When you feel like you’re really pushing during a tough workout session, burning through energy and melting calories, give yourself an extra pat on the back. Why? Because your hard work doesn’t stop when you do.

During intense exercise, your metabolic rate increases. When you stop, it doesn’t go back to “resting” immediately, but remains elevated for a short time. This causes an increase in calorie burn, even after you’ve stretched, showered, and eaten your post-workout snack.

The additional energy expenditure that occurs after your workout is known as the afterburn effect.

Try one of the five workouts below to trigger the afterburn effect.

What’s the afterburn effect?

The afterburn effect’s scientific name is excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. EPOC, also known as oxygen debt, is the amount of oxygen required to return the body to its resting state.

This resting state includes:

  • restoring oxygen levels
  • removing lactic acid
  • repairing muscle and restoring levels of ATP (a molecule that provides the body with energy for processes like exercise)

Studies indicate that EPOC is highest right after a workout, but continues for a longer period of time. One study in particular demonstrated that elevated levels could persist for up to 38 hours.

Research has shown that the more intense your workout, the more expenditure it will take to return your body to its resting state. This means greater EPOC. While the duration of your workout session will also increase EPOC if the intensity level is high enough, duration alone does not have a significant impact on EPOC.

The key to inducing significant EPOC is to partake in high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. These short rounds of intense work are broken up with equally short recovery periods. Recovery is used to replenish the ATP that your body depleted during the active interval.

HIIT sessions stimulate a higher EPOC because you consume more oxygen during them. This creates a larger deficit to replace post-workout.

Workouts that give you the afterburn effect

1. Cycling

Cycling combines lower body resistance training with cardiovascular endurance work.

Try this interval routine to help induce the afterburn effect.

Minutes 0-10: Warm up on a flat road, slowly increasing pace.

10-12: Increase resistance and stand, riding at 75 percent effort.

12-14: Lower resistance and sit, riding at 60 percent effort.

14-18: In a seated position, sprint all out for 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off.

18-19: Recover on a flat road.

20-23: Increase then maintain resistance, alternating between standing for 30 seconds and sitting for 30 seconds, riding at 75 percent effort.

23-25: Lower resistance and sprint all out, 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off in a seated position.

25-30: Cool down.

2. Sprint intervals

Whether you love running or hate it, sprint intervals have been shown to help burn body fat at an increased rate. They also increase muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance. A sprint workout is a productive way to trigger EPOC.

Try this heart-pumping routine for a quick and effective workout.

  1. Start with a 5-minute jogging warmup.
  2. Sprint all out for 30 seconds.
  3. Recover by jogging slowly or walking for 60-90 seconds.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 for 20 minutes.

3. Plyometrics

Plyometrics are dynamic jumping moves that increase your power. You’ll exert a lot of effort during short intervals by explosively contracting and stretching your muscles. Plyometrics aren’t for beginners, or for anyone with an injury. Their high-impact nature could cause injury, or make one worse.

Try this routine, repeating 3 times.

  1. 20 box jumps
  2. 20 burpees
  3. 20 jump squats
  4. 30 mountain climbers
  5. 20 frog jumps
  6. 30 plank jacks
  7. 30 lateral skater jumps

4. Strength Circuit Training

Using compound movements, and/or super setting exercises, is shown to result in a larger EPOC effect. Specifically, heavy training loads and shorter recovery intervals between exercises places greater demand on your body to replace energy during exercise.

Try this workout: Pick a challenging weight and complete each exercise back-to-back with no rest. Rest 2 minutes after the circuit. Repeat the circuit 3 times.

  1. 15 squats
  2. 15 dumbbell shoulder presses
  3. 15 deadlifts
  4. 15 dumbbell rows
  5. 20 reverse crunches
  6. 15 pushups
  7. 20 bicycle crunches

5. Swimming

Swimming is an incredibly effective, low-impact, total body workout. It builds endurance, strength, and coordination. It can easily create an effective HIIT routine.

Try this workout for larger EPOC.

  1. 5-minute warmup
  2. 50-meter freestyle sprint
  3. 25-meter recovery
  4. 50-meter backstroke sprint
  5. 25-meter recovery
  6. 50-meter breaststroke sprint
  7. 25-meter recovery
  8. 50-meter freestyle sprint
  9. 25-meter recovery
  10. 5-minute cool down

The takeaway

A variety of HIIT workouts trigger a significant afterburn effect. Cap HIIT sessions at 30 minutes per session. Don’t complete more than three sessions per week to allow your body adequate recovery time.