What is EPOC and how can it help me burn more fat?

July 7, 2012

Q: Have you heard of something called EPOC? I know it has something to do with how weightlifting helps burn more calories but can you explain it in detail? Also, is there anything special I need to know about EPOC that might help me use it to my advantage to burn more fat?

A: EPOC - Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption - refers to how many additional calories your body will have to burn in order to repair, recover and return back to the way it was before you bombarded it with a heavy-duty weightlifting workout.

This is primarily due to a number of physical changes that take place in your body, such as replenishing energy, glycogen and oxygen levels, and bringing your heart rate and body temperature back to normal. These changes require energy in the form of calories, so basically it helps kick your metabolism into gear even when you’re at rest, and it’s also one of the reasons why people who lift weights burn more calories. However, you can get an even greater result from EPOC if you learn to incorporate the following techniques.

Lift challenging weights

The more intense the workout, the more EPOC you will experience, and in my opinion there’s no better way to accomplish this goal than to lift weights heavy enough to exhaust the muscles but light enough to practice good form. Remember, the more you work out, the stronger you get over time, so it’s important to periodically increase weights to make sure you’re not in the comfort zone and you’re consistently challenging your body.

Concentrate on exercises that work larger muscles

Exercises such as deadlifts, squats, barbell rows and lunges will force your body to use larger muscle groups and a lot more oxygen, thereby increasing the EPOC effect and forcing a greater post-workout calorie burn than lesser exercises that only work one or more smaller muscles, such as bicep curls. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with working smaller muscles, but make sure that each workout is centered around larger muscle groups that will give you more bang for your buck and a longer calorie burn after you leave the gym.

Reduce rest periods

Another way to increase the intensity of the workout is to reduce rest periods, making the workout more intense and physically demanding, and requiring more energy to recover. However, this is a slippery slope, because you don’t want to go so fast that you diminish your ability to use challenging weights. This would be counterproductive, so the key is to meet somewhere in the middle. Spacing sets between 25-35 seconds apart instead of the average 50-60 seconds is a good start. You can also incorporate super sets - working two opposite muscle groups back to back, giant sets - doing two exercises that work the same muscle group back to back, or drop sets - doing several sets of the same exercise back to back by lowering the weight in order to complete all repetitions.

Incorporate high-intensity interval training

You can apply the same level of training with cardio that you do with weights by incorporating high-intensity interval training instead of longer, less intense sessions. You may burn fewer calories at first, but the long-term calorie expenditure of EPOC will eventually add up and be much more effective. Good examples of interval training would be 40-100-yard wind sprints, or any other cardiovascular activity that incorporates shorter, more intense sessions that will require more recovery in the form of EPOC calorie burn.

So, if your goal is to burn more fat for longer periods of time even on days when you don’t go to the gym, incorporate the above techniques and take advantage of Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out