If you have ever sprinted across a street or danced hard to your favorite hip-hop song, you may have noticed that your heart rate increased and you were panting for breath. This is commonly known as the afterburn effect, where your body consumes oxygen and burns calories at a higher rate after a bout of exercise. This can help you reduce body fat and improve cardiovascular health. And so, you don't have to spend an hour on the treadmill to burn off your lunch.
EPOC: The Afterburn
The afterburn effect has a fancy name called EPOC, which stands for "excess post-exercise oxygen consumption," according to exercise physiologist Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico. This is when your body takes in a high amount of oxygen to bring your body back to its resting state and has an increased metabolism. During EPOC, your body continues to expend calories to remove lactic acid in your muscles, repair damaged tissues and deliver nutrients from food to the cells in your body. Depending on the workout intensity, gender and fitness level, EPOC can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 48 hours.
Plyometric exercises involve working your muscles to reach their maximum strength in the shortest amount of time, and the movement is repeated over a short period of time. This high-intensity training stimulates EPOC toward the end of the workout and requires quick reflexes and core stability to perform, says athletic coach Vern Gambetta, author of "Athletic Development." Samples of plyometrics include vertical jumps, box jumps, sprinting, stair-running and various medicine ball throws.
Traditional strength training, such as weightlifting and body-weight training, can cause the afterburn effect by stimulating muscle growth. Like plyometrics, the level of EPOC you gain depends on your workout intensity. Lifting light weights with a higher number of reps may not stimulate as much of an afterburn effect as lifting heavier weights with fewer reps, says coach Robert dos Remedios, author of "Cardio Strength Training." Examples of strength exercises include kettlebell swings, dumbbell shoulder presses, cable column chest presses and back rows, body-weight lunges, pushups and pullups.
If you have any cardiovascular or metabolic problems or have pain, check with your healthcare provider before starting any workout routine. Vigorous may not be appropriate for those with high blood pressure, according to the "IDEA Fitness Journal," because the arteries stiffen and don't expand to increase blood flow. Stick with low- to moderate-intensity exercises, like jogging and cycling, until your condition improves or recommended by a physician. If you're new to exercise and want to try plyometrics or weightlifting, work with a qualified fitness coach before attempting to do this on your own.
Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.