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The 3 Cs of metabolic strength training will give you the most efficient workout

Rachel Lapidos

Rachel LapidosApril 28, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images/tihomir_todorov

When it comes to strength training, there’s more than one way to get the job done. In addition to good old-fashioned weight training and resistance band workouts, these days, Instagram and apps are blowing up with bodyweight exercises galore. Less well known, metabolic strength training also packs a big punch and can have you sweating efficiently and effectively.

“Metabolic strength training involves maximizing your metabolic demand, which means that you’re burning as many calories during the workout and after the workout as you can,” says Nick Tumminello, fitness trainer and author. “Basically, compared to regular strength training, metabolic training uses more energy in your body.” According to him, this type of training involves incorporating three “Cs,” which make the workout as effective as possible: circuits, or several exercises done back to back; complexes, a group of exercises with more than one rep of each; and combinations, or stacking different moves into one rep.

In order to be metabolically demanding on your body, metabolic strength training—and the “Cs” within it—follows general guidelines to up the intensity. “One of the mechanisms of maximizing your metabolic demand is minimizing rest periods,” says Tumminello. You also are aiming to work as many muscles as possible at any given time. “You want to do total-body workouts, which means that more energy is demanded.”

To work your entire body as intensely as a metabolic strength workout requires, Tumminello recommends approaching strength from four sources: hip-oriented movements (those that work your hips and hamstrings, like deadlifts); upper body pushing (like push-ups); the core; and lower body knee-oriented movements (like squats and lunges). The idea is to hit every major quadrant throughout the entire circuit. Keep scrolling for Tumminello’s tips on putting together your own metabolic strength workout.

How to do metabolic strength training

1. Use the ideal framework: Tumminello recommends that you keep your rep range between eight and 15 per exercise, and your rest range between a full circuit or complex to be one to two minutes, depending on your fitness level. “Make sure that if you’re using the same weights throughout your workout, don’t do the same amount of reps for each move,” he says. For example, he points out that a lot of people are stronger in their lower body than their upper body, so one set of 15-pound weights might be fine for upper body work, but not heavy enough for lower body moves—adjust reps accordingly.

2. Switch muscle groups between exercises: “Flip flop between your upper body and your lower body, and throw some core in the middle,” says Tumminello of your ideal workout strategy. An example he points to would be a row, followed by a reverse lunge, then push-ups, then a plank. “Distribute fatigue across your body so that you’re building more accumulative overall fatigue, which is more metabolically demanding,” he says.

3. Craft some exercise combinations: Because one of the three “Cs” is combinations, Tumminello recommends putting together as many combination movements within a circuit as possible (since it’s an easy way to make it a full-body, muscle-taxing workout). “The easiest example of a combination move would be an Olympic lift, which is a deadlift to an upright row to a clean, then a press,” he says. “Really, it’s a combination of three different moves, all done sequentially—and that’s all one rep.” Another example is a squat thruster with dumbbells, then standing up into a shoulder press. You can get creative with it.

4. Create exercise complexes: Another “C” is the complex, which “is like a circuit, but you’re using the same piece of equipment throughout,” says Tumminello. One way you can do a circuit is to do five rows, five deadlifts, five curls, and five lunges on each side, rather than one rep of each. Then, when you combine them all into a circuit, keep it intense by minimizing your rest—then you’ll have a seriously sweaty, metabolically demanding workout sesh.

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