What is a “Metabolic Workout”?

You may have heard the phrase “Metabolic Workout” but what does that really mean?  “Metabolic Workout” is a term used to describe a particular type or style of training.  Typically it refers to a cardio-conditioning based workout that utilizes repetitive movements done at a somewhat faster pace with controlled or timed rest periods to induce greater intensity and an elevated heart rate.  It is designed to burn a lot of calories during training as well as maximize your post-workout caloric burn and metabolism.

Metabolic workouts are great in that they can require little or no equipment, yet still offer maximum results from a cardio-conditioning and/or caloric expenditure standpoint.  This type of workout can even be used to help prepare for sports and performance activities by helping to establish and/or improve the cardio-conditioning base needed for those activities.

Metabolic workouts typically involve movements that utilize larger muscle groups in combination requiring more oxygen and calories.  They employ either higher rep ranges or set time intervals that are chosen to tax the heart and lungs as much or more than the skeletal muscles.  These workouts are commonly made up of a series of specific stations, which can include body weight and/or weight training movements, and can involve different exercise activities or modes such as sprinting, strength training, plyometrics, power training, isometrics, boxing, kickboxing, specialized equipment such as TRX, etc.  Some typical movements that can be a part of a metabolic workout can include; jumping jacks, burpees, mountain climbers, running/sprinting, sprinting in place, pushups, jackknife’s, leg raises, punching, kicking, jumping, squatting, sled pushes, rope climb, and various resistance or weight lifting movements.  The exercises can be chosen to target specific muscle groups or athletic skills, or simply to challenge the entire body and cardio vascular system.

There are a number of different ways you can set up a metabolic workout.  One common way is to have separate stations, doing a different movement at each station for a set time period like 30 seconds and moving from station to station as in a circuit with little or no rest, using anywhere from 4-8 stations depending on level and/or goals.  The greater the level of intensity at each station, the more rest/recovery time that will be needed both between stations and between circuits.  A beginner may do 30 seconds at a “station” then rest 30 seconds before the next 30 second activity, hitting 4-5 total stations for 3-4 rounds.  A more advanced trainer or elite athlete may complete 4-8 stations, only resting enough to access the next movement or station, and complete 5 or more rounds or circuits in total.

There is an almost infinite number of ways to employ a metabolic based workout depending on fitness and experience level, goals, available equipment, available time, etc.  These workouts can be designed to target general fitness, improve athletic skill and/or performance, improve functional ability, help to accelerate weight loss, improve strength-endurance, etc., based on the trainees specific goals and starting level.  As with any unfamiliar type of workout, it is better to start out gradually and modestly than to try and do too much.  More is not necessarily better.  Proper form and safety must always be considered and these two factors can greatly be effected when fatigue takes over so caution and common sense must always be used.

If you’d like to try a metabolic workout select movements that you are already familiar with and proficient at and again, start out modestly.  Seek help from an experienced friend or professional trainer if you need it to help you design the proper workout for your goals and level.  This type of workout can be used as a traditional cardio substitute or as a part of a general fitness program.  It can easily be combined with more traditional body development training to help maximize your overall physique appearance.  Traditional metabolic workouts may be not the most ideal for building maximum muscle size or strength per se for most people, but can be very effective if your goal is weight management and cardio vascular improvements.  If your goal is strength and muscle building you can definitely design metabolic style workouts with this in mind utilizing heavy lifting movements and modifying the sequence and/or rest/recovery periods for proper effect.

Many gyms and fitness centers have group exercise classes that are metabolic exercise activity classes. Traditional “boot camp” classes are an example of metabolic exercise based classes.  And sports like Cross Fit and Mixed Martial Arts not only involve a lot of metabolic workout style training, but the competitions themselves can incorporate a high level of metabolic workout activity.

Always check with your  doctor before starting any type of exercise program.  But if you’re looking to add something challenging and even fun to your training and want to switch up what you’ve been doing, especially your cardio, employing metabolic workouts might be the answer you’re looking for.

Photo: Terry Goodlad   Model: Monica Brant

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