Some say that metabolic resistance training is one of the best ways to build muscle, torch fat and improve your overall fitness… all at the same time.
Your metabolism will be spiked, fat will be incinerated and metabolic forces that work day and night to change your body will be unleashed.
Or will they?
Truth is, many of the benefits ascribed to metabolic resistance training can be achieved with standard, vanilla, run-of-the-mill resistance training.
More about that in a moment. First, what is metabolic resistance training?
What is Metabolic Resistance Training?
Metabolic resistance training is a form of circuit training that targets the entire body. You do several exercises back to back, usually with very little rest (30 seconds or less) in between.
A typical workout involves working through a series of compound exercises, usually with your own bodyweight or free weights serving as a resistance, while taking very little rest between sets.
The video below, for example, involves working intensely for 20 seconds before resting for 10 seconds.
One of the main aims of metabolic resistance training is to maximize the number of calories you burn both during and after your workout.
Is Metabolic Resistance Training The Same as HIIT?
While they do have a few things in common, HIIT and metabolic resistance training aren’t the same thing. HIIT, short for high-intensity interval training, usually refers to cardio such as running or cycling.
Metabolic resistance training, on the other hand, usually involves multi-joint exercises done with free weights (barbells, dumbbells or kettlebells) or your own bodyweight.
They do have similarities, in the sense that there are peaks and valleys, where you go hard before backing off.
Both types of exercise have also been shown to deliver similar gains in VO2max – a marker of cardiovascular fitness – to steady-state cardio, with workouts that are much shorter.
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 .
Why I Don’t Do Metabolic Resistance Training
MRT does have several benefits – it burns lots of calories, and can improve your cardiovascular fitness. 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.”
Back in the day, metabolic resistance training used to be called circuit training. But use of the term “metabolic” automatically makes anything sound trendy, exciting and hardcore.
Metabolic Workout. Metabolic Resistance Training. Metabolic Conditioning.
Metabolic resistance training is just a fancy name that people are using to “dress up” an old training method and pass it off as something new.
It also means that trainers can run around spouting off various three-letter abbreviations, to show that they’re cleverer than you. Instead of calling it metabolic resistance training, they’ll refer to it as MRT. This is simply another way for them to show off.
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.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORChristian Finn is the nation’s leading authority on science-based, joint-friendly ways to build muscle. A former "trainer to the trainers," he holds a masters degree in exercise science, and has been featured in or contributed to major media on two continents, including the BBC and Sunday Times in the U.K. and Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness in the U.S.