How Effective Is Metabolic Resistance Training?
You might have heard people talking about it a lot in the past few years. Metabolic resistance training, also known as metabolic conditioning, is all the rage. But what, exactly, does it mean? What’s it best for? Does everyone need to do a workout this way? And what forms of exercise are best to yield results with it?
Let’s dive in!
Metabolic resistance training became the rage as fitness professionals sought to make their workouts the most efficient they possibly could while still yielding incredible results. It forms the basis of a lot of high-intensity interval training practices like CrossFit, P90x, and many others.
In general, the idea is to stack resistance exercises to maximize your body’s ability to change. Think of it as a sort of crossroads between pure strength training and pure interval training. Both have their elements of metabolic boost — strength training from increasing your lean muscle mass, and interval training helps boost the EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) effect, which keeps your body burning calories at a higher rate even after you finish your workouts.
Metabolic resistance training combines these principles to great effect. Also known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, you utilize resistance training in shorter bursts to maximize the calorie burn of not only your workout, but also of the rest and recovery period that follows.
This training isn’t necessarily “better” than standard cardio workouts and other aerobic exercises (this is a matter of your client’s own personal goals and objectives). It is, however, probably one of the most efficient and effective means of fat loss out there.
The Pros and Cons
In general, your client’s goals and objectives are what will determine whether metabolic conditioning is what will be best for them. So, let’s go into a list of what would be most and least effective in terms of this practice.
Remember that this isn’t simply a resistance training exercise program. In fact, pure resistance training incorporates fairly significant rest time on purpose. This usually involves weight training — often with very high percentages of the client’s one rep max. Resistance training workouts do build muscle, which helps to increase the body’s basal metabolic rate, but they don’t do much by comparison for the all-important EPOC effect.
So, someone who is trying to bulk muscle won’t necessarily want to train heavily into metabolic resistance training. The main point here is to look at what the client is trying to accomplish. Your objective is to get them where they’re looking to go. And, sometimes, this means adapting something like metabolic resistance training to fit their needs. For instance, when someone’s trying to bulk up, often times they will still want to burn fat. So occasionally, throwing these workouts in can be a big help. It’s just about using your knowledge to help them get from point A to point B as effectively and safely as possible.
To that end, it’s also essential that we bring up one of the cons of training metabolic conditioning workouts as well. You can absolutely overtrain with this practice. Remember that your first duty to your client is to not harm them. And there are several ways that HIIT can harm them. Often, these workouts involve multi-joint exercises that work the whole body. These are great, and a huge component of what makes metabolic resistance training effective.
However, if your client is coming off an injury, or just new to working out, then HIIT can be very dangerous to them. It will likely be necessary to slow things down, train the body back to 100%, then try to move into HIIT workouts in a much safer manner.
And for those who have been working out for years, injury is still a risk — especially from overtraining. In extreme cases, you can actually develop rhabdomyolysis. This is where fibers from a damaged muscle enter the bloodstream, which can lead to renal failure. You must train to an extreme degree for this to happen, but it is a very real problem that can come from overtraining where HIIT is concerned. Just make sure you are careful in your programming and that you and your clients are communicating about their health.
Weight Lifting, Muscular Strength, & Your Baseline
Where burning fat is concerned, people can often go heavy in terms of weight equipment you usually find at a gym. Weight lifting can be a good component to metabolic resistance training, but it isn’t always necessary — especially for entry-level athletes (and we’ll define that as any client who hasn’t already been doing HIIT or circuit training for long enough to make it second nature to them).
Clients need to have a basic degree of strength before beginning metabolic conditioning. But you can easily develop this in training sessions without touching a single piece of equipment. Alternating exercises like mountain climbers, burpees, lunges, squats, push-ups, leg lifts, and a whole host of others can help you attack large muscle groups. Then, putting these exercises together in enough clusters to keep the heart rate up will end up having the same effect.
This isn’t to say that every client can train this way, but this is also a great way to train clients who don’t have some sort of gym membership or other beginners who need to develop their ability for physical activity before they’re ready to touch weights.
Make sure to use a metric for a baseline. If the goal is to increase performance, you could come up with a standard metabolic conditioning workout that is a monthly test. You put your client through it in the beginning, then evaluate their improvement every month. This will also help you to tailor your programming to their improvements as you move along.
Or, if their goal is fat loss, then you can take body measurements. This doesn’t have to be crazy complex, mainly just measurements that are easy to do with a tape measure, like abdominal girth, hip to waist ratio, and neck size. When your clients see improvement, you will become invaluable to them. That’s why it’s in your best interest to keep them engaged and meeting goal after goal.
Form Follows Function
Just remember that at the end of the day, your goal is to help your clients meet the goals that they’ve set for themselves. This means that, while metabolic resistance training can be a huge asset, it’s simply one tool of many that you have in your belt. Don’t get too attached to it. Remember that cross training is also very effective.
Sometimes, you might want to have a day just focused on strength. This will help on the metabolic conditioning days as your client will be able to perform with higher weights. Some days, you should focus on cardiovascular endurance and interval training. This will help metabolic conditioning in terms of getting a few more reps out in an AMRAP (as many reps as possible), or getting their reps in just a little bit quicker for specific sets. Don’t discount cross training. If your clients train in metabolic resistance every day, the likelihood of injury skyrockets.
So, make sure that you take a balanced approach, listen to their reactions, and take care of their needs. If you follow this, they will see great success in working with you. And, as we all know, the best way to retain a client is to help them achieve their goals. Good luck!
Interested in stepping up your game to become a trainer and use this knowledge to help others get fit? Check out the ISSA’s personal trainer certification. You’ll learn the science behind fitness and how you can build fitness programs to match the individual needs of each client.