The Science Behind The Exericse Afterburn Effect [Updated 2021]

Daniel Maman June 18, 2012

Does burning calories while doing nothing sound too good to be true?

Well, it shouldn’t!

Thanks to an effect called Exercise Post-Exercise Consumption (EPOC), your body continues to burn calories after you finish.

In this article, we will discuss exactly what the exercise afterburn effect is and isn’t, how to use it to your advantage, and the science that backs it up.

What is the exercise afterburn effect?

The exercise afterburn effect is when the body continues to burn calories after the exercise session is over.

For example, let’s say you go for an early morning jog for 30 minutes.

After you have finished the 30-minute jog, your body will continue to burn calories for the next 15 minutes to 48 hours!

The EPOC effect represents the amount of oxygen consumption needed to bring the body back to a pre-exercise state.

The amount of calories burned from EPOC is directly related to exercise intensity and duration.

The harder and longer you exercise, the more you will burn off calories via the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption effect!

Factors That Effect the Exercise Afterburn Effect

Exercise Intensity & The Exercise Afterburn Effect

Exercise intensity, according to all the studies conducted to date, is the most important determinant of the afterburn effect.

The harder and more intense you exercise, the greater the exercise afterburn effect

In a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, the effect of exercise intensity on EPOC was studied in 8 trained men and 8 trained women.

The subjects were examined after completing 3 separate exercise bouts of different intensities.

The intensities were 40%, 50%, and 70% of their VO2 maxes. The VO2 max measurement is the greatest amount of oxygen you can take in and use for exercise.

The VO2 max is a good measure of fitness level. The more oxygen you are able to use, the more energy you will be able to create.

As a result, the higher your VO2 max, the higher your fitness level is.

So let us get back to the study.

The study showed that the intensity levels had a great effect on the duration of the exercise afterburn effect.

In both men and women, the effect of EPOC was greater as the intensity increased.  The study also showed that even low levels of exercise intensity still have a positive effect on EPOC.

The results of the study were as follows:

– For the men

  • 40% VO2 max– EPOC was 31.2 min ;
  • 50% VO2 max– EPOC was 42.1 min;
  • 70% VO2 max – EPOC was 47.6 min

– For the Women

  • 40% VO2 max–  EPOC was 26.9 min;
  • 50% VO2 max – EPOC was 35.6 min
  • 70% VO2 max – EPOC was 39.1 min

In another study published in the Journal Of The American College Of Nutrition showed the effects of low and high-intensity exercise on 8 women, ages 22-31.

It looked at how they burned calories during and after exercise.

Although both groups burned 500 calories, the effect of EPOC was much greater for the high-intensity group (45 extra calories) versus the low-intensity group (24 extra calories).

Exercise Duration & The Exercise Afterburn Effect

Duration also has been shown to play a big role in the energy afterburn effect.

In one study conducted in 1988 published in the Canadian Journal of Sports Science, subjects were divided into 3 groups.

Although all three groups exercised at 70% of their VO2 max, the duration was different for each group.

One group exercised for 3o minutes, another group for 45 minutes, and the final group exercised for an hour.

The results of the exercise afterburn effect values of the studies were 33 calories lasting 128 minutes, 74.5 calories lasting 204 minutes, and 165 calories over 455 minutes for the duration of 30, 45 and 60 minutes, respectively.

This study showed that increasing exercise duration has a great effect on the exercise afterburn effect.

In yet another similar study (1), 6 healthy male subjects exercises at 70% of their VO2 max for 80 minutes, 40 minutes, and 20 minutes.

The results of EPOC were 55.5 calories, 73.5 calories, and 159.5 calories for 20 minutes, 40 minutes, and 80 minutes respectively.

There have also been studies that have combined high-intensity exercise with longer durations.

There are more studies such as these that show similar effects of duration’s effects on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.

In a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 8 trained males performed 164 minutes of treadmill running at 70% of their VO2 max.

The average exercise afterburn effect was 162 calories, which is a significant contributor to overall energy expenditure.

The research is mixed

So it’s pretty simple then, right?

Just exercise harder and longer and you’ll burn more calories from the exercise after-burn!

Unfortunately, that may not be entirely correct. There have been studies that show different exercise afterburn effects from different forms of exercise.

Some studies showed a low EPOC effect after exercise of long and short duration even with high intensities.

From all the research done, the effect of the exercise afterburn effect varies from person and person.

It seems that many factors such as gender, age, fitness level, and others may be playing a role in the effect of EPOC.

If you are interested in overlooking these studies, I’ve linked 3 of the studies here –> (1,2,3)

Interval Training & The Exercise Afterburn Effect

If you really want to shed off calories optimally from EPOC, I would highly recommend performing intermittent training, which is a form of interval training.

Intermittent training consists of short bouts of all-out exercise followed by a rest period.

You would repeat this over and over throughout the course of the workout.

Our workout video below is a great example of an interval training workout

 

A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology consisted of 8 males performing 20 1-minute intervals at 105% VO2 max with corresponding 2 minute rest periods between intervals.

The same 8 males also performed 30 minutes of continuous exercise at 70% VO2 max to allow for comparisons.

The results showed a significant increase in the afterburn effect for the interval training (75 calories) versus the continuous running (34.5 calories).

Resistance Training & The Exercise Afterburn Effect

So we have covered everything about the exercise afterburn effect on cardiovascular exercise, but what about strength training?!

Although it is difficult to compare cardio to resistance training because the sheer difference in the type of workout and exercise intensity, there have been studies attempting to compare them.

In a study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, the subjects were broken down into 3 groups.

One group performed 40 minutes of cycling at 80% of their maximal heart rate.

Another group performed 40 minutes of circuit training (50 percent of individuals’ maximum lift [1 RM] x 15 repetitions x 4 sets).

And the final group performed 40 minutes of heavy resistance lifting (80 to 90 percent of 1 RM x 3-8 repetitions x 3 sets). 

Heavy resistance training produced the greatest afterburn effect ( 53 calories) compared with circuit training (51 calories) and cycling (33.5 calories).

How To Get The Greatest Exercise Afterburn Effect From Your Workout

So what did we learn from all this? To exercise!

More important than any of the details of the effect of EPOC is the exercise!

Find something you enjoy doing and do it!

Above all else, just make sure to exercise and be active.

If you really want to maximize your training program and burn calories optimally from the exercise afterburn effect then I would recommend doing the following:

Tempo Training

Continuous aerobic exercise at a high intensity for half an hour to an hour.

Long, Slow Distance Training

Continuous aerobic exercise at a moderate intensity for an hour.

Split Training

2-4 high-intensity exercise bouts for a period of 15-25 minutes with a 5 minute rest in-between.

Continuous Interval Training

Alternating 3-minute bouts of low-intensity and high-intensity exercise for a period of 30-60 minutes.

An example of this would be to walk for 3 minutes, then jog for 3 minutes, then walk for 3 minutes, etc.

Or if you are in very good shape, you would jog for 3 minutes, sprint for 3 minutes, jog for 3 minutes, etc.

Switching up the intensity during your workout will increase the rate you burn calories at and maybe a good way to make your cardio a little more exciting.

Supramaximal Interval Training

15-20 bouts of really high-intensity exercise (the hardest you can exercise) for a period of 1 minute, with 2- to 5-minute rest periods in-between.

This will be the most taxing and most intense form of exercise but it will allow for the most effective way to burn calories.

Heavy Resistance Training

This would be a workout that consists of 

  • 2-4 sets of 8-10 exercises
  • 3-8 reps of 80%-90% of your 1-rep max per exercise
  • 2- to 3-minute rest periods 

Circuit Resistance Training

This would be a workout consisting of:

  • 2-3 circuits of 6-10 exercises each
  • 10-12 reps at 50% 1RM per exercise
  • 30-second rest periods between circuits.

Daniel Maman

Daniel Maman's two biggest passions in life are health and fitness. He is a certified personal trainer, has a degree in exercise science, and spends his free time keeping up to date with the latest research. In his free time, you can find him playing basketball, bouldering, and spoiling his dog, Luna.

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