Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Metabolic Workouts for Performance and a Lean Physique

What is Metabolic Conditioning?

If you’ve ever sat down in a sales-style meeting at a commercial gym, you know only too well how trainers may enjoy throwing around the term metabolic conditioning. If asked to explain what it is, you may hear how it is a fast and fun workout that is going to have you sweating. 

Sure, metabolic conditioning workouts are fast and fun and you’ll definitely be sweating your butt off but there’s a lot more going on here.

Metabolic conditioning is an umbrella term that can be used to describe a specific style of workouts. These workouts are going to have the following things in common:

·      Fast pace – Performed as quickly and safely as possible
·      Limited breaks
·      Intensity will be high
·      Bodyweight, dumbbells, and barbells can be used
·      Improves the efficiency of energy systems throughout the body

There are several examples of metabolic conditioning that you may be familiar with and you might even be using some of these techniques:

Circuit Training

·      Primarily focused on using weights, circuit training is an established set of exercises that you move through one after another with little to no rest in between. Weight tends to be lighter and the intensity is high.

Super Sets

·      A lifting technique commonly used in weight lifting, a super set is when you perform one exercise and immediately follow it up with another exercise. The secondary exercise can be of the same or opposing muscle group. After the second exercise, you take a break. Weight can be light or heavy depending on the goals.


·      Another lifting technique that is used in advanced weight training, a tri-set is similar to a super set in that it involves performing one exercise after another. The difference is that there is a third exercise added. No breaks are taken until after the third exercise. The exercises can be focused on the same or opposing muscle group. Weight can be light or heavy depending on the goals and fitness ability.

Giant Sets

·      Continuing with the same idea as the super set and tri-set, giant sets add a fourth or even fifth exercise, depending on the type of workout and fitness goals. These exercises are performed one after another and a rest break can be had at the conclusion of the giant set.

High Intensity Interval Training

·      A bodyweight-focused method of exercise, high intensity interval training is an extremely effective way to increase all energy systems while achieving your fitness goals. Let’s talk more about this form of metabolic conditioning.

What is High Intensity Interval Training?

More commonly known as H.I.I.T., you may be familiar with high intensity interval training as it has been featured in a number of magazines, websites, and home-workout videos.

The best H.I.I.T. workouts involve 3 to 8 exercises. Typically, you will choose one for each major muscle group. You may even select one or two total body exercises that bring you to complete fatigue. Burpees would be a great example of a total body exercise that completely fatigues the body.

More often than not, the exercises are bodyweight-based and breaks are not taken until you complete one set of each exercise.

What are the Benefits of H.I.I.T.?

Increased Performance & Endurance

·      One of the most widely known benefits of H.I.I.T. is its ability to dramatically increase your endurance and overall performance in a relatively short period of time. A study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport demonstrated that high intensity interval training showed superior results on endurance, athletic performance, and neurocardiac activity when compared to a moderate intensity endurance workout program. (1)

Enhanced Fat Loss
·      As the superior option for endurance, does this mean that the benefits of H.I.I.T. extend into fat burning and overall weight loss? You bet! H.I.I.T. workouts have been shown to be an effective way to increase fat burning in the body. It does this in two ways: First, H.I.I.T. workouts will burn more calories during a workout due to the higher intensity level that pushes your target heart rate near maximum. Secondly, the fat burning benefits of H.I.I.T. continue long after your workout is over as your excess post oxygen consumption levels will be through the roof. EPOC levels refer to the amount of energy the body must burn into order to restore oxygen levels to normal. More work means more calories burned while you are sitting at home and relaxing. (2)

Muscle Building

·      If H.I.I.T. is great for burning fat, does that mean it’s not going to be useful for building muscle? Quite the opposite. While you aren’t going to get as huge as Ronnie Coleman or Phil Heath, H.I.I.T. workouts have been shown to increase lean tissue mass. One study published in the Journal of Obesity discussed how the leg muscles of subjects was significantly larger after a H.I.I.T. workout program. (3)

Cardiovascular Health

·      What if you’re not an athlete or a muscle-bound fitness enthusiast – Can H.I.I.T. workouts still be of value to you? Of course! H.I.I.T. has been shown to dramatically improve cardiovascular health while decreasing your risk for cardiovascular issues and diseases such as high blood pressure. (1-3)

Traditional Cardio vs. High Intensity Interval Training

What do you think of when you hear the word cardio? If you’re like most, you envision walking on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bicycle for up to an hour. Does a longer workout mean a betterworkout? Not when you compare it to high intensity interval training.

Traditional cardio can’t stand up to the benefits of H.I.I.T. workouts. Sure, moderate intensity cardio workouts are beneficial. No one is debating that; however, when you want next level benefits, H.I.I.T. workouts can’t be beat.

Studies show that H.I.I.T. will produce greater benefits, especially in the areas of endurance and performance, when compared to traditional cardio workouts. (1-3)

While this may not be a health and fitness benefit, it will sure feel great when you get better results in a fraction of the time. H.I.I.T. workouts only take 20 minutes on average compared to an hour on the treadmill or an hour and a half of weight lifting. Burn fat, build muscle, and save yourself some time.

Best H.I.I.T. Workouts

Ready to get started with metabolic conditioning? Below, you’ll find a three-day H.I.I.T. workout that will help you build muscle and burn more fat. On each day, complete the first exercise on the list then immediately move to the next one. Do not stop or take breaks until you have completed the entire list. Once you have completed the workout, take a break between 2 to 3 minutes. Looking for a challenge? Complete the list a second time!

H.I.I.T. Workout: Day One (e.g., Monday)

10 sets of:
·      5 Pull Ups
·      5 Squats
·      5 Push Ups

H.I.I.T. Workout: Day Two (e.g., Wednesday)

10 sets of:
·      5 Dumbbell Walking Lunges
·      5 Push Up to Plank Row
·      5 Dumbbell Push Press

H.I.I.T. Workout: Day Three (e.g., Friday)

10 sets of:
·      5 Cross Crawls
·      5 Air Squats
·      5 Spiderman Pushups

Tips for Maximizing Metabolic Conditioning Benefits

If you want to build muscle, I highly recommend supplementing with creatine. Creatine has been shown to increase protein synthesis, support lean muscle growth, and protect muscle from catabolism, also known as protein breakdown.

If weight loss is your goal, I would recommend trying one or both of the following: intermittent fasting and the Ketogenic Diet.

Intermittent fasting is a method of meal timing that has been shown in several studies to dramatically increase fat burning along with enhancing cardiovascular and cognitive health.

The Ketogenic Diet focuses on healthy high-fat options so that your body enters a state of ketosis. Once you reach ketosis, your body will focus on utilizing stored body fat as fuel. Aside from dramatically increasing fat loss, the ketogenic diet has been shown to benefit cognitive functioning.

Considerations for Special Populations


·      H.I.I.T. workouts can be very effective for older people as they take less time to complete and produce superior results to lengthy cardio workouts. I’d suggest starting with very basic bodyweight exercises that don’t require putting yourself in a difficult position. For example, push-ups are great but I’d start with chair push-ups before advancing to floor-based push-ups.


·      H.I.I.T. can help those going through physical rehabilitation to return to peak fitness levels in a relatively short amount of time. Depending on the reason you’re doing rehab, I’d recommend starting out slow and doing very basic exercises such as the bodyweight squat. Make sure you have someone closely monitoring your performance. You can even ask your rehabilitation specialist about the workouts I’ve detailed above to see if they are appropriate for you at this time.


Are you currently using metabolic conditioning to achieve your fitness goals? If so, what benefits have you noticed? What are your favorite high intensity interval training exercises? Let me know in the comments below!


1. Perkins SE, Jelinek HF, Al-Aubaidy HA, de Jong B. Immediate and long term effects of endurance and high intensity interval exercise on linear and nonlinear heart rate variability. J Sci Med Sport. 2017 Mar;20(3):312-316. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2016.08.009. Epub 2016 Aug 16.

2. Perry CG, Heigenhauser GJ, Bonen A, Spriet LL. High-intensity aerobic interval training increases fat and carbohydrate metabolic capacities in human skeletal muscle. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Dec;33(6):1112-23.

3. Boutcher SH. High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. Journal of Obesity. 2011;2011:868305. doi:10.1155/2011/868305.