Many trainers point to the phenomenon as the key to losing weight. Many exercisers chase it like their lives—or at least six-packs—depend on it. And many researchers couldn’t be more… lukewarm about it. Indeed, a growing body of evidence suggests that the afterburn effect might not be as effective as once thought for burning fat.
The scientific term for the afterburn effect is “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” (or simply EPOC) because it’s characterised by an increase in oxygen uptake following intense activity. That oxygen is used to replenish your body’s fuel stores, balance hormones, restore blood oxygen levels, repair muscle and connective tissue, and otherwise help your body recover and adapt to training.
All of that recovery requires energy, and the harder you exercise, the greater your EPOC will be, and the more total calories you’ll burn. That’s why high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and strength training tend to burn as much or more total calories as moderate-intensity cardio (steady-state running, cycling, etc.)—they result in greater EPOC. Unfortunately, the most recent research suggests that EPOC accounts for just a handful of extra calories burned instead of the hundreds previously theorised.
But here’s the thing: Even if those calories don’t amount to much for an individual session, they can result in significant weight loss if you play the long game. In other words, that work adds up, so it makes sense to optimise your EPOC no matter what type of training or workout you’re doing.
Your move: If you want to shed pounds a bit faster, focus on increasing the intensity of your workouts. If you strength train, that might mean adding more supersets, drop sets, monster sets, or even circuits to your training plan; reducing the amount of rest you take between sets and exercises; and focusing more on compound (multi-joint) exercises than isolation (single-joint) moves.
If you typically do steady-state cardio, consider adding HIIT workouts a couple of times a week instead, or as a supplement to your training plan. In short, make sure you “feel the burn” during your workouts to maximise your afterburn once they end.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health US.