top of page

How to Burn Calories After Exercise

Burn calories after your workout

And just like that 2021 is here.

It’s likely you fall under one of two categories:

You don’t give a single you-know-what about worrying over your weight and are eating whatever makes you feel better about the fact that this mess STILL. ISN’T. OVER. and we’re likely all going to rot in our houses at this point.


You’re still making an effort to get workouts in and eat the best that you can given the circumstances.

I, for one, am definitely behind curtain number 1. However, if you’re the applause-worthy champ under the second category, here’s a fitness article for ya on the best methods of exercise to continue burning calories even after physical activity is long over.

I bet most of you have heard of the “afterburn effect,” otherwise known by the fancier term of Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). EPOC is defined as the calories you burn even after a workout.

Do I have your attention yet? Here’s how it works:

After a session of intense exercise, the body builds up an “oxygen debt.” This means that the oxygen needed for the exercise you just did is more the amount of oxygen left in the body, and your metabolism now has to work to repay that debt. This is why after a set of weight lifting, you breathe harder. It’s your body trying to get to an even oxygen balance.

This work towards equal balance is how we get EPOC or “the afterburn effect.” Basically, the amount of oxygen consumed translates into the number of calories burned.

Sounds great right?

Well, like every cool body thing in fitness, there are parts of it that have been overstated, resulting in the need to sift between fact and myth. The good news is that EPOC can still have a significant effect on your metabolism hours after exercise...if you do it right.

Steady Cardio vs. High Intensity Interval Training

So, which is the best exercise? What do you have to do to get that coveted afterburn effect?

One study using trained marathon runners showed that continuous cardio for 80 minutes with no change in intensity, resulted in an EPOC lasting 10.5 hours which added up to an extra 150 calories burned after the workout was over. However, this is the equivalent of you running on the treadmill at your gym for 80 minutes, so the setback to this method is obvious. Who has time to run almost an hour and a half a day just to burn a measly extra 150 calories?

You could do that every day for almost a month and lose only a single pound.

Nah fam. Not worth my time.

So, we turn our attention to HIIT (high intensity interval training). That’s because the EPOC of HIIT is significantly higher than steady-state cardio. HIIT is defined as short bursts of super intense exercise with “rests” of less intense exercise in between. So, it would be something like doing burpees (or any other cardio move using the large muscle groups in your lower body) for 30 seconds on with a 30-second rest.

Wash, rinse, repeat for 20-30 minutes and there you go.

According to the same study mentioned above, subjects burned about 300 more calories a HIIT workout than traditional cardio of the same length. This would translate to 1 pound lost in about a week and a half. Which sounds much better than the scenario mentioned above using steady-state cardio. And this only took you 20 minutes instead of nearly an hour and a half.

Not too shabby.

So what about weight training?

One study in obese, older men found that lifting heavier weights produced more of an afterburn effect than lighter weights, so the exact numbers of calories burned vary based on the weight volume.

This is why, when I teach the system to a successful cutting season, I encourage heavy weight lifting for the most fat loss.

But back to the study...

The afterburn produced from resistance training is pretty long! At about 15-38 hours following a workout, depending on the intensity, the calorie burn was 9-11%. Basically, if your resting metabolic rate is 2,000 calories, you could burn up to an additional 200 calories after lifting heavy weights. If your RMR is less than that though (it’s usually smaller in women, thinner individuals, individuals with less muscle and people older than 30) the afterburn will be smaller.

The Bottom Line? Out of the three forms of exercise mentioned, if you’re looking for the most afterburn effect, HIIT training is the most efficient in terms of calories burned after exercise and the size of the chunk taken out of your weekly training schedule.

Keep in mind, however, that your fitness level plays a role in this. People who have been consistently in the gym for at least half a year will recover from workouts faster (and thus burn less post-workout) than gym newbies.

This is one reason why you see hella progress in the gym when you’re first starting out and then it starts to taper and almost stall the longer you keep up your routine.

In closing, the afterburn effect sounds great and can help with a calorie deficit, but at the end of the day, the calories burned during exercise (and how closely you’re paying attention to your nutrition) are the most important factors to consider.


bottom of page