Whether you’re peeling yourself out of bed to hit the gym on a Saturday morning or lacing up your sneakers after a long day at work, you want your workout to really pay off—and chances are that means torching tons of calories.
A number of factors—like the type of workout you do and how long and hard you go for—determine how many calories you may burn. But there are a few things you can do during your workouts—no matter how crunched for time you may be—to turn up your burn.
These expert-backed tips will boost your sweaty efforts—without taking much effort themselves! Keep these strategies in mind when you work out and you’ll shed more fat and perform better than ever. And who doesn’t want that?
1. Hit The Weights
While many people might think that cardio is king when it comes to calorie burn, skimping on strength training is a sure way to stall your progress. Why? Unlike cardio, strength training signals your body to build muscle, and increasing how much muscle you have can boost your metabolism, according to Todd Nief, CF-L3, head coach and founder of South Loop Strength and Conditioning in Chicago.
Muscle is ‘metabolically active tissue,’ meaning you use calories just to maintain it. Having more muscle versus fat increases how many calories your body burns throughout the day—even when you’re resting—making it progressively easier for you to shed fat and get fitter.
You don’t need to quit your beloved cardio cold turkey, though. For maximum calorie-torching effect, Nief likes to combine strength moves with cardio in circuit-style workouts. Create your own combo workout by jumping back and forth between weighted exercises (like barbell squats, dumbbell presses, or kettlebell swings) and cardio bursts (like burpees, jumping jacks, or skaters).
2. Focus On Compound Exercises
You can bicep curl until the cows come home, but if you want to burn major calories with strength training, you need as much of your workout as possible to involve as many muscles as possible.
While bicep curls isolate a single muscle in your arms, moves like squats and deadlifts (called ‘compound exercises’) require a bunch of your muscles, like your core, glutes, quads, and hamstrings to get working. The more muscles you’re using in a single move, the more calories you’ll burn, says Tyler Spraul, C.S.C.S., head trainer at Exercise.com.
Try to hit as many muscles as possible in a given workout by incorporating moves like pullups, squats, lunges, and pushups.
3. Try Interval Training
If you normally work out at a steady pace, mix things up—and torch more cals—with interval training. Research shows that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can improve aerobic and anaerobic fitness, increase muscle, and promote fat loss more effectively than steady-state cardio.
When you alternate between periods of all-out effort and recovery, you put greater demand on your body and continue to burn calories long after you hit the showers. The experts call this ‘excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,’ or EPOC.
Give Your Workouts A Boost
To boost the intensity—and benefit—of your workouts, try intervals like Tabata (20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of recovery) or AMRAPS (performing ‘as many reps as possible’ of a move in a certain amount of time), suggests Nief.
You can play around with HIIT by adjusting how long you work and rest for, but the key is to keep your rest intervals short. “Since you’ll have less time to recover, you’ll be spending more time with an elevated heart rate, which translates into additional calories burned,” says Spraul.
4. Use A Fitness Tracker
Tracking devices, which can sometimes be inaccurate, are a little tricky. Use them wisely, though, and they can both motivate you and help you work out smarter.
Trackers’ estimates about how many calories you burn may be a little off, but having a number to shoot for can encourage you to push yourself and burn more calories during your workout, says Nief. Just consider that number with a grain of salt and don’t use it to justify post-workout calorie overloads.
Devices that track your heart rate, though, can be incredibly helpful during your workouts, says Nief. If you’re doing a HIIT workout, keeping close tabs on your heart rate can motivate you to go harder during your sprints and ensure you get enough rest during your recovery periods.
5. Down Some Joe Before Working Out
“Caffeine is one of the few proven ergogenics, or exercise performance enhancers,” says Nief. If you’re able to move faster and work with greater effort and intensity with a little help from caffeine, you’re going to blast more calories and see better results.
Drink a cup of coffee (typically somewhere around 120 milligrams of caffeine) about 30 minutes before working out and it’ll kick in just in time for you crush every squat or sprint. Just keep it black or limit add-ins to just a splash of milk. Slugging a sugary, creamy drink before sweating will just make you feel sluggish and crampy. If coffee isn’t your style, try a pre-workout supplement that contains caffeine.
6. Switch Up The Temperature
Sure, we all prefer to exercise in the perfect-temperature setting—not too hot, not too cold. But research suggests that working out in a hot or cold environment can benefit your health and boost your results. We’re not talking either a desert or tundra-level extreme here—just hotter or colder than you’d like.
When you get moving in a hot environment, your heart and body have to work harder to regulate your body temperature and keep you from overheating, which requires extra energy and burns through calories, says Nief.
On the flipside, when you work out in the cold, your body begins to shiver to produce heat and increase your body temperature, which requires energy, too. Research published in Cell Metabolism shows that cold exposure also stimulates hormones and activates genes that boost fat burning
7. Drink Cold Water
Okay, you probably don’t want to sip on a warm mug of tea during a workout, anyway, but filling your water bottle with ice cubes can give your calorie-burning a little lift.
For every icy glass of water you down, you’ll burn about eight calories, says Nief. As the ice chills your insides, your body burns through a little energy to warm itself back up. Eight calories a glass isn’t much, we know, but every little bit counts, right? And considering how crucial it is to stay hydrated when you exercise, we consider it just another reason to keep our water bottles handy in and out of the gym.
Pin this checklist to maximize your burn every time you hit the gym: