Pop in your earbuds, cue up your favorite playlist and get cranking. Listening to music is one of the easiest—and most fun—ways to rev up your calorie burn. When a team of University of Wisconsin researchers asked men and women to perform two 8-minute exercise sessions on a stationary bike, one with music and one in silence, the exercisers increased their average heart rate by 10 beats per minute, worked harder, and burned 7% more calories when they pedaled to tunes.
Exercising with someone just a little better than you can bring out your calorie-scorching best. In one study, researchers from Kansas State University found that people who exercised with a partner they thought was a little fitter and stronger than they were increased their workout time and intensity by as much as 200%.
The more muscles you use, the more calories you burn. That means letting go of the rails on the treadmill and not leaning on the elliptical so your lower body and supporting core muscles have to work harder to keep you upright and in motion.
Race-walkers have an adage: As your arms go, your legs follow. If you want to speed up your pace and turn up your burn, pump your arms faster and your feet will follow. You’ll also engage more upper body muscles for another calorie burning bonus. Ditto for your elliptical machine sessions. Research shows that exercisers use more fat-burning oxygen when they get their arms into the action by using the elliptical machines handles than when they churn along with their legs alone.
High intensity interval training (HIIT) may be great for getting a big metabolic bump for your exercise time, but because it’s so hard, many people burn out and don’t do it enough to see results. For a better, consistently higher, calorie burn, you want to hit your “sweet spot,” says Daniel Frankl, PhD, kinesiology professor at California State University, Los Angeles. “That’s the highest submaximal exercise intensity you can tolerate for 30 minutes.” You know you’re there when your breathing is slightly labored, but you can still talk in short sentences.
Heavier people burn more calories because their bodies have to work harder to keep them in motion. You obviously don’t want to gain weight to burn calories, but you can fake it by wearing a weighted vest or adjustable weight garment like the TITIN Force Shirt System, a compression shirt that lets you slip up to 8 pounds of weight into 14 pockets. Research shows adding weight to your workouts can increase your calorie burn by 7% during moderate walks and more than 13% during step-climbing exercise.
Gravity is an unexpected, but effective calorie burner—you have to work exponentially harder to fight its forces when you walk, bike, or run at an incline. Head to the hills: you can burn 50% more calories when you go from pancake-level terrain to a more challenging 6% incline.
Caffeine not only revs your metabolism, but also is a proven performance enhancer. Studies show that the energizing chemical found in coffee reduces your perception of exercise, so hard efforts feel easier and you can go harder, longer and burn more calories.
Hydrate with icy-cold water for a one-two metabolic calorie burning punch. For one, downing a couple cups of cold water can raise your metabolism by about 5% as your body works to warm the fluid. Also drinking an icy beverage before exercising in the heat can help you feel fresher and crank out longer and harder efforts before fatiguing, so you can easily burn more calories.
Texting, watching TV, and flipping through a magazine are good ways to multitask while spinning away on the stationary bike or churning through an elliptical workout, says Frankl. “But they take your attention away your workout so you may not be giving it your best effort,” says Frankl. “Paying attention to your effort—your heart rate, your breathing, the sensation in your muscles—helps you maintain a steady effort so you can burn more calories,” he says.
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