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The Problem with Metabolic Resistance Training

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And How to Fix It

Lift Weights Faster. Those words—so simple, so powerful—perfectly encapsulate the underlying premise that drives one of the most popular fat loss training methods in the world: Metabolic Resistance Training1.

Before we go any further, we should define the term. There are a lot of definitions floating around, but my favorite comes from Eric Cressey:

any strength training session that employs a series of (predominantly multi-joint) exercises while utilizing little (i.e., under 30 seconds) to no rest between sets.

Over the past 10 years (and in particular, the past 5), MRT has become the dominant training methodology for fat loss programming. And rightly so: it’s thoroughly studied, highly efficient, and phenomenally effective. 

The combined efficacy and ubiquity has made metabolic prevalent that there’s no longer just MRT – there are types of MRT. For example, my density training for fat loss workouts are obviously different from something you’d see at CrossFit, but they both fall under the umbrella of MRT. 

Taking it a step further, we have something like Jen Sinkler’s Lift Weights Faster. While LWF is a compendium of dozens upon dozens of metabolic resistance training workouts, each one of them is very different—some use ladders, some use cluster sets, some are density based. 

My point is, MRT is no longer just one thing; it’s many things. And they’re all great. In general, metabolic resistance training itself is awesome. But there is a problem with it, and today I’d like to talk about that. 

Metabolic Resistance Training: A Closer Look

I’ve spent the past 10+ years designing metabolic workouts, and I’ve written more than I can count. I’ve read probably twice as many. And they all have one thing in common: they’re hard.

This, of course, is partially the point. If I may quote the great Jimmy Dugan:

 YouTube Preview Image

Firstly, let’s all just take a moment to appreciate that I just worked in a reference to A League of Their Own. Secondly, if you didn’t enjoy that reference, or don’t like A League of Their Own, I’m done with you.

Anyway. With regard to MRT, it really is the hard that makes it great. Because they’re hard, metabolic resistance workouts place tremendous demands on you both aerobically and anaerobically. They involve a lot of muscles, requiring tremendous energy expenditure. And because they push you, metabolic workouts force rapid adaptation.

The result is massive fat burning, increased work capacity, and enhanced local muscular endurance.

This is all great stuff. So what’s the problem with MRT workouts? Well…they’re hard. The very thing that makes them great is what makes them problematic for a lot of people. 

In the world of gen-pop fitness training, people who utilize MRT tend to laud it for its efficiency:

“Forget hours of mind-numbing cardio! Forget two-hour marathon workouts! You can get better results with just one 45-minute MRT workout!” 

And that’s true. In terms of fat loss, the cost:benefit ratio is much better with metabolic training than either split workouts or long duration cardio—as long as the cost is time. It’s fast and more effective. Great.

It’s also hard as fuck. As we’ve established, that’s part of what makes it awesome, but that creates a complication most trainers seem to have just discarded entirely: your clients might not be ready for it.

Before we get into further discussion about that, I want to tell you a quick story that might help frame this correctly.

A Lesson from the Bar: The $220 Bottle of Booze

I am too dumb to know how good this is.

Recently, my friend Jade gifted me with a truly lovely bottle of Scotch—a Macallan 18 Single Malt. I’m told it’s awesome. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a bourbon man, but I’m looking forward to branching out. 

Here’s the problem: currently, I know nothing about Scotch; in fact, until I googled it for this article, I had no idea just how nice the gift was: the bottle apparently retails for over $220!

If I opened the Macallan 18, it would be wasted on me. I have no real frame of reference to appreciate its quality, and I don’t have the tasting experience to be able to distinguish the various notes and flavors from one another.

Put simply, the Macallan is just a bit beyond me at the moment.

Whether or not you know anything about Scotch, I think we can all agree that jumping into a 220-dollar bottle is a stupid and wasteful way to learn.

Sure, the Macallan will “do its job,” and give me a buzz. But in order to get the absolute most out of it, I have to spend some time educating my palate. 

I need to work up to the Macallan.

Just as most people need to work up to metabolic resistance training.

Back to MRT: When Harder Isn’t Smarter

As written, most metabolic workouts you’re going to see online are just too challenging to perform as written for the average client.

Trainers have fallen so in love with metabolic training and become so accustomed to writing these fast-paced workouts that it has skewed our perspective; that is, because MRT is everywhere, we assume everyone can do it and keep prescribing it.

No one would debate whether a 220-dollar bottle of Macallan 18 is “good”; it’s just accepted as fact. So if you want to give someone a bottle of Scotch, it can’t miss—you’re giving them a great gift.

Unless the person doesn’t drink Scotch, and you just gave them something they can’t use2.

But this is something trainers are doing every day: it’s accepted that MRT is the best, and we want to put out awesome content and do right by our clients. So we just keep writing these balls-to-the-wall workouts comprised of multiple 5-exercise circuits with almost no rest.

And, yes, like the Macallan, they’re awesome. If you can use them.

Here’s the quasi-Catch-22: one of the primary benefits of MRT is that it increases work capacity—but in order to really get the most out of a metabolic workouts, you need to come in at a pretty decent starting place.

Work capacity isn’t just a quality that needs to be improved; it’s a facet of fitness that needs to be cultivated before it can become the keystone upon which programming rests. And when it comes to MRT, that’s really what it is.

And the truth is, most clients just aren’t there at the beginning—but they don’t know that.

So they get a new program, try one of the workouts, and do their best to perform it as written. They do all these challenging exercises, keep rest periods to 30 seconds, and perform as many rounds possible…and they break down.

Educated trainers are quick to lambast CrossFit for just trying to bury people, but then publish workouts that effectively do the same thing, and claim superiority because their workout conforms to a more advanced training paradigm.

Before you think I’m attacking anyone, let me just be the first to admit that I’m as guilty as everyone else: I love writing kick-ass workouts, and my stuff is often very challenging.

When I first started programming MRT in 2004, I had clients complain that they threw up, or almost passed out, or were simply so exhausted that they had to bail out after 20 minutes and then lay on the floor for a half an hour before they could get up and leave the gym.

This still happens occasionally…

Rick Rubin, passed out from training.

My friend and sometimes-client Rick, taking a breather after a metabolic sessions.

Not cool.

Outside of that being uncomfortable for the client, it’s irresponsible on the part of the trainer, in a number of respects.

The primary thing to consider is this: it’s not that the workouts we write aren’t good, from an absolute perspective; they’re very good. These workouts are just beyond the abilities of clients who are new to it, just as the Macallan is beyond me.

Two Easy Ways to Fix MRT

In the case of either Scotch or metabolic resistance training, if you want to help people get the most out of things, you have two choices.

  1. Do nothing and just let them catch up.
  2. Meet them at their level.

The first option isn’t completely useless: if people just keep doing the workouts over and over, eventually they’ll adapt and be able to perform them correctly. And in the meantime, those workouts probably will help them burn fat and get in better shape.

Similarly, if I just keep drinking Macallan 18, I’ll eventually be able to appreciate Scotch…and in the meantime will certainly get drunk.

But between now and eventually there’s a lot of wasted time, effort, and money.

Which is why I prefer option two: meeting people at their level. I always aim to give people something they can use for maximum benefit now, but that will also help them improve to the point where they can get the most out of more advanced stuff later.

The question is, if we acknowledge that metabolic resistance training is the best method for fat loss, but is often too hard for people…how can we make adjustments to help them lose fat now and improve work capacity down the line?

There are a few ways to do this. Let’s look at two of my favorites.

Option 1: Time Sessions, Not Sets or Rest Periods

One of the hallmarks of traditional MRT is how fast-paced it is: the rest periods are timed, and usually very short; in the case of density training, you may be timing your sets and trying to perform as many reps as possible.

We’re gonna cut that shit out for a while.

Until I have a truly accurate handle on someone’s work capacity, I don’t make them time rest periods. I just prescribe that they keep rest to a minimum, and move at a good clip through the individual circuits and the workout as a whole.

This sets you in a completely different frame of mind than timing rest periods; things are in your hands. Rather than watching the clock, focus on form and execution, and don’t feel obligated to work yourself into the ground.

Of course, this could lead to a ton of lollygagging and render the session completely ineffective, right? To make sure that this doesn’t happen, time the session as a whole.

After writing the workout, I make a general assessment of how long I think it should take with a reasonable amount of rest built in. From there, these are the instructions:

  1. Set a timer for 45 minutes.
  2. Complete as much of the workout as possible in that time period.
  3. No matter what, terminate the workout at the 45-minute mark.
  4. The next time you perform this workout, try to beat your previous time.

After that, my clients can give me some information. If they were able to complete the workout, they let me know how much time was left on the clock; if they were not, they let me know how much of the prescribed workout was left over.

After one or two sessions, I have some pretty telling information and can make adjustments. For example:

  • If you’re repeatedly able to crush it with time left over, you’ll want make things harder by increasing weight, volume, or moving to a traditional MRT set up with timed rest periods.
  • If you’re consistently completing less than 75% of the workout, it’s too damn hard, and we need to take it down further to meet you at your level.

Whatever the case, you’re still getting an effective training session that will move you towards your goal while collecting valuable insight that can be used to continually make the program better and consistently challenge you.

For about 30% of my clients, we start with this approach. In the absolute sense, will the workout be as “good” as a hardcore MRT workout? No. But it’s better for them, and that’s what matters.

Option 2: Metabolic Ramp-Up Training

My favorite method of working people up to MRT is with what I’ve always called “Break’em In Workouts”, but for the sake of using a term that sounds less sexual, we can refer to as Metabolic Ramp-Up Training, or MRUT.

As you would expect, this is a modified version of MRT that allows the client to train pretty hard and burn fat without ever breaking. Executed correctly, MRUT helps you consistently get close to your threshold, then pulls you back and allows you to recover.

I started writing these Break’em In Workouts in late 2004; as I said, I made the mistake of overworking a few clients early on, so had to come up with a way to avoid that while still moving them forward.

Essentially: MRUT consists of truncated MRT circuits, performed for pre-determined time blocks (rather than timing individual rest periods). These blocks are alternated with timed blocks of fairly easy active recovery—this keeps you moving, but allows you to get your shit together.

Here are some basic rules I use for constructing these workouts: 

  • No more than 3 total circuits. 
  • Each circuit should be consist of no more than 3 exercises. 
  • Circuits are terminated after a pre-set number of rounds or a time limit, (whichever occurs first). 
  • Push hard and move quickly during the actual circuit, but don’t go to failure, and don’t time rest periods. 
  • Between circuits, there are 3-5 minute blocks of active rest.

That’s really it. They’re not the most advanced workouts in the world, but they are incredibly effective. Again, the goal is to consistently approach your threshold, and then back off; assuming you’re actually pushing hard during the work circuits, this is pretty automatic.

Workouts will typically last 35-40 minutes (accounting for transitions). You’ll be be moving, but you’ll be working for about half of that time.

Just because I’m awesome and I want to give you guys a real understanding of this, I’m giving you a full MRUT workout for you to try today.

Check it out:

Sample MRUT Workout

Work Circuit One

SET-UP: Perform the A1-A3 sequentially, completing the prescribed number of reps for each exercise before moving on to the next. Moving quickly throughout the circuit, keeping rest to a minimum.

A1) Goblet Squat – 12 reps
A2) Push-up – 8 reps
A3) Plank – 30 seconds

PROCEDURE: Perform this circuit for a total of 5 rounds or 5 minutes, whichever comes first. After completing your 5th round (or the expiration of the 5-minute block), proceed immediately to your Active Recovery Block.

Active Recovery Block One

On a rowing ERG, row at a speed and resistance that challenges you, but does not overly tax you. Complete a total of 5 minutes and proceed to the next work circuit.

Work Circuit Two

SET-UP: Perform the B1 and B2 alternately, completing the prescribed number of reps for each exercise before moving on to the next. Moving quickly throughout the circuit, keeping rest to a minimum.

B1) Barbell RDL – 15 reps
B2) Barbell Row – 6-10 reps

PROCEDURE: Using the same weight for both exercises, perform this circuit for a total of 6 rounds or 4 minutes, whichever comes first. After completing your 6th round (or the expiration of the 4-minute block), proceed immediately to your Active Recovery Block.

Active Recovery Block Two

Pedal on a stationary bike at a resistance and speed that challenges you but does not overly tax you. Complete a total of 3 minutes and proceed to the next work circuit.

Work Circuit Three

SET-UP: Perform the C1-C3 sequentially, completing the prescribed number of reps for each exercise before moving on to the next. Moving quickly throughout the circuit, keeping rest to a minimum.

C1) Walking Lunge – 15 steps per leg
C2) DB Overhead Press – 8 reps
C2) DB High Pull – 10-12 reps

PROCEDURE: Perform this circuit for a total of 5 rounds or 8 minutes, whichever comes first. After completing your 5th round (or the expiration of the 8-minute block), proceed immediately to your Final Active Recovery Block.

Final Active Recovery Block

Walk on a treadmill at a minimum of a 10-degree incline and a speed that challenges you, but does not overly tax you. Complete a total of 15 minutes.


 

Boom. That’s it. The total work time (including active recovery) is 40 minutes, so with set up and transitions you’ll be done in about 45 minutes—just like a typical metabolic workout.

The difference is, if you’re new to metabolic training, or you need to improve work capacity before you can dive (safely and effectively) in to MRT, Break’em In Workouts are actually superior to “the real thing.” They’ll allow you to get fantastic results without overtaxing you, and are designed to progress you towards something that can continue to help you later on.

Keep in mind that one of the most challenging aspects of losing fat is staying ahead of the adaptation curve. By using metabolic ramp-up training first, you also get to “save” MRT for later in your programming without compromising it’s efficacy.

Closing Thoughts (and an Offer)

As I said, I truly believe metabolic resistance training is great; and, as you probably know, it makes up the bulk of my fat loss programming. But the fact is, it is not without it’s problems, and it is not for everyone—at least not right way.

These problems are solvable, and I’ve got something that will solve them for you.

Just last week, I put the finishing touches on an entire series of Metabolic Ramp-Up Training workouts. I’ve been working on it on-and-off for a while, and I was finally inspired to finish it.

MediumJohn Romaniello | Roman Fitness Systems

The workouts in this manual are fast, effective, and a great intro to MRT.

But they’re not just for people who are “new” to metabolic training. They’re also great for experienced trainers who have been focusing on other things for a while.

If you’ve ever spent 12-16 weeks working on strength, and then tried a fat loss program, chances are you didn’t have much success…because your work capacity was just shit. These are great for you.

So, whether you’re just getting started or just getting back into it, MRUT is a fantastic way to start getting lean and improve your work capacity so you can keep progressing.

Let’s be real. Metabolic Resistance Training is numero uno for a reason; it’s a nearly perfect method for losing fat. If you’re looking for something more in-depth, Jen Sinkler’s Lift Weights Faster 2 has over 180 metabolic workouts. ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY of them! You’ve got workouts for the next year, and that’s if you train every other day and don’t repeat any.

 

LWF2 Bundle

Jen is one of the best coaches in the business, and she’s known for the high quality of her work. Plus, she stacked the value like crazy. LWF is a resource you’ll continue to use for the rest of your life. Whether you like kettlebells, barbells, bodyweight training, or a combination, Jen’s got you covered. I guarantee you’ll be using the workouts in here for years to come.

And I can’t wait for you to try them.

 

Footnotes
  1.  It’s worth noting that people have been doing MRT for a long while, just calling it other stuff. Before the industry settled on “metabolic resistance training,” terms like “strength-training cardio” or “dynamic weight training” were used. For those interested, I personally credit Alwyn Cosgrove for codifying the term.
  2.  I’m not saying this to bust Jade’s balls; it was a super awesome gift and I’ll use it eventually. Thanks, bro!
About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

  • BetaKing69

    When I start MRUT I would like to change the acronym to R.U.S.T workout, as in see ya later rustyness, hello shiny new day. I Have three of the for words, can you help me out Mr. Romaniello, Chief Bro King?
    Romaniello Ubiquitous S_____ Training.

  • Alisha Allison

    Does this deal still apply?

  • what if your cell voltage drop bellow 70-90 millivolts?
    working hard with proper cell energy makes whole body regenerates fast.
    Subscribe here for more details:
    http://healthprotection.gr8.com/

  • Jeff

    Hi Aaron. Please email support@romanfitnesssystems.com and we’ll get this sent over. Thanks!

  • Jeff

    Hi Nicholas. Please email support@romanfitnesssystems.com and we’ll get this sent over. Thanks!

  • Jeff

    Hi Stacy. Please email support@romanfitnesssystems.com and we’ll get this sent over. Thanks!

  • Jeff

    Hi Wim. Did you purchase it through RFS’s link? If so, please email support@romanfitnesssystems.com and we’ll get this sent over. Thanks!

  • Jeff

    Hi Kiley. Did you purchase it through John’s link? If so, please email support@romanfitnesssystems.com and we’ll get this sent over. Thanks!

  • Jeff

    Hi Joey. If you purchased it through John’s link, please email support@romanfitnesssystems.com and we’ll get this sent over. Thanks!

  • Jeff

    Hi Jess. Please email support@romanfitnesssystems.com and we’ll get this sent over. Thanks!

  • Johnny

    I ordered Jen Selter’s Lift Weights Fast program through your link and I still have not received your free MRUT program. I checked my inbox and spam. My order number for Jen’s LWF program is #439D8NEJ. Please email me MRUT to my email jtran1123@gmail.com

  • Wow, great blog post.Much thanks again. Fantastic.

  • Hi Alycia! You most certainly can. The MRUT manual will be added to the RFS Shop next week =)

  • Was sent out last week! In your inbox =)

  • Was already sent out =)

    If you purchased through my link, it should be in your inbox. Check spam!

  • Tara Lee Dietrich

    Hi Roman, I purchased LWF2 before reading this article but would LOVE this MRUT manual. Please let me know how I can get a copy.

    Thanks so much!

  • MRUT is just about the best acronym I’ve heard in awhile. Have to check it out, but I can already say I like it. The other point of note is that I’m putting together a Jenn Sinkler incidence table. By my early estimates I can’t get through three hours of my day without running into Jenn’s name or mention of her new book. Add that one to the reading list too. At this rate, with all of this content, my workouts are suffering. I’m going to recommend these books move to MP3 formats with good background tunes so we can all listen while we lift. Problem solved. Thanks John. Good stuff.

  • Adam Richards

    Hey john, just wanted to say i have not yet received my copy of your metabolic ramp up training, my order number was TZRRE79V. Thanks

    • Hey Adam,

      Thanks so much for the support. If you picked up LWF2 through my link, MRUT should be in your inbox. Check spam!

    • Jeff

      Hi Adam. Please email support@romanfitnesssystems.com and we’ll get this sent over. Thanks!

  • Jade Teta

    Genius article as always bro. Next time I am bringing Elijah Craig 21 ;-)

  • Joshua Reed

    Great article, Roman. I bought LWF2 as soon as I saw that it was released. Typically, sequels are not as good as the first, but I knew Jen’s would be the exception and she did not let me down! :)

    I have seen others ask about your manual if we have already invested in LWF2. How should we go about this? Shall we send you the order number or will it be uploaded to the LWF2 member site in the download section?

    Cheers and thanks for such epic content!

  • JM

    Hi, Just bought LWF2 (March 13) and would love a copy of MRUT Manual. Order #QKC2VE4M

    • Already sent out, you should have it in your inbox

      • jessica murphy

        Hi! I haven’t received it yet. Is it possible to resend? Thank you

  • msbraun

    I just bought LWF2 directly from her site then
    read your article. I would love you book! Order # M422VE48
    Placed March 11, 2015

  • Nichole Crossley

    Thanks to your sales push, I finally committed and bought the Lift Weights Faster library. I look forward to using your ramp up method since I’m post injury and can’t jump right back into high octane workouts. How do I get your manual? Thanks for great referral to Jen’s stuff. I’ve received her newsletters forever but hadn’t committed to the workouts because they were BEASTLY HARD.

  • KristalW

    I would love a copy of your MRUT manual – I purchased Jen’s LWF2 (order #YNVD85EL). My email is donandkrisw@cox.net . Thanks! Kristal

  • nice post john i have same blog try to visit it to plz

    http://www.clubsideeffects.com

  • Adam Richards

    Hi John Have purchased Lift Weights Faster 2 can’t wait to receive your MRUT manual, cheers

  • Jenna F

    Do we have to purchase through your link to get the MRUT guide? I bought it right away through one of Jen’s emails!

  • Surely, will send some information about that next week.

  • I’ll be sending it to you directly. Thanks for the support!

  • Laura

    Will you be selling this separately? I’m super interested but I already LWF2 from Jen Sinkler directly! Thanks!

  • Fact & Fitness

    Great read! Do you follow Jade Teta and Metabolic Effect? They use an RBT, or rest-based training, protocol for their metabolic workouts. Similarly to what you described above about not prescribing preset rest times, in RBT the autonomy is in the clients hands – not the trainer. So their metabolic workout may last 20 minutes where they are doing various compound (“hybrid”) movements, but they rest as they need it.

    Basically they “push until they can’t, then rest until they can”. So they end up going hard, forcing themselves to rest, then picking back up, repeat for duration of workout. I have excellent success using RBT with my coaching clients. They get an awesome workout, but don’t end up like your sometimes-client above, ha.

    As always, loved the post. Thanks!

    –Brian

    • Of course! Jade is the one who got me the bottle of Scotch =)

      • Fact & Fitness

        Hah, well there ya go! For some reason I thought I read you refer to Jade with a female pronoun at some point in the post so I wouldn’t have made the connection it could have been him. But that’s awesome! My scotch game is weak… so that bottle’s way outside my wheelhouse.

  • Amy Budd

    Hi Roman – I purchased LWF2 already, and would LOVE this MRUT manual. Please let me know how to download – thank you!

    • Sending out after the weekend =)

      • Amy Budd

        Yay! Thank you! I did a Fitocracy Group Fitness program with you in late 2013, and really enjoyed that programming, so I’m very stoked about adding some more Roman workouts to my gym library! :)

  • Philip Kastinger

    I am glad the density training started with month two, because especially the first time was the single hardest training I had in months and nothing I would wanna start a program with.

    But after some time to adjust, physically and mentally, it is great and still a pain in the ass.

  • mike

    No sure how to access your Metabolic Ramp Up Training Manual. Have purchased Lift Weights Faster 2, order number 4SBD8ME7. Appreciate any help you can provide. Love your work, and thanks for the article.