I’ll cut right to the chase and tell you the answer is EXERCISE. If calories are the unit we use to measure energy, and our metabolism is the rate at which we burn calories, then to speed up our metabolism we literally need to BURN MORE ENERGY. It’s no surprise that burning energy is tiring—exhausting even. That means, if we want to speed up our metabolism then we should be ready to put in the WORK. As long as we’re putting in the work, though, we should make sure we’re channeling it in the most effective way possible.
There are countless ways to exercise that will speed up our metabolism. I’ll break them down into four categories: daily activity, low–moderate intensity cardio, resistance training, and high intensity interval training.
Our body uses calories when we move, so if we move more every day, our metabolism speeds up. Tips like parking your car further away from the store or taking the stairs instead of the elevator really do add up. Think of your daily activity as part of your baseline metabolism. It should require little physical effort to increase your daily activity and no recovery at all.
Low–Moderate Intensity Cardio
Low–moderate intensity cardio is when you elevate your heart rate and maintain it for an extended period of time. Going for a walk, run, elliptical, or bike ride are very well known examples of low–moderate intensity cardio.
Doing low–moderate intensity cardio is like working for an hourly wage. You put the hours in and you get paid. That’s great, but there are only so many hours in the day, so your earning potential is capped. On top of that, adding more and more hours will eventually lead to burnout.
Spending more time doing low–moderate intensity cardio will speed up your metabolism only as long as you keep doing it. Once you stop doing cardio, your metabolism will return back to what it was before. If you plan on incorporating low–moderate intensity cardio to speed up your metabolism, make sure it’s a sustainable amount or you may lose motivation and burn out.
Resistance training is when you exercise with weights, bands, or your own body weight (example: push-ups).
Resistance training is like a long-term investment. You won’t see much return right away. In fact, your money is tied up for a while. But putting that money away and letting it work for you will make a huge difference in the long run.
Staying consistent and slowly progressing resistance over time is one of the most effective ways to build muscle. Building muscle is the ultimate goal of resistance training if you’re trying to speed up your metabolism because muscle burns calories even when you aren’t exercising. Not only that, but building more muscle increases your potential to burn more calories in all of your workouts because it takes more energy to move more pounds of muscle.
Learning proper technique will improve the safety and effectiveness of a resistance training program. Spending time researching and practicing different exercises can make a huge difference in your success with resistance training. Hiring a knowledgeable personal trainer or fitness coach is your shortcut to developing a resistance training program that works for you. A good trainer will design a program to fit your individual fitness needs/goals and will help you get the most out of it by making sure you do each exercise safely and effectively with proper technique.
High Intensity Interval Training
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is when you alternate between periods of high intensity and recovery or low intensity. The high intensity intervals should spike your heart rate to around 80% or more of your max heart rate (for a 35-year-old, that’s a minimum of roughly 148 beats per minute). Examples of HIIT are running hill repeats or circuit training.
HIIT is like a risky short-term investment. The payoff could be big, but there is significant risk if you don’t understand your investment very well.
Executing a HIIT workout properly will burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time AND give you the added benefit of an “afterburn.” The afterburn is when your body burns more calories while it is recovering from your workout. On top of all this, HIIT is more effective than low–moderate intensity cardio at maintaining muscle mass.
What makes HIIT risky? HIIT is risky because maintaining proper technique is very challenging when you exercise at high intensities. Activities such as sprinting, lifting weights, and rowing at high intensities are all easy ways to injure yourself if you don’t have the knowledge and discipline to do them with proper technique while working hard. It takes time, effort, and practice to master any exercise enough to confidently push yourself to the max.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, get lean, or make room for a glass of wine at night, if you want your metabolism to speed up, you’re going to have to put in the work. What kind of work you put in depends on you, your goals, and what you enjoy. You might decide to start resistance training because you want a long-term plan for a faster metabolism. Or you might decide to start studying and practicing proper technique so you can safely include HIIT workouts into your routine. There isn’t one answer for everyone—but there is a best answer for YOU.