Metabolic Training – Part 1

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Metabolic training, as its name implies, is training that improves your metabolism.

A higher metabolism means that your body burns more calories. It means that you can eat more and your body will use up the calories. With a slower metabolism, the body is more likely to store extra calories as fat and you may gain weight. Having a higher metabolism, therefore, can help with weight loss.

Weight Loss

Weight loss occurs when you are in a caloric deficit. At the end of the day, your calories burned have to be more than your calories taken in. You have to expend more calories than you consume. You can achieve this by exercising more, eating less, or a combination of both, but there are limitations to these approaches.

Steady State Cardio

Most people think that they have to do a lot of cardio to lose weight: They have to spend hours running, jogging, walking, cycling, going on the elliptical and doing fitness classes. Cardio exercise is good; however, long sessions of cardio are time consuming and they can be hard on the joints.


Dieting often works in the short term. But many people gain the weight back when they stop dieting because the extra calories they add back in become stored as fat. Dieters usually find that is not a long term solution.

As John Paul Catanzaro stated at the Canfitpro conference: “If you eat like a bird and do a ton of cardio, you’ll lose a ton of weight. You’ll get smaller, you’ll get weaker, your joints will hurt, and you’re likely to be sick all the time.”

A better solution than either of these is to increase your metabolism.

Metabolic Training

For effective fat loss through metabolic training, two components are important:

  1. Building muscle
  2. Exercising at a high enough intensity

1. Building Muscle

Muscle is metabolically active tissue. That is, muscle burns calories at work, at rest and while you sleep. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism will be. Having a higher metabolism means that you will burn more calories.

When most people talk about losing weight, they actually mean they would like to lose fat mass. They want to change their body composition. This is “body recomp”. The number on the weight scale does not tell the whole story.

Body composition refers to the body percentage of fat mass and lean body mass. Lean body mass includes muscles, organs, bones, water, basically anything that is not fat. It is also called fat-free mass. The more muscle you have relative to fat, the higher the percentage your lean body mass will be.

Body recomp is the simultaneous combination of decreasing fat mass and increasing lean body mass. It is possible to lose fat and gain muscle. You may even gain weight but shrink in size at the same time. This is because muscle is more dense than fat. You can gain muscle and lose inches of fat and look smaller and more defined. You will be leaner and stronger.

So, how do you build muscle? You build muscle by strength training. Weight lost through long sessions of cardio may be due to both fat and muscle breakdown. Strength training is important to preserve and build muscle mass. You won’t lose muscle if you are building it.

2. Intensity

If you are not seeing fat loss results, it could be that your intensity is not high enough. For effective fat loss, more intense is better.

Many people think walking is good exercise. If you are very overweight or elderly, walking may be intense for you. However most people should consider walking to be an excellent recovery activity, rather than an intense activity that will yield fat loss results.

What about the “Fat-burning zone”?

It is true that you burn a higher percentage of fat at lower intensities. For example, you burn fat when you are sleeping. That is why you do not need to eat before you go to bed. But the overall amount of fat calories that you burn at low intensities is still quite low.

At higher intensities, your body is burning more glycogen (carbohydrate) calories than fat calories. But the overall amount of total calories burned is much higher.

There is a difference between percentage fat burned and fat calories burned.

With medium to high intensity exercise, even a smaller percentage of a large amount of total calories can be higher than a large percentage of a small amount of total calories (low intensity exercise).

What matters is the total calories and the total fat calories burned. It is not about the percentage of fat compared to glycogen. Remember, weight loss is about being in a caloric deficit. Therefore, the more calories burned, the easier it will be to achieve a caloric deficit.

Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption

Higher intensity activities require greater recovery efforts by the body.  This recovery is referred to as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). It not only refers to that “winded” feeling when you are catching your breath after an exercise. It also refers to your elevated heart rate, elevated body temperature, energy replacement and muscle repair. EPOC can continue for hours after an exercise session. This recovery requires energy (calories). The higher the intensity, the more energy the body has to put into recovery. Some experts say, fat is not burned during the exercise, fat is burned after the exercise. High intensity interval training burns fat when you are recovering from it.

How intense should it be?

Intensity is measured in terms of a percentage of your maximum heart rate. It can also be measured subjectively as a perceived exertion rate on a scale of 1 to 10.

The typical medium intensity steady state cardio session maintains your heart rate at 65% of your maximum. On a scale of 1 to 10, this may be about a level 6 of perceived effort. This may be effective for many. However some “non-responders” may require intervals at 75% effort or more to get results. On a scale of 1 to 10 this may be about 8 or 9 for an all-out interval.

For high intense interval training, perform the work interval at 80 – 90% of your max heart rate for 20 – 120 seconds. Then perform active recovery at 60% of your max heart rate for 30 seconds to 3 minutes.

A practical way of measuring intensity is the “talk test”. Being able to carry out full sentences  is low to medium intensity. If you have to stop your sentence in order to catch your breath, this is high intensity. For some people, it is a new sensation to feel “winded”. They feel “out of shape” and it causes them concern. However I consider it a good thing when my clients are somewhat out of breath after a set. This indicates that the workload is intense enough. They recover within 30 to 90 seconds and then they can do another set. In this way, muscle building through strength training is intrinsically also interval training.

In Metabolic Training – Part 2, we will look at practical tips for implementing metabolic training in your own workouts.

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  • Alfie

    Awesome read … Great points .. I especially appreciate the 30 second to 3 minute active recovery during the high intensity portions of a workout .,

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