Choose the right workout and you could end up torching calories for hours after you’ve changed out of your sports bra.
Sure, you’re probably blasting a reasonable number of calories during the hour that you spend at the gym. But what about the other 23 hours of the day? Turns out, the fat-blasting doesn’t need to end just because your sweat sesh does.
“[Having] a mix between maximal heart rate aerobic conditioning and anaerobic, or muscular, stimulation is the key,” says Joey Thurman, creator of The Lifestyle Renovation and author of 365 Health and Fitness Hacks That Could Save Your Life. “And if you challenge every muscle in your body, as well as your cardiovascular system, you’ll generally always be working at a fast tempo (but under control) to really maximize your calorie-burning efforts.”
So next time you’re struggling to figure out exactly which workout is worth it, choose from this list. You’ll get sweaty AF—and probably feel pretty sore the next day—but knowing your body is working even when you’re not? That’s pretty damn nice.
High-Intensity Interval Training
Steady-state cardio definitely has a place in a well-rounded workout routine, but Thurman says it’s not the way to go if you want to stoke your metabolic fire. Instead, you should turn to high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. “Intervals are a form of cardio where you perform an intense exercise as hard as you can—like running sprints, swimming fast, jumping rope—to elevate your heart rate for a brief period, then following it up for a short resting period.”
The benefits? First, Thurman says intervals force your body to improve its ability to use and burn energy. “If you strictly perform endurance-style cardio, you can [actually] lose muscle in the long run because your body starts to become catabolic—a state where you burn through muscle tissue and lower your metabolism,” says Thurman. “Adding in intervals and weight training increases your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), meaning your body is better able to burn calories throughout the day.”
Plus, Thurman says working at an all-out effort (sprinting at a 10 on a scale of one to 10) increases the size and strength of your fast-twitch muscle fibers. (Translation: You’re way more likely to nab a PR in your next 5K.)
After committing to HIIT, you might even find your muscles peeking through in hard-to-tone areas like your belly, butt, and legs. In fact, one study shows that those who did 20 minutes of bike intervals for three months added about a pound of leg muscle while losing nearly 4.5 pounds of fat. You’re not likely to get that with your Saturday long run around the park. “The problem with consistent steady-state cardio is you will not develop a well-defined physique,” says Thurman. “You may lose weight, but there won’t be a lot of muscle definition.”
That said, there are a lot of different HIIT programs you can try. Erin Oprea, author of The 4X4 Diet and celebrity trainer to the likes of Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini, and The Bachelorette’s Kaitlyn Bristowe, prefers Tabata intervals. You’ll work in eight rounds, pushing hard for 20-second bursts followed by 10 seconds of rest. “The smaller rests don’t give you a full recovery period to [help your body burn calories] faster and longer,” she says. She suggests alternating between pushups and squats for each round of 20 seconds for a well-rounded burst of fat-blasting.
“Many assume that just getting in cardio is enough, but that’s not so,” says Oprea. “Weight training is a must to get that burn to last, and adding it on top of cardio will really get you over a plateau.” And with the array of bodyweight workouts available these days, there’s really no excuse to miss out. (To build sexy, toned muscles while enhance your burn, pick up Lift to Get Lean by Holly Perkins.)
Other than the fact that you’ll spike your metabolism—studies show that it can help speed your resting metabolic rate, or how fast you burn calories when you’re doing, well, nothing—you’ll also give your bod a much-needed break from high-impact activities like running. Thurman says that leads to greater muscle recovery due to less stress. Plus, it’ll boost any weight loss efforts, as one study showed that dieters who lifted weights lost 21 pounds of almost all fat, while those who did cardio attributed some of their 21-pound weight loss to muscle loss.
To make the most of your lifting session, both Thurman and Oprea suggest total-body workouts. “It gets rid of the ‘I don’t have time to work out’ complaint that I hear far too often,” says Thurman. “They’re efficient, can be fit into a tight schedule, and you only need to do it two to three times a week to really reap the rewards.”
Some of Oprea’s favorite moves: Reverse lunges into bicep curls, squats into shoulder presses, or pushups with rows. Thurman suggests doing three to four sets, with 10 to 15 reps of each exercise. “It’ll allow for muscular growth and endurance as you are in both the hypertrophy range (eight to 12 reps), which is where you’ll see the most muscle development, and the endurance range (over 12 reps), which helps with muscular endurance,” he explains. And whatever you do, don’t rest for more than 30 seconds in between sets. “It’ll keep your heart rate up, elevate your metabolism, and make your workout more efficient with less time,” he says.
Now that you’ve got weight training and cardio down, it’s time to add some ups to your routine. Enter plyometrics, or jump training, which ensures your muscles are exerting as much force as possible in a short period of time, with the goal of increasing power (so, moves like box jumps, burpees, and jumping lunges are your jam).
Why are they so great? “Getting your feet off the ground engages so many more muscles and really spikes your cardio at the same time,” says Oprea. “And it elevates your heart rate because of all the jumping you’re doing.”
Research also shows that plyometrics sends your EPOC into overdrive, especially when combined with HIIT. In one study, females who added two sets of 45 seconds of plyometric exercises (with 45 seconds of rest) to their HIIT routine improved their lean body mass by 3 percent and squat jump performance by 22 percent.
Oprea suggests trying it out with moves you’re already familiar with, like a squat. After you lower into your squat, start to rise back to the starting position, but instead of stopping with your feet flat on the ground, lift off into the air to turn it into a jump squat. “Get as high as you can after each squat, landing softly from toe-to-heel and going straight down into the next squat,” she suggests. “It’s a simple and very effective exercise. Repeat for 10 to 20 reps, and do three to four sets.” Can you feel the burn already?