Are you still burning calories after your workout’s over?

(Photo: Facebook/Sports Club/LA)

(Photo: Facebook/Sports Club/LA)


Most workout enthusiasts have heard that after they finish their 60-minute boot camp, their bodies will continue to burn additional calories for hours afterward (compared to the regular rate of daily calorie burn that happens whether you exercise or not).

The phenomenon is commonly referred to as “afterburn,” and it’s a nice incentive for feeling proud that you got your butt out of bed and prioritized working out.

But why is your body burning excess calories if you’re not breaking a sweat? And what kinds of workouts deliver the greatest afterburn effect? There are differing opinions out there, and the research is far from set in stone. “We have a long way to go before we understand this, and there are times when it’s almost—for me, from a scientific standpoint—it’s almost overwhelming,” one lead researcher and professor in the field told BuiltLean.com. We sorted through the evidence to bring you a few things you should know:

Your oxygen debt

One piece of the puzzle is EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. The term is a mouthful, but it literally just means your body is taking in more oxygen. It needs the oxygen so it can restore your body to balance after the hell you just put it through, via processes like hormone balancing and cellular repair.

It’s about muscle

But where the real magic takes place is in your muscles, says Hannah Williams, a private trainer at Reebok Sports Club/NY and Sports Club/LA, with a master’s degree in nutrition and exercise science. When you do any sort of resistance training—from lifting giant barbells to push-ups—your muscle fibers are placed under stress and retain tiny tears, she says. “Once the muscle fibers have been torn, even though it’s very small tears, those small tears and structures are being repaired by your body after you finish,” she explains. “So that reparation process is where the calories are being burned.”

In other words, your super-smart body is doing its own workout on a cellular level, fixing up the damage you did, and it needs energy for that.

Not to mention the fact that when you build muscle, you’re creating more metabolically-active muscle cells, which leads to more calorie burn 24-7.

Which workouts stimulate afterburn?

Since muscle repair is playing such a huge role, resistance training that puts stress on the muscles is your best bet. Incorporating resistance training into a High Intensity Interval Training format is often touted as the most afterburn-promoting workout. And while there is evidence to support that, there are also lots of experts who say its effectiveness is overblown.

The real key, says Williams is doing something that is uber intense for your body. “It works only when it puts your body in a position that it’s not accustomed to,” she says. So if you’re lifting weights, you’ve got to go heavier than you normally would. If you can barely do a pull-up, doing a bunch may be effective; if you can knock out 50 like gravy, add some weight. And get moving. —Lisa Elaine Held


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6 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. November 27th, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    So it means, The Harder I work better the afterburn effect..So All About pushing your limits.

  2. Josh
    December 2nd, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Lift heavier then? Good article about pushing yourself to the up-most intensity!

  3. December 3rd, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    The gist (and it works) of it is weight training combined with short intervals of high intensity cardio = you’re doing it right.

    The flipside: your body will plateau (hit its comfort zone) once it becomes accustomed to a its programme. You will have to increase weight resistance and follow a different circuit training programme to effectively maximise your fat burning regimen.

  4. Michael
    December 5th, 2013 at 11:34 am

    The harder you work and the longer you keep up that intensity, the better your after burn will be.

  5. December 5th, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Rather than focusing on what will give you the most caloric afterburn, one should be focused on the present moment of the workout–being mindful of proper alignment and form. This might actually force you to take off a couple of reps since you will be training your body to use the correct muscles rather than overcompensation for poor form when focus was initially quantity over quality. That will create the most afterburn in the end.

  6. January 23rd, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    Thanks also a LOT and a LUMP for that this is i of Ms. Lisa Held’s said accounts which now cites ” ‘ AFTERBURN: ‘ ” but STILL even wonders also, ” ‘ Are you STILL burning calories after your workout’s over? ‘ ” for others also and even for us, too….

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