The workout is over, and you feel great! Plus, there is an awesome sense of accomplishment – especially if you had to talk yourself into going to the gym today – but even though the exercise session is complete, you are still enjoying some post-exercise perks. First, you may notice your mood is elevated from all those endorphins swirling around the brain. You may also notice you’re still sweating, and your breathing and heart rate are still elevated. That all means your metabolism is still engaged in an effort to return your body to pre-exercise levels, or homeostasis.
There are a few tricks of the trade to keep that engine revving even longer, which can increase your total caloric expenditure by 6% to 15%. Just as your car engine takes a while to cool down after you pull into the driveway, your body takes a while to cool down. During this “cooling down” period, the body is working hard to replace energy stores, work with protein sources to repair damaged muscle, reestablish a normal body temperature, and restore oxygen levels in circulating blood. In essence, the body is in oxygen debt and that debt needs to be repaid.
Excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC, is a term used to define the increase in oxygen consumption even after exercise is over. If you would like to get a little more burn out of your exercise session – and increase “burn” more calories – here are a few ways to increase EPOC.
The two most effective ways to increase EPOC are high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and heavy resistance training*. Both types of exercise require you to go breathless, or into an anaerobic training zone. “Breathless” means you cannot carry on a conversation or say the Pledge of Allegiance without pausing to catch your breath – and you certainly cannot sing or even hum. These bouts of anaerobic exercise are brief (30-60 seconds), followed by a period of active recovery (60-120 seconds).
Examples of a HIIT session. Complete 6-10 rounds of:
- 30-second all out “spin” or rowing followed by one to two minutes of active recovery at a much slower pace… until breathing returns to a comfortable level.
- 45-seconds of burpees, followed by a light walk around the gym.
- 15-20 box jumps, followed by easy side-to-side stepping.
- 30-45 seconds of jump roping, followed by low intensity marching in place.
- For a total body workout, combine all the above: Rowing, burpees, box jumps, jump roping in short high intensity bursts of breathlessness followed by 1-2 minutes of active recovery.
Steady-state training like a 30-minute sustained run or cycle session may not enhance EPOC, but a few rounds of speed work at the end of the run or ride certainly will. A run – sprint – walk, repeated 3-5 times will increase that post-exercise metabolic burn.
Lifting weights or other forms of resistance training is certainly important to maintaining muscle tissue – which in and of itself is metabolically active – but intensity also matters in the weight room. EPOC is best achieved using “heavy” weight and going to failure. This means, choose a weight that you can lift roughly 8-10 times; if you can perform another 3, 5, or even 10 more repetitions, the weight is not heavy enough. Work every major muscle group – quads, hamstrings, glutes, calf, abdominals, chest, shoulders, back, biceps and triceps – performing one to three sets for each muscle group.
CAUTION – TRAIN SMART. Not everyone is ready for high intensity training. These types of exercise sessions must be worked up to. Building a good fitness base is important to avoid injury and prevent a medical emergency. Tapping into the anaerobic system and going breathless is taxing to the cardiovascular system. Using heavy weights can also be stressful on muscles, bones and joints so use common sense in your weight selection to avoid injury. It is also important to perform a proper warm-up prior to any high intensity training. At least five to ten minutes of moderate activity will help prepare the body for an intense bout of exercise.
RECOVERY ALSO MATTERS
High intensity exercise can be hard on your body, therefore should not be performed on consecutive days. It is important to plan for 48-72 hours between these types of workouts. Other forms of exercise – performed at moderate levels of intensity – should be mixed into your weekly routine to prevent injury, burnout, or overtraining. Be sure to get adequate sleep, stay hydrated, and fuel the body with quality food sources.
Even though going breathless is a bit uncomfortable and heavy weight training can cause the muscles to “burn”, many people find they like the short bursts of activity followed by active recovery; anything less than a minute is tolerable by most. High intensity training will not only increase your overall level of fitness, but you will continue to fuel that calorie-burning fire long after you have showered and moved onto the rest of your day.
*Not everyone is capable of lifting heavy weights or engaging in HIIT, and those with certain health conditions may need to avoid high intensity workouts. The exercises and progressions presented in this article are intended for educational purposes. Always consult your healthcare practitioner before participating in exercises or activities that are contraindicated or more advanced than you are accustomed to. Discontinue exercise if you experience chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, dizziness, or unusual pain or fatigue.