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The Afterburn Effect (EPOC) Explained

Published: 13th May 2018. Last updated: 21th July 2019.

Luna Smithton

Editor & Fact Checker


Introduction

Exercise has been linked to a ton of health benefits – two of the main ones being, of course, weight loss and getting into shape. It's an excellent way to build muscle and burn calories to maximize your weight loss.

But did you know that your calorie-burning doesn’t just end when you walk out of the gym?

You may have hopped off the treadmill hours ago, but your body continues “working out” without you breaking a sweat for quite a long time after you end your workout. It carries on burning more calories than in a complete resting state – and that’s called the afterburn effect (EPOC).

What is the afterburn effect, what’s the science behind it – and how can you make the most of it? Read on to find out.

What Is EPOC (The Afterburn Effect)?

In simple terms, the Afterburn Effect is the boost in metabolism, which occurs after an exercise session has ended.

During a workout, we get out of breath, and when we do, our muscles burn, because our cells become depleted of oxygen.

After the workout, our body has a serious job – to return the body to its resting state. This means restoring our oxygen levels, clearing out lactic acid that has built up in the muscles, repairing them as well as restoring the levels of ATP – a molecule that provides the body with energy for exercise.

Because the body needs to rebalance its hormones, restock its fuel, and repair damaged muscle tissue cells, it expends energy – this way continuing to burn calories even after the workout is done.

Studies show that the afterburn effect is the highest right after a workout – but it does continue for a long time after that. According to a study conducted by Ohio University, elevated levels could last up to 38 hours! [1]

What Factors Contribute To Afterburn Effect?

According to a study by the School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences at the University of South Australia, the more intense your workout, the higher the afterburn effect. This is because returning your body to its resting state requires more expenditure. [2]

The study also showed that the duration of your workout could increase the afterburn effect if the exercise is intense enough – but it doesn't have a significant impact on the afterburn effect alone.

If you want to maximize the afterburn effect, the key is to do something really intense for your body – even if it is for shorter periods (ideally, multiple times). Putting your body in a position it isn't used to is the best way to trigger the afterburn effect.

The Main Afterburn Effect Exercises

While all cardiovascular and resistance training exercises will lead to the afterburn effect, several types of exercise are known to induce greater levels of energy expenditure that leads to more calories being burnt after your workout.

Here are the five best workouts that will trigger the afterburn effect:

1. Sprint Intervals

When you think of running, you may think of long-distance running as most beneficial for your fitness – but research has shown that sprinting is actually a better way to trigger EPOC. [3]

Researchers from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University evaluated participants following sprint interval training – and then measured their post-workout calorie burn. The results showed that sprint interval training increased the participants’ total daily energy expenditure – and researchers concluded that this form of exercise could be used for healthy body weight maintenance.

Why is sprinting an effective way to trigger EPOC? To put it simply, it’s because you use up more oxygen during those short periods of running as fast as you can. Sprint intervals increase the rate at which your body burns fat – and can boost your health in many ways, like improving your heart health, giving you more strength, and speeding up your metabolism.

2. Strength Circuit Training

Strength circuit training refers to a form of training where you rotate through several stations while performing different exercises, with very short rest periods between them.

Heavy training and shorter recovery intervals put a higher demand on your body to replace energy during exercise – and this results in a greater EPOC effect.

Strength circuit training speeds up your metabolism – and, according to research, it can even do so for 72 hours after a high-intensity exercise! [4]

Additionally – because you train for a shorter time in total, this is great for those who want to maximize the gains of an exercise program in less time.

3. Swimming

Swimming is another great type of cardiovascular exercise to keep burning calories long after you’ve returned from your afternoon at the pool.

It’s incredibly effective and, even though it is low impact, it exercises your whole body.

Your heart rate is up, you’re building endurance, improving your cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. It's important to perform swimming sprints with recovery swimming in between to reap the benefits of EPOC after swimming.  

4. Cycling

Cycling is one of our favorite exercises in general. It's low-impact, easy, and fun! You can choose different levels and make it as intense as you want – so, whether you're looking for low intensity or demanding workout, cycling is a great option for you.

Because it combines lower-body resistance training with cardiovascular endurance workout, cycling is also one of the best types of exercise for triggering EPOC.

4. Cycling

Cycling is one of our favorite exercises in general. It's low-impact, easy, and fun! You can choose different levels and make it as intense as you want – so, whether you're looking for low intensity or demanding workout, cycling is a great option for you.

Because it combines lower-body resistance training with cardiovascular endurance workout, cycling is also one of the best types of exercise for triggering EPOC.

5. Plyometrics

Plyometric exercises – also known as jump training or plyos – are intense aerobic exercises that involve dynamic jumping moves to build your muscle strength. They make the body exert the muscles to their maximum potential for very short periods of time.

The thing about plyometric exercises is that they require a lot of effort – because your muscles are explosively contracting and stretching. This type of exercise isn’t for anyone with an injury, nor is it suitable for beginners – so perhaps try out the other four first.

How To Make The Afterburn Effect Work For You

Knowing that your body continues to burn calories even after a workout has ended is good – but it’s all about knowing how to make it work for you. If you know how to maximize the afterburn effect, this could make reaching your weight loss and fitness goals easier.

As mentioned before, EPOC is higher following short, high-intensity workouts of under 30 minutes rather than longer, cardio-style workouts. So, if you want to induce significant EPOC, choose high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

HIIT training is all about short rounds of intense exercise. You perform 3-5 intervals of short, max-intensity exercise until you can no longer sustain the intensity (only about 20-30 seconds) – and then you take a recovery break (normally 3-5 minutes). The recovery periods are there so that your body can replenish the ATP that it depleted during the high-intensity interval.

Why do HIIT sessions cause a higher EPOC? The answer is simple – during those sessions, you consume more oxygen – so there's a more prolonged deficit of oxygen to replace after a workout. Following light-to-moderate exercise, your body doesn’t take that long to return to a normal resting state – which means that the elevated calorie burn also doesn’t last that long. Choosing high intensity, multiple shorter workouts that really push the body are your best bet.

Conclusion

So, there you have it. Luckily for us, the afterburn effect isn’t an elusive fitness myth!

Just like a car engine stays warm after a long trip, your body also needs time to cool down after a workout – meaning that, for a while, it continues to burn more calories than it would at a resting state.

Knowing which types of exercises trigger EPOC is a fantastic way to make the afterburn effect work for you. Imagine knowing that your body continues to burn off those calories even after your heart-pumping exercise has long finished! Knowing that can motivate anyone to work out even harder – and more frequently.

Research shows that the best type of exercise for this is high-intensity interval training, so make sure you choose those types of workouts if you want to maximize the afterburn effect.

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