Another question, this time on the subject of metabolic resistance training and fat loss:
“What do you think about metabolic resistance training? I’ve read a few articles that say it’s the best way to burn fat and build muscle. What do you think?”
What is Metabolic Resistance Training?
The main aim of metabolic resistance training, or MRT for short, is to maximize the number of calories you burn both during and after your workout.
Basically, it’s a form of circuit training that targets the entire body. You do several exercises (mostly multi-joint free weight exercises) back to back, usually with very little rest (30 seconds or less) in between each exercise.
MRT does have several benefits – it burns lots of calories, and can improve your cardiovascular fitness.
In one month-long study, four minutes of “whole-body aerobic-resistance training” improved VO2max to the same extent as 30 minutes of steady-state cardio .
The workouts themselves are also relatively short, and can be done with little or no equipment.
Personally, I can’t stand MRT, so I don’t do it.
I much prefer to take my time and get a decent amount of rest between each set before tackling the next one.
As I see it, you get many of the benefits of so-called metabolic resistance training with standard resistance training.
A number of articles on the subject of metabolic resistance training and fat loss cite a 2002 study as “proof” that MRT elevates your metabolism for 38 hours .
The paper, published by a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, does indeed show that a single workout comprising just three exercises – the bench press, squat, and power clean – led to an increase in resting metabolism that was still measurable almost two days later.
One of the defining characteristics of MRT is taking “little (i.e. under 30 seconds) or no rest” between sets.
However, the study in question involved taking a full two minutes of rest between sets, not 30 seconds or less.
To quote the researchers directly:
“Each lift was performed until failure, and 2 minute rests were given between sets. Loads were adjusted after each set to maintain 10 repetitions on subsequent sets.”
In other words, this wasn’t “metabolic” resistance training. It was plain old resistance training.
And, the number of calories that a given workout burns is not the only or even most important criteria by which to judge its effectiveness.
There are two other things that are far more important:
1. Your ability to stay consistent.
Your ability to stick with a particular program of diet and exercise trumps everything else when it comes to getting in shape.
So, you need to pick a type of exercise/activity that you like (or dislike less than everything else).
If you hate a particular type of exercise, chances are you’re not going to be doing it long enough to see results.
2. The ability of said program to stimulate the acquisition (or even just the retention) of muscle mass while you drop fat.
For most people, getting in shape means having more muscle and less fat.
MRT will do a better job than regular cardio as far as building/maintaining muscle mass is concerned.
But, there are better options out there.
The last time I got in “photoshoot” condition, I had no idea how many calories I was burning each time I trained.
That’s because the goal of each workout wasn’t to burn calories. It was to send the “size and strength” stimulus to my muscles.
Granted, getting ripped while simultaneously building a lot of muscle doesn’t happen unless you’re using a lot of drugs. But, at the very least, I wanted to hold on to the muscle I’d already built.
And the type of training that works best for retaining muscle is much the same as the type of training that works best for gaining that muscle in the first place.
In other words, a training program that normally makes a muscle grow will, under the right conditions, work to preserve that muscle when you’re dieting.
Why Diet is Key to Losing Fat
When it comes to losing fat, the food you eat (or don’t eat) is a lot more important than what you do in the gym. Sometimes, a workout that burns lots of calories will stimulate your appetite, so you end up replacing the calories you’ve worked so hard to burn.
There’s also a phenomenon known as moral licensing, where being “good” gives you permission to be “bad.”
From Pick The Brain:
“Any act and any thought that you consider to be ‘good’ can license a subsequent ‘bad’ behaviour because we feel that we deserve a reward for being so righteous. The problem here lies not in rewarding yourself, but in the fact that our rewards often tend to be the things that stifle our progress towards our goals, or even set us back.”
In other words, you could end up eating more food after a high-calorie workout because you feel like you “earned” it.
As a result, all the fat you’ve just burned off will end up getting replaced. Metabolic resistance training may very well make you fitter, stronger and more muscular. But, if you don’t get your diet right, it’s not going to make you any leaner.
From strength coach Paul Carter:
“Train yourself to push your fork away from your mouth. Neither weight training nor cardio do a whole lot to create an energy deficit compared to not eating that piece of salted caramel cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory.”
The Bottom Line
Metabolic resistance training can burn a lot of calories in a relatively short period of time. But no type of exercise, be it HIIT, MRT or whatever else is new and trendy this week, will do much for fat loss compared to not eating certain foods.
The main goal of lifting weights is to stimulate your muscles in such a way that they come back a little bigger and stronger the next time you train. Burning calories is simply a side effect of doing the work necessary to achieve that goal. It’s not the end in itself.
SEE ALSO: THE MUSCLE BUILDING CHEAT SHEET
If you're fed up spending hours in the gym with nothing to show for it, then check out The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet.
It's a "cut the waffle and just tell me what to do” PDF that tells you exactly how to go about building muscle. To get a copy of the cheat sheet sent to you, please click or tap here to enter your email address.
ABOUT CHRISTIAN FINNChristian Finn holds a master's degree with distinction in exercise science, is a former personal trainer and has been featured on BBC TV and radio, as well as in Men's Health, Men's Fitness, Fit Pro, Zest, and Perfect Body magazine.