Calorie Burning 101: Excess Postexercise Oxygen Consumption

By Lindsay Kent
The Beauty Blog

This post was suggested by a comment I received during a personal-training session on why we incorporate different movements, use different pieces of equipment, and often change the sequence of the exercises and circuits during our workouts.

I always tell my clients that our workouts are structured a certain way to keep the metabolism churning furiously for the following 24 to 48 hours, and while I know that they all trust me, often there’s a look of confusion on their faces. After all, how does the body burn fat when you aren’t even working out—right?

The SAID principle, which stands for “specific adaptations to imposed demands,” is an important consideration when you’re creating an exercise routine. Challenge the body in one plane of motion, using one specific contraction, one speed, one type of resistance, and a certain piece of equipment and environment, and the body will adapt to completing that task. To train the whole working machine, you must apply that principle to many different challenges.


Working hand in hand with the SAID principle is the idea of progressive overload. Once the body adapts, you must keep challenging it in order to keep making progress. So we add different intensity techniques to progressively overload the body and force change—for example, increased load, increased volume, different types of resistance, different rep speeds.

After a workout like that, the body continues to stay very busy. In comes the concept of EPOC.

EPOC stands for “Excess Postexercise Oxygen Consumption,” and that’s how the body continues to burn additional calories long after your workout. During the recovery phase of exercise, the body works to replace the oxygen deficit, or loss of oxygen due to intense activity. The recovery period has two phases. The first 10 seconds to several minutes make up phase 1, and the second, slower phase lasts up to 48 hours.

Here’s what happens during the recovery period:

1) ATP regenerates.

2) Muscle glycogen is resynthesized from lactate.

3) Oxygen levels are restored in the blood.

4) Protein is synthesized for repair of muscle tissue damage from the workout.

So the body stays busy long after you stop working out. The postexercise increase in metabolism is EPOC plus the additional calories used, and it can aid in your weight-loss goals by burning up to 100 extra calories during this time frame.

Exercise intensity is also a factor. Research indicates that the postexercise metabolic burn can more than double when exercise intensity increases from 55 to 95 percent. The body expends approximately five calories of energy for every liter of oxygen consumed, so increasing oxygen consumption both during and after the workout will elevate the net calories burned.

Focusing on heavier weights, shorter rest intervals, multijoint exercises, and an overall increased intensity is the most effective way to maximize your EPOC. While it may seem that EPOC does not really contribute much in the way of overall calorie expenditure, let’s do the math:

If you work out 5 days a week and burn 100 calories after each session, that’s 500 calories a week. Multiply that by 52 weeks, and you can see that you’ll end up burning 26,000 calories over the course of a year, which equals seven pounds of fat. That is a much more significant number, especially when you consider that the body does it on its own, without any additional work from you.

Your body is constantly adapting to new equipment, terrain, schedules, and different energy systems. As you get fitter, you’ll actually increase the total work you do. That is the best way to improve your overall conditioning and burn even more calories. After all, variety is the spice of life—so enjoy your body and use it every way possible!

About the Author

As the captain of a Junior Olympic volleyball team, Lindsay Kent loved testing her limits and digging deep to push herself to the next level. Fitness and nutrition were such an ingrained part of her lifestyle that fitness was the obvious career choice. She’s a professor at the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) College of Exercise Science and also owns her own training business, Lindsay Kent Fitness. She holds the designation of Master Personal Trainer, with specialty areas in Fitness Nutrition, Strength and Conditioning, Exercise Therapy, Youth and Senior Fitness, and Athlete/Functional training. She is a spokesmodel for ISSA, writes for various fitness publications, and is a BeautyFit sponsored athlete.

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