than once a day), you can split your routine so that you're doing cardio in the morning and strength later that day (or vice versa). You can even split your cardio into two or more high intensity workouts and the same goes for your strength training. Remember, you don't have to split your workouts and you shouldn't feel that you won't get a good workout otherwise. Most of us would find it hard to workout more than once a day and you'll still get results if you work hard. But, if you find some extra time now and then, splitting your routine is just one way to get a little more bang for your buck.

Safety Concerns

It's important to be safe when increasing intensity to avoid overtraining and injury. Use these tips for safe and effective workouts:

  • Add intensity gradually. If you're a beginner or aren't used to high intensity cardio workouts, gradually increase your pace or resistance/incline over time so you don't overdo it.
  • Limit high intensity workouts. Experts recommend you do no more than 1-2 interval or high intensity cardio workouts a week to avoid overtraining.
  • Add more warm up time. Because high intensity workouts are hard on the body, it helps to give yourself plenty of time to warm up and get your body ready for hard work. Plan on spending a good 10 minutes gradually getting your heart rate up and your muscles warm.
  • Be sure to cool down. Giving your body time to slow down and recover from high intensity workouts is important for staying safe and ending your workout on a good note. It's also a great time to stretch.

Sources:

Murphy, Emmett and Schwarzkopf, Robert. "Effects of Standard Set and Circuit Weight Training on Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption." The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 88–91. 18 Mar. 2007.

Vella, Chantal A., Kravitz, Len. "Exercise After-Burn: Research Update." IDEA Fitness Journal, 1(5), 42-47. 15 Mar. 2007.

Next Page: Add More Weight-Bearing Cardio Workouts

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