The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Going for the burn

Written by
Sue Beckham, PhD
Posted in
Move more

Monday, Dec 26, 2011

Another year, another resolution to shed those unwanted pounds? For most folks, time is the biggest hurdle when it comes to consistent exercise and healthy eating patterns. So why not recommit yourself to exercise in 2012 with a consistent goal of 3 days per week. But this time, train smart and go for the burn, the best calorie burn that is.

For most of us, small, daily changes are the best way to lose that unwanted fat. Small changes add up over the course of a year. In fact, eating an extra 100 calories a day leads to a 10 pound weight gain over the course of a year.  That is 20 Fritos, 1 cup of soda or half of a Subway chocolate chip cookie each day.  It works both ways.

Your tips to smarter exercise in 2012:

  1. The higher the intensity of your cardio workout, the more calories you burn. If your doctor has cleared you for higher intensity exercise then consider increasing the intensity of your workout. Higher intensity exercise burns more calories. If you are able to exercise for the same length of time at a higher intensity then you just burn more calories. Don’t be tricked into exercising at a lower intensity to stay in the “fat burning zone” which actually burns fewer calories. A calorie is a calorie. More calorie burning means more weight loss. Plus, you get the added bonus of greater improvements in aerobic capacity which decreases your risk of death due to both cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.2
  2. Don’t forget resistance training to work the major muscle groups 2-3 times per week. Pound for pound, it takes more calories to sustain a pound of muscle mass (6 calories per pound per 24 hours) compared to a pound of fat (2 calories per pound per 24 hours).6 While that might not sound like much, it all adds up.
  3. Try supersets. During resistance training, perform a set of repetitions for a muscle group then immediately perform a set for the opposing muscle group. This decreases the amount of rest time during your workout while providing time for each muscle group to recover. One study reported that males performing the same resistance training workout using the superset method burned an average of 8.0 calories/minute compared to 6.3 calorie/minute during traditional training with 60 seconds rest between each set.3 Circuit training where you alternate resistance training exercises with 60-180 second bouts of cardio exercise to keep the calorie burning elevated also increases caloric expenditure during resistance training.
  4. Choose resistance training exercises that use large muscle groups, engage core muscles and require the body to travel (like when performing a lunge).4  The more muscle mass recruited during an exercise, the more calories burned. For example, a machine leg press would not be expected to burn as many calories as a squat exercise using similar amounts of resistance.  The squat exercise recruits more core and other muscles to stabilize and balance the body. The biceps and triceps are small muscle groups people like to work but don’t increase calorie burning that much. So try working biceps while holding a squat or lunge position to recruit more muscles and burn more calories. Or better yet, perform a cable standing low row in a static lunge position to engage the bicep, shoulder, back, core and leg muscles at the same time.
  5. Keep things in perspective. If you just can’t pass on that chocolate chip cookie, then plan to cut back somewhere else or think about it in terms of your exercise program. For example, a 145 pound person would have to walk approximately 58 minutes or jog for 24 minutes to work off a medium sized chocolate chip cookie. Is it worth it? Only you can decide but putting it into perspective before reaching for the cookie just might change your mind.
What about burning extra calories post workout?  The longer it takes the body to recover, the more calories burned post exercise. Try incorporating these calorie burning boosters into your workout.
  1. Try splitting your aerobic workouts into 2 parts. Studies1,5 show that splitting a 30 minute session of cardio into 2-15 minute sessions or 3-10 minute sessions burns more calories post exercise. Although the amounts were small, subjects burned an average of 10-15 more calories during recovery when splitting the cardio sessions. Researchers believe that the body has to go through a recovery process which elevates calorie burning after each bout of exercise. Splitting the sessions means the body has to go through these same processes multiple times.  This is similar to the concept of eating multiple small meals per day which raises your metabolism more times as the body burns extra calories to digest the food.  If you are really pressed for time, splitting your workouts might have some added benefit.
  2. When you have the extra time, longer cardio workouts yield more calorie burn post exercise. In one study7 where participants walked at 70% of maximal aerobic capacity for 60 minutes, they burned an average of 76 extra calories post exercise.  However, after 20 and 40 minutes of exercise, they burned an extra 43 and 49 calories, respectively.
  3. More resistance elevates post exercise calorie burn. A study8 which compared calorie burn during and after two resistance training programs did not find any difference in caloric expenditure between lifting 2 sets of 15 repetitions and lifting 2 sets of 8 repetitions using more resistance. This is not surprising given that the total volume (sets X reps X weight) or amount of weight lifted was equal for both workouts. However, after the workouts post exercise calorie burn was an additional 13.5 calories for the low intensity lifting session compared to 25 calories for the high intensity session. Always remember to use good form; sacrificing form for the sake of lifting more weight is never appropriate. If you tend to perform higher repetitions (>15 repetitions), lower resistance sets, you may want to consider increasing the resistance slightly.
While it is another year, it doesn’t have to be another missed opportunity. If you are pressed for time, take advantage of every calorie burning tip. Let’s assume you can reasonably commit to exercising 3 days per week performing 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of resistance training. By changing your weight training workout to a superset or circuit format, possibly bumping up the amount of resistance you use and increasing the intensity of your cardio workouts could increase calorie burn during exercise and recovery by 100 calories per workout. Depending on your health status and current fitness level, some of these options may be appropriate for you but check with your doctor first. These small changes just might just tip the scales in your favor in 2012.

1Almuzaini, K.S., Potteiger, J.A., and Green, S.B. (1998). Effects of split exercise sessions on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption and resting metabolic rate. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 23(5), 433-443. 2Blair, S.N et al. (1989). Physical Fitness and All-Cause Mortality. Journal of the American Medical Association, 262, 2395-2401. 3Kelleher, A.R. et al. (2010). The Metabolic Costs of Reciprocal Supersets vs. Traditional Resistance Exercise in Young Recreationally Active Adults. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(4), 1043-1051. 4Lagally, K.M. et al. (2009). Physiologic and Metabolic Responses to a Continuous Functional Resistance Exercise Workout. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(2), 373-379. 5Lyons, S. et al. (2006). Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption in untrained males: effects of intermittent durati