Metabolic Conditioning and Doing More With Less

You know that friend you have who always likes to make everything more complicated? Instead of taking the path of least resistance they always seem to find a way complicate and confuse the task/process. Well… this is the way we feel about SOME fitness professionals and the way they approach metabolic conditioning. It seems the goal becomes more about putting in “cool looking” and complicated exercises instead of creating a true metabolic stimulus. You can probably immediately think of a colleague of yours who fits this description… OR maybe it’s you???

Well… we want to help! We have always preached simplicity in programming particularly when it comes to metabolic conditioning. Of late, we have stuck to that methodology, but have started to do more and more with less via kettlebell and dumbbell complexes. Why you ask? Well… we have gotten feedback that there are often big time limiting factors when it comes to training clients that are beyond the trainer’s control. These issues tend to be based around space and/or equipment accessibility:crowded-gym1

  1. “Big box” gym during peak hours are often packed… so if it’s 6pm on a Monday and you have a small group session access to a wide array of equipment or all that much space might not be possible.
  2. “Small box” / boutique facility… once again there can be significant limitations here. Smaller facilities often have less equipment and obviously space. Once again we are running into the same issues as a big box, but for different reasons.
  3. TorqueStrong_inhometrainingIn-home training… not all of our in-home clients have a lot of equipment and let’s face it… we are all only willing to lug a huge bag of equipment for our clients for so many years… Once again we are facing equipment challenges.

If one or more of these circumstances applies to you… we have some suggestions which can make your training less complicated and stressful (on you).

Before going any further lets define a few terms related to metabolic conditioning (please bear with us through the science):

  1. Complexes are a series of exercises performed in quick succession (minimal rest periods)
  1. Metabolic Conditioning: defining this term is a little more complicated, but I do like Jeff Gaudette’s description; The objective of metabolic conditioning is simply to keep the system (heart, lungs, etc.) as a whole under prolonged periods of stress while cycling through various energy systems and muscle groups

We also believe there are 4 keys to achieving a metabolic stimulus:                                             I. Heavy (some 10RM sets)                                                                                                                            II. Breathless (minimal rest between exercises and rounds) We often only allow clients enough time off between to be “successful” in their next task.                                                   III. Sweat                                                                                                                                                          IV. Burning (this is all about Lactic Acid and Blood PH)

  1. Oxygen Debt is a cumulative deficit of oxygen available for oxidative metabolism that develops during periods of intense anaerobic exerciseepoc
  1. EPOC (Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) is a measurably increased rate of oxygen intake following strenuous activity intended to erase the body’s “oxygen deficit”. When you hear someone talking about poster exercise “after burn” this is usually what they are talking about. HIgh levels of EPOC results in long periods of increase Oxygen uptake and as a result an increased metabolic rate until the body no longer has an Oxygen debt. The length of time depends upon the degree of EPOC, but the right metabolic stimulus can keep the metabolic rate high for more than 2 days post-session

Now that we have gotten that out of the way lets talk about the keys to developing an effective metabolic conditioning program:

  1. Total body exercises with long levers of action (Minimal to no isolation exercises)
  2. Use movements the client can successfully perform in a non-metabolic setting: in other words, if they have poor squat mechanics, but a good deadlift under normal circumstances DON’T have them squat in the metabolic phase of your session
  3. Each exercise should either have a high rate of movement or heavy weight, but not both
  4. Exercises are performed in an array of functional patterns
  5. Each circuit or complex starts with the “highest skill” movement moving to progressively lower skill movements. Think kettlebell snatch before a kettlebell swing and swing kettlebell swing before a burpee.

Here are a few of our goto complexes:

Intermediate Kettlebell Complex 1: Balanced Push-Pull                                                         “Heavy” 2-Arm Swing + “Heavy” Goblet Squat + Push Ups (any)      

Format: Descending Ladder                                                                                                              Details: move from one movement to the next taking as little rest as possible between exercises.  Complete the series of exercises performing 10 reps on all of them, then 9 reps, then 8 reps, and so on until one.                                                                                            Reps/Rounds/Rest: 10,9,8…3,2,1, only take enough time between rounds to be successful in the next round, but with a 1-minute maximum.                                                                                                               Equipment Needed: 1 heavy kettlebell

Advanced Kettlebell Complex 2: Push Heavy                                                                                          1-Arm Swing + Unilateral Front Squats + Off-Set Reverse Lunges      

Format: Modified Tabata (20s, 10 off)                                                                                                Details: Perform the exercises in order for 20 seconds with 10 seconds rest between exercises.  Do the right side followed immediately by the left side using the 10 second break to change hands.  Either continue with the right side again using only the 10 second rest period or take up to one minute.                                                                                       Reps/Rounds/Rest: Max reps per work interval, 2-4 rounds per side, rest 10 seconds – 1 min between rounds.                                                                                                                                   Equipment Needed: 1 heavy kettlebell


Advanced Dumbbell Complex 1: Balanced                                                                                          One-arm Dumbbell Snatch + Dumbbell Thrusters + Pull Ups        

Format: Strength/Power Endurance                                                                                                 Details: One round includes 3 dumbbell snatches with the right hand, then 3 with the left hand for a total of 6 reps, 6 DB thrusters, and 6 pull-ups.  Rest 30 seconds between complexes.                                                                                                                             Reps/Rounds/Rest: (6+6+6) x 3-5 rounds, rest 30 seconds between                               Equipment Needed: Pair of DB’s, pull-up bar

Remember the key is simplicity. Do not overcomplicate metabolic conditioning. Be very mindful of the degree of skill required for each exercise and the degree to which the client will be fatigued when attempting to safely and effectively complete each exercise.  As always, the first rule of being a fitness trainer is to do no harm.  

Interested in learning more about metabolic conditioning? Our next Metabolic Conditioning Seminar is on Sunday, 3/4/18 in Kennett Square, PA. $100 off with coupon code METABOLIC until 2/12/18! For more information or to register visit our website:

One thought on “Metabolic Conditioning and Doing More With Less

  1. Outstanding pairings! Tabata concept was excellent in the fashion you put it together. I liked the 6+6+6 although the importance needs to be stressed that it needs to be a relatively intense load so as to stimulate the response you’re looking for. All in all great article.

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