How to Lose an Extra Half-Pound a Week

Sarah Wassner Flynn
by Sarah Wassner Flynn
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How to Lose an Extra Half-Pound a Week

Good news: The effects of a tough workout may last a lot longer than the time you’re in the gym. Thanks to excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC)—also known as the “afterburn effect”—your body may continue to torch calories for up to 36 hours after you stop exercising.

But you don’t reap these benefits from just any exercise. To get the true afterburn effect, fitness pros stress that you have to work out for 15 minutes at greater than 70% of your VO2 max, which stands for maximal oxygen uptake and refers to the amount of oxygen your body is capable of utilizing in 1 minute. This roughly equates to keeping your heart rate at around 140 beats per minute in that time frame. “The more intense the workout, the more oxygen your body will consume afterward and the more calories you’ll burn in return,” says Brandon Mentore, a strength and conditioning coach in the Philadelphia area.

Classes like Orangetheory Fitness are focused on just that, with participants dashing between the treadmill, weights and a rowing machine to produce 12–24 minutes of training at 84% of their maximum heart rate (or the “orange zone,” as it’s known in the class).


“Doing high-intensity interval training and strength training yields the greatest amount of ‘afterburn,’” says Mentore. “It doesn’t necessarily apply to less intense and more endurance-oriented exercise, like walking or doing a cardio machine at a comfortable pace.”

While the specific results of the afterburn effect varies from person to person, experts say you may burn up to an additional 150 calories in the 24–36 hours following your workout. “It can give you a little added boost. One hundred extra calories burned each day is about a half-pound per week or equivalent to walking 1–3 miles,” says Wes Ferguson, a celebrity trainer in Los Angeles.

That’s not to say you can stuff yourself silly after an extra-tough workout. “The afterburn effect isn’t substantial enough so that you can just pig out on anything over the next few hours,” says Ferguson. Instead, snack smart with a mix of complex carbs and protein, a powerful combo that helps boost muscle recovery, reduce soreness and build strength.

Whatever you munch on, practice moderation, stresses Ferguson. “You can’t say, ‘I worked out, that means I get ice cream as a reward!’ Then you’ll just undo everything.”

About the Author

Sarah Wassner Flynn
Sarah Wassner Flynn

A longtime runner and triathlete, Sarah has been able to blend her passions for endurance sports and writing into a freelance career. She’s covered everything from profiles on Olympic gold medalists to tips on training for your first 5K for numerous media outlets. When she’s not writing about races, Sarah is usually training or competing in one. She also writes kid’s and teen nonfiction books and articles for National Geographic and Girls’ Life Magazine. Sarah lives just outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, Mark, and their three children. Follow her on Instagram (@athletemoms) and Twitter (@athletemoms).


55 responses to “How to Lose an Extra Half-Pound a Week”

  1. Avatar rosie says:

    I thought it took 3500 calories burned to lose a pound. How does an extra 100 or 150 calories burned per day add up to a half pound per week? By my calculations, it’s closer to a quarter of a pound.

    • Avatar Rusty Trombone says:

      I had the same thought when reading this quote:

      > “One hundred extra calories burned each day is about a half-pound per week”

      Assuming that those excess calories burned are fat, then (100 cal/day * 7 days/week )/3500 cal/lb-fat = 0.2lbs of fat/week. So either his math is wrong, or he’s accounting for some other variable like water loss. Or, more likely, he’s not distinguishing where the loss is coming from (it could be a combination of things, including muscle tissue!)

      The article leaves a few other impressions that I think are misleading. For example:

      A) The article talks about burning extra calories by working at >70% of your VO max. Fair enough, but…

      B) According to most experts, you shouldn’t be doing HIIT 7 days a week. At most, you should do 3 HIIT sessions/week. That cuts the number of excess calories burned by more than half.

      C) A portion of those excess calories burned will be from muscle tissue, and the less fat you have, the more muscle you potentially burn.

      D) The celebrity trainer is using some fuzzy math.

      So yeah, if you’re really unhealthy about it (overtraining and losing muscle mass), you can expect an extra quarter pound or so compared to not following this routine. If you’re trying to keep muscle and lose fat, then your actual fat burn will be <0.10 lbs/week. 2-3 HIIT sessions a week is probably best when combined with light-moderate cardio the other days, along with a high protein diet and strength training program. Just my $0.02 🙂

    • Avatar Kristin Dray says:

      Yes!!! I was thinking the exact same thing. An extra 100 calories/ day x 7 days is 700 calories. That’s only 1/5 of a lb(3500 calories deficit to lose a lb). Even on the upper end, if you burned an extra 150/ day x 7 days that’s only 1050 calories, so less than 1/3 of a lb.

    • Avatar Jerome Barry says:

      There are young adults who can do math, who don’t end up in journalism.

  2. Avatar Victor Horne says:

    rosie, I have wondered about this also. when I walk a mile on the treadmill I burn about 150 calories, which amounts to walking 24 miles to lose a pound.

  3. It is the “after burn” they are talking about. If you sustain your heart rate at about 140 beats per minute for a period of 15 to 20 minutes during your work out, your muscles take a much longer time to recover. It is the “recovery” that causes the additional calorie burn. Your body is pumping nutrients into your muscles, including oxygen, and during the recovery period, which can take hours, the calorie burn steadily decreases over time.

    That means if you work out for 20 minutes, and it takes an hour to cool down, or get your heart rate back to normal, then during that entire cool down period you are still burning calories. Make believe on a scale of 1 to 5 that you burn at a 5 when you are at full tilt. So you get to 5, and when you stop exercising at that level, it goes down to a 4 within the first 15 minutes or so, then down to a 3, over the next 15 minutes, then a 2, and so on until you are fully back to normal.
    If a 5 for 15 minutes means you are burning 150 calories, when it goes to a 4 you are burning 120 calories, then at 3= 90 calories, 2=60 calories, and 1= 30 calories. Get to 0 and you are not burning calories above the normal rate.
    So 1 stint of a 5 actually nets you 150+120+90+60+30=450. This isn’t true for ALL exercises because they don’t pump you up to the higher zones that take longer to recover from. Now I made these numbers up, and the true rates probably depend on your health, how muscular you are (more muscles=longer recovery times) and how many muscle groups you use during that time.
    Does that make sense?

  4. Avatar funkybro says:

    I have been going to Orange Theory Fitness since May. At first it was fairly easy to get into the Orange Zone, where EPOC takes place. But now that I’ve gotten in better shape, I’ve got to work very hard to get my heart rate up into that zone. My heart seems to be in better condition than my legs and arms!

  5. Avatar Steve Chambers says:

    Sara you need to explain how you calculate 70% of maximum heart rate. It’s 140 BPM for a 20-year old. For a 30-year old it’s 133 and for a geezer like me (64) it’s 110. Someone my age working at 140 BPM would be at 90% MHR, which no one can sustain for 15 minutes. Not all your readers are 20-somethings.

    • Avatar Brian Wacik says:

      The general notion of the afterburner effect is what this article excels at, not any specifics beyond that. Max HR isn’t a calculation, but a test performed with proper guidance. The rule of thumb (horrible) is that your max HR is 220 – your age. As a 53 year old, that would be 167 for me. My tested max HR is 193, significantly different. Ask a coach or trainer to test you if you really want to find your upper limit, then you can accurately program your workouts based on that. Repeat the max HR test no more than twice per year to stay on track. Good luck.

    • Avatar Cliokitty says:

      Thanks so much for pointing that out. So often these blogs are not targeting us as readers.

    • Avatar bill says:

      Just what I was thinking. And while it’s great if you can do it, it also puts you in danger of thinking I can afford to eat 2,000 calories of pizza since I worked real hard for ten minutes. I’m getting the best results by exercising at a level I can handle comfortably, but staying active ALL day. I try to never sit for more than an hour at a time. #1 rule though will always be that you don’t have to burn off the calories you don’t eat!

    • Avatar Tom Paulson says:

      I am no expert at this, but I do agree with Steve. I am 68 and do not see the benefit in exercising at 80% of MaxHR. I workout 4-5 times a week and my MaxHR is higher than the 220-age calculation, but that would still put me at 150 BPM for 80% of MaxHR. Too fast for what I want to accomplish, and not worth the extra half pound a week, and even more importantly not worth the risk!

      • Avatar Rob T says:

        I’m a bit confused — if you’re 68, then the 220-age calculation has your max heartrate at 152, and therefore only 121 BPM for 80% of MaxHR.

    • Avatar Robert B says:

      I’m 65 and when I work out with a trainer my heart rate regularly is over 150 and sometimes over 160. Maintaining over 140 for 15 minutes this 65 y/o is no big deal. The 220 age calculation is BS. Steve – you should consult a professional to maximize the benefits of your workouts. You might not be pushing yourself hard enough.

      • Avatar Steve Chambers says:

        Robert, congratulations on being in good shape. As for the 220-age measure being BS, a few years ago when I had a stress echo cardiograph, that’s what the cardiologist used. I’ll take the advice of a medical professional over your or your trainer’s opinion any day. I know it’s a generalization and, in trained individuals such as yourself, not accurate. But that was the point of my comment. The author didn’t even provide a rule of thumb for MHR. She adopted a one size fits all approach and told people to exercise at 140, which she claimed is about 70% MHR. That’s wrong and, in the case of older people who don’t know any better, downright dangerous.

        • Avatar Benjamin Hetzel says:

          Doctors tend to have the doom and gloom analysis. Through my ACSM certification to deal with special populations like diabetics and hypertensives we were warned that those with hypertension should never spike their heart rate and not do overhead exercises. In the real world, I’ve trained 60+ year old fit individuals to 150+. Chances are extremely, extremely small that you’re going to have heart issues while working out that aren’t associated with the usual issues like dehydration or not eating enough and getting lightheaded. Human beings are pretty resilient creatures.

    • Avatar Tim says:

      MHR can be loosely based as 220 minus your age

      If you were 20. MHR =200
      If you are 40 MHR = 180
      If you are 64 your MHR would be 156
      This is a guide and obviously does not apply to everyone as everyone has different health concerns.

      • Avatar Alex Carter says:

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  6. Avatar Anne-Marie Sholtes says:

    I don’t understand, I’m 53 so my max rate would be 167 bpm, which is very easy for me to exceed in 90% of my workouts. So on order to hit the “orange spot” what should be my target heart rate? From what I’m understanding in this article I’ve been working out at too high an intensity and not getting optimal fat burn, is that right?

    • Avatar robinbishop34 says:

      For optimal fat burn you should primarily stick with LISS (low intensity steady state) activity. When you increase the intensity of your exercise to the point where you can’t talk at a normal cadence, your body will use amino acids that would otherwise synthesize into lean muscle mass for fuel rather than stored fat.

      If you do engage in HIIT, I would make sure to supplement with a protein rich pre and post workout meal/shake that fits into your calorie deficit. For LISS days, only the post workout protein is necessary.

  7. Avatar Sandra Brown says:

    Sarah, Thanks for the great article. While working in the training zone causes one to lose weight by burning additional calories over an extended period, it also causes muscle soreness. I hate being sore after a workout! Any suggestions?

    • Avatar Anastasia says:

      So to avoid the soreness as much as possible, rolling out the lactic acid is a definite pro! But you first have to understand why you are sore. When you’re working out you are actually tearing the muscle on a micro level (that’s the pain), creating space for a new layer of muscle. Hence the term building muscle. You also have to remember you may be working a muscle in a way that it is not used to. All in all, there is no way to really “avoid” the soreness, rather than ease it and understand why it hurts.

    • Avatar Katie Hutchinson says:

      Epson salt baths do wonders too and will help to relax not only your muscles, but you! 🙂

      • Avatar robinbishop34 says:

        Agreed. I also suggest mixing it with some sea salt and baking soda for additional relief and cleansing (pulling toxins from skin).

  8. Avatar Bob Hale says:

    Everyone is referencing “weight loss”, but are we interested in weight loss, or fat loss? Burning fat, and building lean body mass of equal amounts over a period of time creates a body transformation without a significant “scale” loss. Id be much more concerned with my body fat percentage than my scale weight.

  9. Avatar Ty C says:

    I’m still gonna have me some ice cream, after burn or not.

  10. Avatar Trilby16 says:

    WHERE is the workout? I want to know what the young lady is doing with those thick ropes, please.

    • Avatar Jodi says:

      The ropes in the picture are called “battle ropes” few gyms have them, but unfortunately they are not a common piece of equipment. They come in different weights and there are tons of workouts that incorporate battle ropes targeting almost any muscle group you are trying to work out.

      • Avatar Shell says:

        They give you a great workout!! I had to do them for my physical therapy for my shoulder and wow they are amazing!!

    • Avatar Jerome Barry says:

      50′ of 1 1/2″ thick hemp rope cost me $105 from Home Depot. I applied duct tape to the ends to make smooth handles, loop it once around a basketball pole and go to war with it. It just sucks that the photo to the left was 21 years ago and I was way over 300 lb at the time. My facebook and mfp profiles have been updated with a recent photo of me weighing half that. No, battle ropes didn’t do all of it, and I don’t have the equipment to measure VO2max, but a bunch of cardio work and many moons of counting calories accurately were the cause of it.

  11. Avatar jayne green says:

    I’m on two different doses of high blood pressure medication to treat tremors and can’t get my heart rate over 100 whereas before the meds 145 was easy to obtain and sustain for 20-30 minutes. So how can I even reach 60% burn?

    • Avatar davedave12 says:

      the biggest part of weight loss is diet, small portions, lots of veggies. ASK YOUR doctor about exercise you have medical issues —- Carbs is a new invention, everyone has known for over a hundred years to go easy on starches, potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, — also brand new scientific info — no dessert (unless it is a piece of fruit)

  12. Avatar Bee says:

    Weird how the ad on this article was an old elpaso dip recipe that was 2.5 times my calorie limit for the day without dipping anything in it. Gotta love the ethics on this ap. Serves 48? Seriously? Who makes a recipe with 1 block of cheese for 48 people? I don’t even like 48 people, much less cook for them.

    • Avatar Meg says:

      Mfp doesn’t select the ads. They are based on your browsing habits.

      • Avatar Agnes McGillicuddy says:

        and pretty poorly at that – my ad is for jambalaya – i haven’t eaten sausage in forever, and haven’t browsed recipes or food blogs in months

  13. Avatar asmcriminal says:

    Afterburn effect has been debunked a few years ago…

  14. Avatar ATXwino says:

    This math is all wrong. “One hundred extra calories burned each day is about a half-pound per week…”

    Approximately 3,500 calories is equivalent to one pound of fat. Yes, that can vary substantially based on a number of criteria, but your math is way off. Half a pound of fat would be approximately 1,750 calories. 100 calories burned per day is only 700 calories per week. In what universe does 700 equal 1,750?

  15. Avatar Mark Du Ree says:

    Yes, but don’t most trainer suggest no more than one or maybe two HIIT sessions per week to avoid injury?

  16. Avatar Rob T says:

    “One hundred extra calories burned each day is about a half-pound per week…” But that only adds up to 700 calories, which is only about one-fifth of the calories in a pound.

    • Avatar robinbishop34 says:

      You have to consider the “afterburn” effect they are speaking of… the idea that the vigorous bursts of activity will keep your metabolism high for several hours afterwards. The hundred calories are referring to what is burned while doing the intense exercise only.

      • Avatar Rob T says:

        No, that’s not what the article says.

        • Avatar robinbishop34 says:

          Maybe I had it backward. The 150 calories per day burned are a result of the afterburn effect. What isn’t figured in is the increase in calories burned during the intense burst(s) of activity.

          To be honest, I wouldn’t mess with HIIT and just increase your calorie deficit by 200-250 calories a day to achieve the half pound loss.

  17. Avatar robinbishop34 says:

    All of these HIIT type of workouts may give you a small, additional “afterburn” effect, but they will also do one other thing… drop your blood sugar and make you VERY hungry. If you don’t have a problem controlling yourself then go ahead, but its usually a lot easier to lose fat by lengthy, low-intensity activity while staying below your total daily energy expenditure in calories.

    The only time I HIIT is when I’m preparing for a day where I know I’m going to indulge a bit.

  18. Avatar Elbondo says:

    Weird maths going on in this article. 100 calories per day = 700 calories per week. It takes a deficit of 3500 to lose 1 pound, so 700 cals would be a quarter pound not half a pound like it says.

  19. Avatar Sue Davis says:

    Sara, I am not sure how all this works, I do enjoy 1 or 2 HIIT workouts a week. I do the program the best I can, if there is an afterburn that’s great. Thank you for the article.

  20. Avatar Myra Ephross says:

    100 calories a day for a week is 700 calories. To lose a pound you must burn 3500 calories. Sadly,
    The math here is wrong.

  21. Avatar davedave12 says:

    .5 pound per week, not much —- it took me 30 years to get 80 pounds overweight — I can lose that weight in 3 years at .5 pound per week

    large quick weight loss is for yo-yo’s

  22. Avatar davedave12 says:

    I am sure science works on the margins, but 95% of weight loss is common sense and discipline (things that cannot be bought or sold) —the biggest part of weight loss is diet, small portions, lots of veggies. —- Carbs is a new invention, everyone has known for over a hundred years to go easy on starches i.e. potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, — also brand new scientific info — no dessert (unless it is a piece of fruit) be careful with animal fat and dairy — the purpose of milk is to make babies gain weight

  23. Avatar J says:

    That calorie count doesn’t make sense. 100 calories a day doesn’t add up to 1/2 a pound – less than 1/4 pound actually, unless I’m missing something

  24. Workout is need of everyone. Such a nice post. It will help me. Thanks for the share.

  25. Avatar Nicole Waller says:

    These blog articles are so terrible.

  26. Avatar Jill Riepe says:

    I’m confused. How is this article explaining to lose an extra half-pound a week? Is it mislabeled?

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