Look down. Can you see your shoes?
No? Alright then, keep reading.
Everyone is looking for a “quick fix” when it comes to fat loss and body composition improvements but no one wants to accept the fact that hard work and consistency account for most of the results.
However, research has shown that specific styles of training can have a dramatic effect on your caloric expenditure at rest if executed correctly.
Enter afterburn training.
EPOC: The True “Secret” for Weight Loss?
Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), commonly referred to as “afterburn” training, is quite popular these days and with good reason. EPOC is essentially a metabolic state where your body continues to use higher levels of oxygen after intense exercise in order to return to homeostasis.
Most studies have shown that individuals will burn 5 calories for every extra liter of oxygen consumed during an intense workout.
Whether you are performing HIIT (high-intensity interval training), machine based circuits, or free weight variations, everyone is talking about EPOC training and for good reason.
I know what you’re thinking, that all sound kind of cool but what about some real world application? How much of a benefit am I actually going to get from EPOC?
Well, some studies have shown that afterburn training boost your metabolism for a mere 24 minutes all the way up to an incredible 38 hours post-exercise.[8,12] Not only that, you can burn an additional 76 to 150 calories while sitting on your couch because of your ramped-up metabolism after a good EPOC session.[1,7]
That being said, many experts will recommend high-intensity workouts lasting up to 60 minutes. I’m just going to throw this out there – if your intensity is actually borderline high, you’ll have a tough time lasting 20 minutes, let alone 60.
How Intense is High Intensity?
While high-intensity can definitely vary between many of the EPOC studies you come across - varying from 70% VO2max, 75% VO2max, and even 85% of your 8 rep max - for this article we are simply referring to exercising at a VO2max of 70%.[1,7,9] This equates to a heart rate of roughly 155 beats per minute for a 25 year old man which could be hard to maintain for 60 straight minutes…even for more experienced fitness enthusiasts.
Besides the physiological difficulty, many of us don’t have the mental energy to dedicate an entire 60 minutes to a grueling workout given our hectic, fast-paced lifestyles which are already incredibly mentally draining.
Kind of tough to find a balance, huh? Do you just give up and accept defeat or is there a simpler way?
Intensity and Time: Balancing the Scales
Welcome to the best of both worlds.
I’m talking about still eliciting a significant EPOC response without killing yourself on a treadmill for 60 minutes. It’s all about creating the afterburn effect in a timely response – it’s a time trade-off where we still achieve a significant metabolic benefit without breaking the time bank.
Quinn and associates conducted research in which participants performed high-intensity exercise (70% VO2max) for 20, 40, or 60 minutes and then determined the corresponding EPOC effect. As you might guess, the EPOC effect was greatest in the 60 minute experimental group but it was still present in 20 minutes group with over half of the benefit (56.5%) of the EPOC reaction as the 60 minute group.
In other words, they saved 40 minutes while still receiving a significant EPOC effect (close to 50 additional calories) – that’s quite a substantial benefit given they were exercising for a 3rd of the time. As long as we stay at a high intensity for at least 20 minutes we can still get a significant EPOC effect!
Obviously we need to look at all of the EPOC research as a whole rather than focusing one study in particular, but this study helps to illustrate that you can still elicit a significant EPOC effect even if you don’t have 60 minutes to dedicate to a workout.
While you may not be crushing calories 38 hours after your workout you can still have your metabolism humming at a higher speed several hours post-exercise!
HIIT it and Quit it: Pick Your Poison
What’ll it be? HIIT sessions, circuit training, strength training, steady-state cardio, battling ropes, hill sprints, or something else?
You’ve got plenty of options, but the real question is, which one is best?
When it comes to exercise selection for the greatest metabolic disturbance, strength training elicits the greatest EPOC response.
In fact, strength training even at a low intensity (in overweight individuals) can still create a significant EPOC effect. But to really ramp up your metabolism, it has been found that strength training in a circuit style can help create an even larger afterburn effect.[4,6]
When it comes to circuit training you’re basically looking to combine strength training and cardiovascular work for opposing muscle groups with little to no rest between sets (less than 30 seconds) to crush calories, improve your strength, elevate heart health, and induce the afterburn effect. Shorter rest intervals make a significantly difference if you’re looking to truly ramp up the initial EPOC effect.
So what does that look like practically? Here are a few simple examples you could try during your next training session:
|A1. Front Squat||4||5|
|A2. Battling Ropes||4||25 Seconds|
Front squats not your style or can't get into the front rack position? Well then, get ready to deadlift coupled with a nasty quad pump.
|A2. Bike Sprints||6||15 Seconds|
Quads still sore from squatting? Then it's time to hammer your posterior chain and work on that upper back.
|A2. KB Swing||3||25|
This method means your body doesn’t have time to recoup as much between sets, keeping your heart rate elevated and muscles pumped the entire time. If you still want to ramp up your metabolism with the treadmill, science has shown that interval training is much more effective than steady-state cardio.
EPOC: Hype or Help?
While the effects of EPOC are commonly overhyped, it is an effective tool to ramp up your metabolism for a few hours after the workout is over, especially if you employ the time trade-off strategy.
On top of that, exercising at a high-intensity can help decrease the duration of your exercise session which can be useful for time-constrained individuals.
At the end of the day, it comes down to selecting a variation, determining your time commitment, and then working hard to meet your goals through the application of proven science coupled with a relentless work ethic.
- Bahr R, Sejersted OM (1991). Effect of intensity of exercise on excess postexercise oxygen consumption. Metabolism 40: 836–41.
- Farinatti PT, Castinheiras Neto AG (2011). The effect of between-set rest intervals on the oxygen uptake during and after resistance exercise sessions performed with large- and small-muscle mass. J Strength Cond Res 25(11): 3181-3190.
- Gilette CA, Bullough RC, Melby C (1994). Postexercise energy expenditure in response to acute aerobic or resistive exercise. Internat J Sports Med 4: 347-360.
- Kelleher AR, Hackney KJ, Fairchild TJ, Keslacy S, Ploutz-Snyder LL (2010). The metabolic costs of reciprocal supersets vs. traditional resistance exercise in young recreationally active adults. J Strenght Cond Res 24(4): 1043-1051.
- Laforgia J, Withers RT, Shipp NJ, Gore CJ (1997). Comparison of energy expenditure elevations after submaximal and supramaximal running. J App Physiol 82: 661-666.
- Murphy E, Schwarzkopf R (1992) Effects of standard set and circuit weight training on excess postexercise oxygen consumption. J Appl Sport Sci Res 6: 88-91.
- Quinn TJ, Vroman NB, Kertzer R (1994). Postexercise oxygen consumption in trained females: Effect of exercise duration. Med Sci Spots Exer 26: 908-913.
- Schuenke MD, Mikat RP, McBride JM (2002). Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: Implications for body mass management. Eur J Appl Physiol 86: 411-417.
- Thornton MK, Potteiger JA (2001). Effects of resistance exercise bouts of different intensities but equal work on EPOC. Med Sci Sports Exer 34: 715-722.
- Thornton MK, Rossi SJ, McMillan JL (2011). Comparison of two different resistance training intensities on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption in African American women who are overweight. J Strength Cond Res 25(2): 489-496.
- Vella CA, Kravitz L (2004). Exercise after-burn: A research update. IDEA Fit J 1.5: 42-47.
- Woodard TJ (2014). Comparison of timed-based sets metabolic resistance training vs. resistance-based sets metabolic resistance training on EPOC in recreationally active young women. Research Papers, Paper 538.