What Is A Metabolic Conditioning Workout?

Metabolic conditioning is a term that is increasingly thrown around more and more but what does it even mean? Metabolic conditioning is not new but is increasing in it's popularity. It is the ability to work at a high level of intensity for a prolonged period of time. It involves various types of either weight training, and or cardiovascular exercise.  This does not mean that any specific muscle is working at 100%, but that the body as a whole is working at its highest intensity for that extended period of time. The key concept is that the you move from exercise to exercise with minimal rest while maintaining a specific rep scheme and quality of movement.

One of the fun parts of metabolic conditioning is there is no right or wrong way to structure it. 

Here is an example of a great metabolic conditioning workout for a beginner:
5 Push-ups
10 Couch Squats
10 Jumping Jacks
30 second Plank

Here is an example of a great metabolic conditioning workout for anyone who has been training for 6 months to 2 years: 
5 Push-ups
10 Air Squats
15 Sit-ups
Run/jog/walk 100m

Here is an example of a great metabolic conditioning workout for an advanced individual: 
15 Minute AMRAP - As many rounds/reps as possible
5 pull-ups
10 push-ups
15 Air Squats
Run 200 meters

So here you would complete all five pull-ups prescribed before moving to the push-ups, all ten push-ups before the squats so on and so forth. When you finish a cycle you immediately start back at the beginning of the list until the time runs out. It is to be completed at a high level of intensity but that is relative only to you current level of fitness. I may struggle to finish three rounds and the person next to me may finish five. The point is to be continuously be moving and continue doing so even as your heart rate rises.

The benefits of metabolic conditioning are undeniable. It burns a ton of calories in a short amount of time due to it's intensity. Another reason for these workouts is it increases EPOC, or excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption. After high intensity workouts, the body's metabolism is elevated as it is trying to return to homeostasis (balance). During this time the body burns additional calories. The research varies from two hours to 24 hours after your workout and depends on its intensity and duration. 

This type of training is much more efficient, achieving the effectiveness of a workout done at a lower steady state heart rate in a lot less time. 

You are working multiple energy systems at one time. Some workouts can even improve aerobic capacity and anaerobic capacity simultaneously. 

Metabolic conditioning workouts are great if you need to squeeze a workout in a short window of time because they can be done anywhere. You can design them solely of what you have available. These workouts allow you to get creative with both your sequence and paring of movements, number of reps, and times in which you will complete them. 

Try one of the workouts above and let us know how it goes.

Have You Reach Your Muscle Building Potential?

Have you ever seen someone advertise a 12 week muscle building program? I have no issue with these programs as long as trainers are honest about them. I love that it can help a person get started toward building lean muscle. But I dislike it when they make it seem like you are going to reach muscle building destination at the end of the 12 weeks.

You are never done!

If a trainer has told you that you can no longer gain muscle or that you can't make any more positive changes to your physique then they are misleading you. You can not max out your genetic potential.

Don’t get me wrong. There are upper limits to how much muscle you can build. There also limits to muscular strength and aerobic endurance. But I am sure you probably will never reach them. This phenomenon is known as the "genetic ceiling." How do you know if you’ve reached your genetic ceiling?

You don't. In fact, you can’t and never will.

How do you know when it is time to change things up?

You can gather enough data to tell if your training regimen is producing positive changes in your physique. This means that you need to keep notes on your workouts if you don't have a trainer doing it for you. Take measurements, write down your sets and reps so you can see if you are getting stronger over time. If you're not growing from your present routine then you could change a few variables and possibly see results. The number of possible ways to vary program design is virtually unlimited. Unless you try each and every alternative, there’s no way to know if another approach might be the ticket to further gains.

You have to put a lid on some of the false information you come across because most of it has an angle. They are trying to sell a supplement, a product, or some high dollar personal training fees.

Understand that the reason your muscles adapt to an exercise stimulus is a function of survival. Let me repeat that. Your muscles adapt because it is trying to maintain balance. Your body doesn’t realize the reason you hit the gym is to look jacked in a tank-top. That is a ridiculous thing to think. It senses a high degree of physical stress that it believes is a threat to survival. The response that your body takes is to coordinate a series of intracellular events to strengthen the muscles and supporting tissues so that they are better prepared the next time you lift. It could care less what you look like in a V-Neck T-shirt or bathing suit.

You stop making gains or I guess some people call it a plateau because the more you continue to provide similar stimuli, the less of a need for future adaptation. Further growth can only occur by subjecting your muscles to a different stimulus. This is why I love training. Because it forces you to find the comfort in the uncomfortable. 

A “ceiling” may exist in theory. But you never actually realize your full genetic potential. There is always the ability to further increase muscle mass. Muscular gains can be made even at the most advanced levels. It will just be at a slower pace than when you first started training.

Now the closer you get to your individual ceiling, the more essential it is to take a scientific approach to training and nutrition. From a training standpoint, this entails precise manipulation of resistance exercise variables. You may have to change how you load the muscle, and the types of loads you use in given rep ranges. I've covered this in depth in a previous blog post. 

Truth is, you’re only limited by your determination and base of knowledge.

If someone tells you that you’re done adding muscle, pay them no attention. It’s a self-limiting attitude that will keep you from achieving your full genetic potential.

Lift Light Weights For Big Muscles

I absolutely love the art of of bodybuilding. The science of gaining muscle has always fascinated me. I don't care too much about being on the beach, social media, or on stage showing off my physique. But I love the experimental process of creating a healthier body and mind. However, gaining muscle is still one of those topics that is terribly misunderstood. 

For those who want to maximize their muscle gaining potential, stay away from lectures by gym bros. They will typically give you what they think worked for them or what they saw in some magazine.

You might hear, "You have to lift to failure." "If it's not heavy then you aren't working hard enough."

But if your goal is to gain muscle and you have been searching for the truth, I'm here to give it to you. Science says it makes sense to train across the continuum of repetition ranges. While there may be validity to focusing on the so-called "hypertrophy range" (6-12 reps), both high (15-20+) and low (1-5) repetition ranges should also be incorporated into your training program.

Not only does such an approach ensure full stimulation of the spectrum of muscle fibers, but it also serves as preparatory work for optimizing performance in the hypertrophy range. Low rep work enhances neuromuscular adaptations necessary for the development of maximal strength. When max strength increases due to low rep work then you can guarantee you will be stronger at moderate loads. This will give you greater mechanical tension which is key to gaining muscle. Let’s say your low rep work increased your bench press from 150 lbs to 225 lbs. Now you can go down and train in the moderate rep range (6-12) with loads that was close to your old max. That is an example of how you can increase mechanical tension.

Now let's look at the other side of that equation. Performance of higher-rep sets help over time raise lactate threshold. This means you will have the ability to delay the onset of fatigue. This will increase time under tension during moderate rep training. Time-under-tension refers to how long the muscle is under strain during a set of an exercise. If you normally train biceps with curls at 50 lbs and the set lasts around 10 seconds. What will happen if you trained biceps with 25 lbs and the set lasts for 30-45 seconds? Over time you will get stronger and can increase the time under tension at that 50 lb set.

There are infinite ways in which varied intensities can be integrated into program design. Perhaps the best way to ensure continued progress is by periodizing training rep ranges over time. This simply means that you should have times in your training where all rep ranges are covered. How you go about covering that spectrum comes down to personal preference and making your program fit you instead of vice versa.

Another option is to base loading strategies on the type of exercise performed. I've experimented with this a lot in the past. I would focus on low to moderate-reps (~1-10) for multi-joint movements such as squats, rows, and presses. And prioritizing higher rep training (15+) for single-joint, isolation type exercises like curls, shoulder raises, and leg curls.

There are no set in stone rules here. The response to training varies by the individual and that is why you shouldn't follow what Jimmy in the gym said is the best program. You need to experiment with different approaches and find out what works best for you.

Big Backside = Long Life

Can we all agree that we get weaker as we get older? I'm pretty sure common sense would say your muscles don't hang around if you aren't using them.

In the science world strength declines at a very fast rate after the age of 40. So for example, a man 55 years young, even if he was an Olympic gold medal winner in weightlifting at 24, will typically lose 30-33% of the strength levels he had three decades before.

Your backside. Your rump. Your bum. Your derriere. Your backside.

When you neglect to save the largest muscle of the body we create some major issues.

The biggest reason why the glutes shut down is due to inactivity. A muscle will quit working properly if you fail to consistently activate it. It will also stop working suitably if you fail to regularly activate it to its capacity.

If your glutes are not strong, your entire lower body alignment may fall out of balance. Have you ever seen anyone walking bent over? Or how about anyone that sits in a chair and their lower back is screaming in pain?  Weak glutes can lead to issues such as ACL injuries, Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, runner’s knee and IT band pain.

If the glutes are not strong enough to do their job then something has to do it for them. Other muscles will take over that work load. Which is not a good thing. The hamstrings, low back, quadriceps and calves may become over active and that can increase your risk of injury.

Strong glutes support the back. When your glutes aren’t activating as they should, your psoas muscle, a hip flexor muscle that runs from the spine to the legs, takes over. An overstressed psoas causes back pain and compression in the lower lumbar vertebrae of the spine.

Not all back pain is a result of weak glutes, but it can be a contributing factor.

I love the hip thrust exercise. It can be scaled to any fitness level and can activate glutes through a full range of motion.

One thing I like about them is that there’s a fast learning curve so clients tend to pick them up fast. They can be a little awkward at first but I’ve found some ways to improve the experience that I hope you’ll find helpful.

Pause each rep for a second at the top to help ensure that you're coming all the way up and achieving full extension. Pausing will also ensure that you’re using glutes to do the work instead of the lower back.

Position your feet in such a way that when you're at the top of the movement your shins are perpendicular to the floor.

Sometimes you will push through your toes which don't activate glutes to their full capacity. Instead your quads take too much of the load. To ensure that you are targeting glutes you should try to lift your toes off the ground. Or try to pick your toes up within your shoes.

Here's a video of a perfectly performed hip thrust.

Why I Love Dumbbell Exercises

Dumbbell exercises have been a huge part of my training regimen since I started lifting weights at age 12. My dad had a set in the garage that I would use. The old school ones where you had to screw the weights on. It definitely sharpened my math skills.

Dumbbells are great tools to have in your strength training arsenal.

They allow for a lot of variety within your workouts. They have a lot of real world practicality and they have some significant advantages compared to barbells.

Of course they aren't included in most gym discussions because they aren't macho man exercises and leaves very little room to ego lift. But they have the best carryover in real life in my opinion. You will never barbell bench press something in real life unless you are stuck under an object and have to press it off of you. Pretty sure those chances are fairly slim. However, you will be faced with obstacles in life where you have to handle different weights of things and have to get in and out of various shapes. Having dumbbells in your training regimen will help improve your fitness to enhance your quality of life. 

I’m not claiming that dumbbells are the best workout tool and that they’re superior to any other piece of equipment. Barbells, kettlebells, machines, or anything else can definitely play a role in your strength development but this article will just dive into the positive aspects of using dumbbells.

Dumbbell exercises can be a little easier on the joints when you are starting out in your lifting journey. You may have some old shoulder injuries, elbow pain or back pain. Dumbbell exercises can be a little safer until you gain full mobility within all your joints, tendons and ligaments. An example of this is to take a look at flat bench dumbbell press and compare it to it's counterpart flat bench barbell press. The dumbbell version tends to be a bit more elbow and shoulder friendly because you can have more natural movement since your hands aren’t fixed in place. You have the freedom to turn or rotate them as you press. Those little tweaks can make for a very safe exercise and not hold you back from making very good strength gains.

The same thing applies to a dumbbell standing press compared to a barbell overhead press. Having your palms face your face instead of facing forward could be the difference into you forming that shape pain free. This is why I recommend people who have had previous shoulder or elbow issues to use dumbbells in their training.

This is why many of my favorite upper body and lower body exercises use dumbbells.

So if you’ve noticed some problems with certain upper body barbell exercises, try swapping them out for the dumbbell version and see how things feel.

I'm a huge advocate for training the body unilaterally as well. We all have a dominant side. Sometimes using a barbell can only exaggerate that. Using dumbbells can improve your weaker side and help you create a more stable, functional physique.

The last reason I love dumbbells is because they are great for home gyms. You don't need any fancy equipment early on in your journey. A pair of dumbbells can take you such a long way. A pair of power block dumbbells can save you a ton of space if that is a resource that is limited in your household. These dumbbells increase in 2.5 pound increments from 10 to 50 pounds. That is perfect for a home gym.

Dumbbells can be a great tool if you’re new to the wonderful world of strength training and want to ease into lifting. Begin by performing basic compound exercises with dumbbells and strive to get stronger.

No workout tool is perfect for everything but dumbbells are a great place to start in your lifting journey.