If you are trying to lose or maintain weight, or at the very least trying to maximize your fat burning potential, you have probably wished you could melt away calories by relaxing in your chair. Would you believe it if you were told that there is a way to magically burn calories while relaxing? And we aren’t just discussing the number of calories you burn while doing daily tasks, we’re talking about the afterburn effect.
What if there were a way to exercise that would cause your body to keep burning extra calories long after the physical activity had ended? Do we have your attention now?
What Is the Afterburn Effect?
Afterburn refers to the increase in the number of calories your body burns long after you have finished exercise. In other words, you have stoked your calorie-burning furnace so it keeps burning hot. Yes, even when you are relaxing – if you are experiencing afterburn – your body continues at a higher rev.
Yes, your body can still burn calories in high gear long after your sweat has dried.
The Science Explained
Your body uses oxygen to fuel your muscles during exercise. That same oxygen is used post-exercise to return your body to its pre-exercise state. Certain types of exercise actually force your body to rely on stored energy sources to return your body to this state.
During a regular workout, your body will continue burning calories but not in the same manner. While regular exercise will keep burning calories post-workout, it is usually anywhere from 4-15% of the total number of calories you burned during your original workout. Most regular workouts lean toward the lower end of that calorie afterburn spectrum.
When you engage in a specific type of exercise, however, your engine gets revved up and will burn significantly more calories for hours post-exercise. This is the afterburn effect and these exercises are more likely to burn calories after exercise at 15-20% of the total calories burned during exercise.
Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) references the amount of oxygen your body is using post-workout, when you have resumed normal activities. This causes a rise in your metabolism, which can equate to higher fat burning, which can lead to weight loss.
What Exercises Cause the Afterburner Effect?
If you’re hoping to experience the afterburner effect, you need to plan specific types of exercise. Working out at a steady pace is unlikely to trigger this impact, especially if it is an easy, steady roll. So what types of exercises are likely to trigger afterburn?
According to David Nieman PhD., you can get that afterburn if you are working out at 70% of your V02 Max. In his research, those who exercised for 45 continuous minutes and burned 500 calories managed to burn an additional 200 calories during afterburn.
You can text your V02 Max in a clinical setting. If you don’t have access to that, you can estimate it with a simple heart rate monitor by using the above chart. Of course, these results vary by the individual.
There are also other ways to achieve this afterburn effect.
✓ HIIT Training is an excellent way to experience this afterburn. In HIIT training you have a short burst of high-intensity exercise followed by lower intensity for recovery. The Upcycle intense portions generally last :30-:90 seconds. In the recovery, the athlete is typically still moving just at a significantly lower intensity.
✓ Running Interval Workouts are another way to rev your metabolism and experience the afterburn effect. For example, you might warm up for 5:00 minutes, pause to stretch, then start the intervals. A good beginner interval workout is alternating :60 seconds of hard effort and :60 seconds of very easy effort.
Another option is to challenge yourself not by speed but by effort. Running on a treadmill and while keeping your speed constant, making the effort harder by jacking up the incline on the treadmill.
For this type of workout, you might warm up for a mile, at a nice easy pace. After that, you might increase your speed some at 1% or zero incline. Every three minutes, raise the incline on your treadmill a couple of percentage points while maintaining your current speed. Run at that incline for :90 seconds then return it to your original incline. This is guaranteed to get your heart rate elevated!
✓ Tabata Training involves intense and difficult calisthenics coupled by a short break. You might alternate burpees with mountain climbers over a four-minute period of time. :20 seconds of mountain climbers, :10 seconds rest, :20 seconds burpees, :10 seconds rest. After four minutes, take :60 seconds additional rest and then move on to two more exercises.
✓ Circuit Training can also help you to experience afterburn. Set up a circuit of 10-12 lifts or other activities. You time yourself around the circuit, perhaps doing :60 seconds on each exercise and :15 seconds rest (as you move to the next station). Go through the circuit two or three times for an excellent workout.
Does Your Body Keep Burning Calories After Running?
So back to the original question: Does your body continue to burn calories long after your run is completed? The simple answer is yes, it indeed does! The more complicated answer is to question if your afterburn effect is getting you as much gain as possible.
If you desire to continue burning calories long after your workout is complete, some type of higher intensity efforts should be put into your workouts. Running at a slow, steady pace is not going to rev the engine and keep you burning calories as long or as efficiently as if you had engaged in some type of HIIT or interval training.
Having said all of that, remember that not every workout can be a hard nor intense effort. We all need balance in our workouts to avoid injury and to continue making gains. The hard work we don’t do (as in taking a rest day or running at a slower pace) is often as important as the hard work we do.
Remember that no matter what your goals are, even the elites take an easy day or two each week.