How many of us are short on time? Probably all of us, and working out sometimes takes the back burner to life’s other concern. So, getting the most bang for your buck in the gym is the name of the game. I’ve had countless people ask about the fastest way to lose weight, and just as many ask about how to do it efficiently because of limited time. In recent years the focus has been on how many calories we burn after a workout is done.
How many of us are short on time? Probably all of us, and working out sometimes takes the back burner to life’s other concern. So, getting the most bang for your buck in the gym is the name of the game. I’ve had countless people ask about the fastest way to lose weight, and just as many ask about how to do it efficiently because of limited time. In recent years the focus has been on how many calories we burn after a workout is done. We’ve all heard that metabolism remains elevated after a workout, and some believe that the workout that boosts your metabolism the most and for the longest is the one that will give you the greatest weight loss benefit.
A recent study in the Journal of Translational Medicine compared a quick and exhausting exercise protocol, dubbed High-Intensity Interval Resistance Training (HIRT) with a more traditional body building style routine, and asked the question following question: Which workout is causing the body to burn the most calories the following day?
Before I get into the results, I’d like to say the “high intensity” moniker of many of our modern training programs (e.g. HIT, HIIT, etc.) needs to go. The word intensity in exercise science has a very specific meaning (expressed as a percentage of your maximum effort), and that meaning has nothing to do with how hard a workout feels, which is called “perceived exertion.” All of these programs are very high in perceived exertion, but very few are what anyone in exercise science would call high intensity. Alright, enough of the vocabulary lecture, let’s get onto the results.
The researchers discovered that, despite half of the actual work load being performed by the HIRT group, their energy expenditure at 22 hours post-exercise averaged approximately 3.5 times that of the traditional group. On the surface that sounds pretty incredible, but let’s take a deeper look at the results.
Firstly, is this boost worth it for serious trainees? We often clamor for more and faster results, but at what cost? A program that boosts your metabolism by 3.5 times after a full day is still taxing your system. Remember the old adage “you only grow while you’re resting?” Whether that’s true or not, it speaks to a deeper truth we need to keep in mind. Sometimes destroying yourself in the gym is counterproductive because it slows recovery and prevents you from working out more often.
Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, the 3.5 times difference in results isn’t as substantial as it sounds. The traditional group burned about 100 calories more per day than they would have had they not exercised. The HIRT group was at about 350 calories. That’s only about 250 calories difference in a day. Nothing to sneeze at, mind you, but important to note. If the HIRT workout is too intense to do as often as the traditional workout, the difference might work out to be less over time.
But the 250 calorie advantage for HIRT isn’t really what it seems. Remember how I mentioned the workload was less for the HIRT group, which is why the workout is faster? Well that difference amounted to more than 500 calories on average for the test subjects (I assumed an average range of motion of 1 foot to calculate that value). So, although the study found that HIRT raised metabolism more in the long run, the traditional workout actually burned perhaps 250 calories more total on average despite the reduced metabolic demand in the long run. And that long term reduced metabolism probably also translates to better results.
Even considering the results of the study, the long-term metabolic impacts of a workout are probably more substantial from a recovery perspective than a weight loss perspective. For those limited on time, a fast and tough workout can still get you good results, but if you have the time to spare, you would be better off taking your time.
1. Antonio Paoli, et. al., “High-Intensity Interval Resistance Training (HIRT) influences resting energy expenditure and respiratory ratio in non-dieting individuals” Journal of Translational Medicine, 10:237 (2012)
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