How to Increase Your Basal Metabolic Rate

Maximizing weight workouts can make the most out of your metabolism.

Maximizing weight workouts can make the most out of your metabolism.  (2010 Getty Images)

Women blame their metabolism for how easily they pack the pounds compared to men. Certainly, men’s metabolism is faster than theirs due to having more muscle mass and less fat. However, when looking at the basal metabolic rate (BMR)—the calories your body consumes at rest to keep up with vital functions—the difference between sexes can be less than 100 calories.

We refer to metabolism as a whole (all the chemical reactions that happen in the body’s cell to keep us alive), but understand what compromises your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and you can change your approach to weight loss and weight maintenance.

When you think about shaking up your metabolism you think exercise. Indeed, a gym session can represent 15 to 30 percent of your total daily energy expenditure, along with 10 percent required in the digestion and assimilation of nutrients. But keep in mind that protein produces the highest impact on this process. This means you burn more calories digesting protein than carbs and fats. But what takes up the remaining 60 to 75 percent of the total daily energy expenditure? Your basal metabolic rate.

Bump Up Your BMR

If you already exercise and eat healthy, you may have covered about 40 percent of your TDEE. So how do you use the other 60 percent?

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Certain events you cannot control can accelerate your metabolism and impact your energy expenditure at rest; for instance, exposure to cold weather or a pregnancy. However, you can control how that 15 to 30 percent is used for physical activity as well as the 10 percent spent for digesting food.

What does all this mean? Simple: working out helps you make the most of the 15 to 30 percent of your TDEE, in addition to the significant impact it creates on the remaining 60 to 75 percent. This is due to the fact that the more muscle you add, the more calories you burn even at rest. Likewise, the higher the intensity and the frequency of exercise, the more you impact metabolism at rest.

Of course, not any exercise will affect your resting metabolic rate the same way. Here are four workout methods that can increase your BMR.

Metabolic Accelerators Workouts

1. Maximize the weights workout: Researches show around 7 percent increase in resting metabolic rate after several weeks of resistance training. The squat effect does not end here. “Recent studies have revealed similar elevations in resting metabolic rate (5 to 9 percent) for three days following a single session of resistance training,” explains Wayne L. Wescott, Ph.D., in Sports Medicine Reports.

Note that to make the most out of your metabolism, heavy lifting is needed. When you lift a dumbbell and do 8 to 10 reps—struggling at the last two reps—you activate more fast-twitch fiber, which are the ones that have the highest strength and power capabilities and way less endurance. Studies show exercises that rely on these fibers, such as sprint, plyometric moves, heavy lifting, etc., create higher metabolic load compared to the slow-twitch fiber—the ones that work the most in aerobic-endurance exercises.

Your plan: Resistance training increases epinephrine, dopamine, and other catecholomines, which increases fat breakdown. To maximize the sympathetic response and post energy expenditure (the calories that your body burns after the workout ends) experts recommend using high volume (eight multi-joint exercises, such as push-press, pull-ups, dips, deadlift, and weighted squats (see below); 4 to 6 sets, and up to 10 reps each) and short rest intervals (30 to 90 seconds).

2. Mix cardio and weights: Working both your cardiovascular system and muscles in the same session will make you burn more calories during the 30-minute period after your workout. This is due to increased oxygen uptake, and the more oxygen you consume the more calories you burn and thus the more active your metabolism. However, you have to properly mix the two.

In a study, published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, subjects performed six resistance exercises, 3 sets of 10 repetitions, with a 60 second interval rest. They then cycled for 20 minutes (two minutes low intensity, one minute high intensity) before, after, and in the middle of the resistance training. The results showed that doing the cardio in the middle provided the most metabolic impact post-exercise—meaning your metabolism will stay on fire after the exercise session has ended.

Your plan: Choose six multi-joint exercises (squat, bench press, leg press, lat-pull down, abdominals, and back extensions), which you will perform 3 sets of 10 reps with a 60 second rest period. After doing three of the exercises for the numbers of sets and reps described, perform 20 minutes of interval-cardio as explained above, and finish up with the remaining three resistance exercises.

3. Interval training to get more in less time:  A study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism compared sprint-interval training (2 minutes long) to continuous endurance training (30 minutes total) to measure oxygen consumption during the exercise and then again after 24 hours. The results showed that sprint-interval training elicited 24-hour oxygen consumption similar to continuous endurance exercise. In other words, you got more benefits during a shorter period of time.

Your plan: Select your favorite aerobic exercise and do intervals of 30 seconds at high intensity, followed by 1 minute at low intensity for recovery. Do a 5 minute warm-up and a 5 minute cool down for a total of 20 minutes.  The key here is for the high intensity intervals to be tough where you can barely sustain the pace for the time suggested.

4. Stretch it out: You may not always have the time to stretch, but will it make a difference before your workout in terms of your total caloric expenditure?

When subjects did different dynamic stretching exercises before running, they increased their caloric burnt significantly compared with those that did nothing beforehand. In addition, their average oxygen consumption and flexibility increased, according to an article published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Your plan: Before working out, perform five different dynamic stretching exercises, such as toe heel walks, hand walks, different angle lunges, and walking groaners (2 sets, 4 reps). Keep in mind the exercises should be dynamic, which means not holding the stretching position for set time. Static stretching should be reserved at the end of the workout.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website,, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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