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Fitness

This One Workout is What Trainers Swear Boosts Metabolisms

Work smarter, not harder.

After smashing any workout, you feel sore, happy, confident, and accomplished. As you should.

Still, if you’re unsure whether that workout will yield the exact results you seek and you’re nodding along as you read this, that’s understandable.

There’s a multitude of workout splits, classes, and regimens claiming to burn fat, build muscle, and elevate performance, but your body’s response to those training styles can vary greatly.

Sure, any movement will generally rack up benefits, but understanding exactly how to tap into your metabolic system can yield a massive shift in results.

Metabolic workouts improve your metabolic efficiency by using a specific blend of intensity along with time and rest intervals.

Whether you’re looking to cut down your mile time or improve your body composition, metabolic training offers a specific protocol to help you move the needle. Here’s how.

What is a Metabolic Workout?

A metabolic workout, or metabolic conditioning or metabolic training, is designed to elevate your heart rate, increase calorie burn, and build muscle in less time than your average strength or cardio session.

It involves:

 

To qualify, a workout must include short bursts of moderate to high-intensity work followed by periods of rest. “With the increase in work intensity, workout time decreases,” explains James King III, CSCS, which means sessions cap out at around 20 minutes tops.

Metabolic workouts take on many forms. They’re typically a circuit workout, moving from one compound exercise to the next. Other popular formats include HIIT (high-intensity interval training), Tabata, EMOM (every minute on the minute), and AMRAP (as many reps as possible) workouts.

Metabolic conditioning (Metcon) workouts are CrossFit’s hellish iteration—involving WODs peppered with a variety of multi-joint exercises, sprints, and all-out efforts.

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Benefits of Metabolic Workouts

You can amass several benefits from a regular metabolic routine. Note: this isn’t a wonder pill; the benefits only apply if you consistently practice metabolic workouts. Here, a few.

Boost metabolism

Metabolism is by definition, the process of converting fuel (what you eat and drink) into energy. Muscle burns more calories than fat, even when your body is at rest. That means as you build muscle, your body becomes a fat-burning machine.

Build muscle

Metabolic workouts incorporate exercises like squats, deadlifts, and pushups which light up large muscle groups, maximizing the muscle fibers used. By targeting more muscle mass, you’ll boost gains.

Improve cardiovascular capacity

Metabolic workouts tap into your anaerobic system, your body’s pathway to fuel when it’s short on oxygen. Studies show that anaerobic exercise such as HIIT and circuit training can increase your VO2 max (think: work hard for less effort) beyond a regular steady-state exercise routine (1, 2).

Burn fat

Metabolic workouts burn a pile of calories, both during and after your workout. How? When you work out at high intensities, your muscles need more fuel than oxygen alone can provide—activating your anaerobic system. Your anaerobic system uses creatine phosphate and glycogen—energy stored in your muscles—for quick energy.

This process taxes your body and puts you in oxygen debt, triggering excess post-oxygen consumption (EPOC). Also known as the after-burn effect, EPOC is a period of time when your body works harder than normal to return to homeostasis, burning tons of calories for energy in the process. One study found that the higher the intensity of your workout, the greater the EPOC effect (3).

How to Do a Metabolic Workout

A merciless Metcon workout may convince you that the point of metabolic training is digging into the dark depths of your body until you’re reaching for the trashcan. That doesn’t have to be the case. 

“A well-designed metabolic workout will alternate between different muscle groups to ensure that each muscle group can recover,” says King. He also notes that alternating exercises allows you to maintain maximal workout intensity while prioritizing good form and control throughout the workout.

Crafting your workout to alternate focus between your upper body, lower body, and core, or pushing and pulling movements are a few tricks trainers use to give different muscle groups a rest while keeping your intensity up for the course of the workout.

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Best Metabolic Exercises

Exercises can be weighted—using dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, or other implements like battle ropes, boxes, or medicine balls—or not. Intense bodyweight exercises like squat jumps and plyometric pushups, or all-out cardio work like sprints on the treadmill, rower, or fan bike are fair game.

Here are a few of our favorites that can be done at home with a kettlebell or dumbbells.

  1. Kettlebell Swings
  2. Mountain Climbers
  3. Burpees
  4. Renegade Rows
  5. Jump Squats
  6. Speed Skaters
  7. Dumbbell Step Ups
  8. Lateral Lunges
  9. Pullups
  10. Pushups
  11. Deadlifts
  12. Squat and Press

 This isn’t an exhaustive list, and you can sub in exercises that work best for you. Just keep the intensity high, and the weight challenging.

How to Adjust Your Metabolic Workouts as You Get Stronger

Three things you can change to keep your metabolic workouts spicy:

How to Workout Safely and Enjoy Injury

Working out at a high level requires preparing and recovering at a high level, too. Below, our recommendations to keep your system running on all cylinders.

Focus on form

“Like any type of training, the key is to build up slowly and focus on the quality of your reps first,” says Sam Candler, NASM CPT. By prioritizing rest in between exercises, you’ll maintain good form. Candler promises you’ll end up doing more work in less time with good form on your side.

Always warm up

Trainers sound like a broken record when it comes to warmups, but they’re on to something. When you’re after top effort, a warmup primes your muscles to give their best. To prep for a metabolic workout focus on dynamic stretches in all three planes of motion. For example, squats, reverse lunges with a twist, and side lunges.

No ego lifting

Yes, you want to choose a challenging weight, but challenging for a metabolic workout is different than challenging for a typical strength session. “Make sure you choose the appropriate weight,” says King. “Since the rest periods are shorter, you’ll traditionally use a lighter weight than for formal training.”

Always cooldown

“Put on some slow jams and end workouts with a soothing stretch,” says King. This will initiate the recovery process and reduce tight muscles.

Take rest days

Metabolic workouts do not belong in your daily routine. Rest for 48 hours before training the same muscle groups to allow for sufficient recovery.

If you work out on off days, try low-intensity aerobic exercise like jogging, rowing, or swimming. These are less taxing on the muscles but allow you to stay active and mobile.

Is Metabolic Training Right For You

“Metabolic training will likely help a client get stronger, but to a point,” says Candler. For example, if you’re training to maximize strength, you’ll benefit from a specialized strength training program that emphasizes quality, heavy reps, and more rest between sets.

It’s also important to consider if metabolic training is the right fit for your lifestyle. “I’ve noticed that my high-stress clients can get even more stressed with too much of an emphasis on metabolic training,” Candler shares. She notes that in her experience those who live a non-stop lifestyle seem to benefit immensely from slowing things down for a while and focusing on one exercise at a time.

Metabolic Training Plan Based on Fitness Level

Throwing exercises together and blowing through a circuit is nowhere near effective. There’s a method to this madness.

Try one of the examples below. Note that the exercises we selected are specifically programmed to alternate between primarily lower body, and primarily upper body or core to give those large muscle groups time to recover between exercises.

Beginner

Focus on building base-level strength and completing high-quality reps before increasing your speed. Modify when needed. 

For example:

 After completing the circuit, rest as needed. Repeat two to five rounds of the circuit to complete your workout.

Intermediate

Use weighted exercises, multi-level exercises like step-ups, or explosive plyometric exercises to amp up the intensity.

For example:

 After completing the circuit, rest as needed. Repeat two to five rounds of the circuit to complete your workout.

Advanced

As you get fitter, you’ll have to continue mixing up your exercises to see results. One way to do it: try combination exercises like squat to press.

For example:

 After completing the circuit, rest as needed. Repeat two to five rounds of the circuit to complete your workout.

References