Wouldn’t it be nice if the calorie furnace of a workout lasted beyond the gym? Who wouldn’t want some compounding interest on the investment that is gym time? That’s the idea behind metabolic training. Sound too good to be true? It’s not!
Metabolic training is a well-documented strategy used by everyone from soldiers to athletes to average gym-goers to maximise muscle gain and shed excess fat.
The idea behind metabolic training is to do specific intense exercise intervals to increase the efficiency of your body’s metabolism (hence “metabolic” training). This trains your body to burn more calories at rest – a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “afterburn” since your body is burning calories after you’ve worked out.
Studies show that metabolic training can be extremely effective at building muscle and getting rid of fat stores. It’s no walk in the park, but, then again, you have to put in the work to get gains. Let’s take a closer look at metabolic training and how you can make it a part of your fitness routine.
What is metabolic training?
Metabolic resistance training (or “metabolic training” for short) is a workout strategy to maximise calorie burn both during and after your workout. To achieve this result, you give a maximum physical effort through a series of compound movements (using more than one muscle group at a time) for a short, intense period. The workouts are quicker but much more concentrated than a typical cardio or strength training workout.
Metabolic training techniques has a few important benefits:
1. Burn more calories while you work out.
The workouts themselves are incredibly effective. By some estimates you can burn as much as 600 calories in a single session depending on which exercises you do and how hard you go. This is a more efficient way to work out in general, so there’s benefit #1.
2. Burn more calories at rest.
Benefit #2 is something called post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC, the scientific term for the “afterburn” effect. Afterburn is when your body keeps on burning calories for hours after your workout is done. You can think of afterburn like momentum. If you push a ball it will keep rolling for a while after you take your hand off of it. If you push it harder it will roll further. Think of your workouts like the push and your metabolism like the ball. With metabolic training, you push extra hard which keeps your metabolism (your body’s process for using calories) going longer and harder even after you’re done.
3. Build muscle faster.
The third benefit of metabolic training is muscle growth. Metabolic training uses compound exercises with resistance at high intensity. This recruits and exhausts more muscle and naturally triggers the release of growth hormone which is key in increasing muscle mass. During pretty much every metabolic training session you’ll feel your muscles burning. That is an indication of an internal process of releasing a cocktail of hormones to build up those muscles to be stronger next time. This combined with the highly effective fat burning can help you achieve a more lean, defined physique quicker than most other forms of training.
4. Get a cardiovascular benefit.
With most traditional weight training you will do a set, rest and repeat. Your heart will be working while you’re actively lifting, but it’s not much. Even though metabolic training is centred around strength moves, you don’t have the same amount of rest. Your heart will be pumping hard as your body works to keep up the pace. This benefit is important for your cardiovascular health. It also means you don’t have to have “cardio days” like you would with a typical split day weight lifting schedule. Your cardio is built in which saves you time.
Metabolic training routine, and how to structure a workout
The best metabolic training exercises are strength training movements that target multiple muscle groups. These are called “compound” movements, as opposed to “isolated” movements which only focus on one muscle group at a time. For example, a cable pull-down is an isolated movement for the triceps whereas a compound movement like a push-up works the triceps, shoulders, core, and chest simultaneously.
Exercises for metabolic training sets:
- Kettlebell Swings
- Squat and Press
- Dumbell Step-Ups
- Mountain Climbers
- Jump Squat
- Wood Chopper
- Renegade Row
- Lunge Switch Jumps
- Speed Skaters
These are just a few of the exercises that you can build into a metabolic training workout. The next step is to build your circuit.
Building a Metabolic Training Circuit
Time to design your workout! Choose 6-10 exercises to include in your circuit. Then decide which order you’ll do them in. You may want to switch up the primary muscle groups so you can keep up the intensity with proper form throughout the circuit.
For example, you could switch between upper body, lower body and core by doing a circuit like this:
- Push Ups [MAINLY UPPER BODY]
- Jump Squats [MAINLY LOWER BODY]
- Wood Choppers [MAINLY CORE]
- Mountain Climbers [MAINLY UPPER BODY]
- Speed Skaters [MAINLY LOWER BODY]
- Renegade Row [MAINLY CORE AND BACK]
As you can see, each exercise is working multiple muscle groups, but you’ll have a little bit of recovery by switching up which group is working hardest. That’s important because you’re going to be giving 100% effort and doing each exercise back-to-back with minimal rest between sets. We’re sweating just thinking about it!
Putting It All Together
As always, start with a 5-minute warm-up to get your body ready to work. This is very important for injury prevention and to ensure that your body is ready to go hard!
After your warm-up, it’s time for your metabolic training circuits. Going back to the circuit we made above, your workout would look something like this…
- Push Ups [30 SECONDS]
- Rest [15 SECONDS]
- Jump Squats [30 SECONDS]
- Rest [15 SECONDS]
- Wood Choppers [30 SECONDS]
- Rest [15 SECONDS]
- Mountain Climbers [30 SECONDS]
- Rest [15 SECONDS]
- Speed Skaters [30 SECONDS]
- Rest [15 SECONDS]
- Renegade Row [30 SECONDS]
After completing the circuit you’d rest for about 2 minutes. That’s considered “1 set”. You’d go through 2-3 sets to complete your workout.
Combined with a 5-minute warm-up and cool-down plus 5 minutes of stretching at the end, your entire workout will only take 30 minutes! It may be the most gruelling 30 minutes of your life, but just a half-hour, nonetheless.
Keeping Up the Intensity
As your body gets stronger the circuit will become easier. When you feel that it’s not as challenging anymore it’s time to change things up.
There are 3 basic ways to keep variety in your workouts:
- Changing the Duration
- Changing the Exercise
- Changing the Resistance
Any of these things can be adjusted within your metabolic training circuits.
To change the duration, stretch out your active time on each exercise. Instead of 30 seconds on try 45 or 60 seconds, but keep the short rest intervals at 15 seconds always to ensure you’re challenged.
To change the exercises swap new moves into your circuit. You can also do more advanced versions of the moves already in your circuit. For example, if you start doing push-ups on your knees start doing them with straight legs or go to plyo push-ups.
To change the resistance, increase the weight used during non-bodyweight moves. Use a heavier kettlebell or dumbbell, or use a thicker resistance band to continue challenging yourself and increasing your fitness.
Don’t Forget to Rest!
Rest is a critical component of any form of intense training. It’s necessary to rest in order to build muscle and prevent injury. Make sure you give yourself a rest day in between metabolic training days. Remember, rest doesn’t necessarily mean sit on the couch! You can have active rest days by doing a restorative yoga class or going for a walk or an easy bike ride.
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