There’s been much written on the “Afterburn Effect” and not only about cause and effect but even questioning the very existence of the event. So let’s dispel any myths and clear up once and for all what the afterburn effect is and why it is useful to fitness and exercise enthusiasts.
The afterburn effect occurs as the result of intense exercise, generally speaking the more calories expended during exercise, the more calories expended afterwards but there are different training methods that can help one to get maximum benefit from this biological effect. For example, one study* showed that after cycling intensely for 45 minutes that the participants burned around 190 calories more over the following fourteen hours than on non-exercise days. Of course, the numbers change with each individual as each person’s weight, body fat to lean mass ratio, and resting metabolic rate will all factor in to how many calories your body will burn and how long.
The optimum post exercise calorie burn or afterburn effect will result after training at seventy to eighty-five percent of your max heart rate for periods of up to an hour. The majority of the population will not attempt to maintain such intensity due to the lack of a minimum level of fitness, but also due to a lack of time or motivation. This is why programs promising to give the results in a shorter time period do so well on the market. Just remember, shorter doesn’t necessarily mean easier. High intensity interval training will get your heart rate up fast and burn more overall calories than traditional aerobic activity. According to a major study done by Dr. Christopher Scott, “The afterburn effect is minimal for traditional cardio, but can be significant for strength and power related activities.” Dr. Scott stated that as much as 95% of the calories expended from anaerobic exercise may come after the activity is over.
The fitness industry is still discovering new and exciting training methods like this one as exercise physiologists begin to experiment more with anaerobic training. Because the exercise industry overall is controlled by mostly those from the aerobic fields such as cycling, running and triathlons there have not been as many studies done on anaerobic exercise. The reason that high intensity interval training works so well for burning calories is that it allows for the most intensity in the shortest period of time.
One such training technique is known as the Tabata Protocol which alternates short bursts of intense exercise with short rest periods. For example, a squat routine would have you squat for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds then repeat six to nine times. This method is intense and was developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata for Olympic speed skaters, not for the faint of heart.
With this type of intense training your body is using glycogen stores in your muscles for fuel during the actual activity but then feeds off of fat stores during the rest periods. By increasing the body’s need for oxygen to recover, it also increases the metabolic rate burning more calories which maximizes the afterburn effect. The actual length of the effect varies dependent upon the intensity and length of exercise as well as the metabolism of the individual.
Utilizing interval training in strength conditioning in which the rest periods are severely limited results in creating an aerobic effect giving the participant the best of both worlds in their training regimen. This technique is particularly advantageous to exercise enthusiasts and those seeking to promote weight loss that have limited time available. While many who are seeking to lose weight often fail to utilize weight training in their weight loss program the fact of the matter is that the more muscle mass one has, the more calories one burns even at rest.