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How Metabolic Resistance Training Can Maximize Strength Gains and Burn Fat

Here’s why metabolic resistance training is so efficient and will help you see results.

Ash Wilking Metabolic Resistance Training

While it’d be nice to have hours to spend in the gym every day, that’s not exactly a realistic option for most people—which is why so many buy into too-good-to-be-true hacks for getting fitter faster. But there are science-backed, efficient exercise methods such as metabolic resistance training that give you more bang for your buck. 

If you’re looking to burn fat and build muscle in less than 30 minutes, studies show that metabolic resistance training can be extremely effective. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Metabolic Resistance Training?

Metabolic resistance training is a type of workout programming that maximizes your energy output during and after your workout, explains Ash Wilking, certified personal trainer and the Tonal coach behind the 20-in-20: Metabolic Burn program. “The idea is that you’re using multi-joint, full-body movements,” she says, “so you’re tapping into multiple muscle groups with each movement, which is more efficient at burning energy.”

A metabolic resistance workout might include 40 seconds of work followed by 20 seconds of rest, says Wilking. Those longer, higher-volume sets increase the metabolic demand on your body. But because you’re working for longer, it requires a lower intensity level than, say, busting out six reps in 15 to 20 seconds. In Wilking’s program, for example, “we work at a five to seven on a scale of one to 10,” she says. 

The weight on Tonal would be significantly lighter than during a shorter interval, but sustaining a lower effort for longer can be just as—if not more—challenging.

Circuit training and supersets can be equally effective when it comes to metabolic resistance training. The key is minimizing rest periods and working as many muscles as possible at any given time.

Metabolic Resistance Training vs. HIIT

Metabolic resistance training might sound a little bit like high-intensity interval training, a.k.a. HIIT. But “while HIIT is all about those truly high-intensity efforts you can sustain for a maximum of 20 seconds before requiring rest, metabolic resistance training is about slightly longer efforts with a little less rest,” says Wilking. 

And, of course, while many HIIT workouts may include resistance, metabolic resistance must include resistance in order to maximize the metabolic demand on your body. Traditional HIIT uses bodyweight exercises, says Wilking, but adding extra load will help you burn more calories. 

While a metabolic resistance workout revolves around a 2:1 ratio, where your rest interval is half as long as your work interval, says Wilking, a HIIT workout typically includes rest equal to or twice as long as the work interval, which is traditionally 20 seconds or less. 

“By staying attached to a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio, we’re doing a better job than traditional HIIT at restoring energy to preserve higher output with each set throughout the duration of the workout,” explains John Christie RD, CSCS, Tonal’s Director of Applied Training Science. 

The idea is that when you do metabolic resistance training, you should feel pretty taxed when you’re done with a work interval, says Wilking. But, compared to a HIIT workout, where you might be gasping by the final intervals, “once you’ve recovered, you can go hard again.” 

What Are the Benefits of Metabolic Resistance Training?

The main benefit of metabolic resistance training is that it maximizes metabolic demand in a short amount of time: You’ll burn more calories during and after your workout while engaging multiple muscle groups. While this isn’t a sport-specific workout that can help optimize performance for a race or competition, it’s “an ideal workout for anyone who’s looking to feel their strongest and healthiest and maybe wants to lean out or burn fat,” says Wilking. 

Because of how you’re required to move and use multiple muscles and joints, compound exercises inherently burn more calories. But adding in resistance also means you’re strengthening your muscles—and “muscle burns more calories than fat,” says Wilking. That doesn’t apply just during a workout, but also when you’re at rest, thanks to the “afterburn” effect, a.k.a. post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC. The more intense your workout, research has shown, the more energy expenditure (read: EPOC) it will take to return your body to its resting state.

By recruiting more muscles and building maximum fatigue within them, “it triggers a hormone response that tells your brain to make those muscles stronger for the next time they’re worked this hard,” says Wilking. That will increase muscle mass, but you’re not going to see the same type of gains as you would during a hypertrophy workout, where you’re overloading the muscle specifically to stimulate new muscle protein synthesis or growth. It’s less about building mass and more about building strength, endurance, and power in your muscles in a way you might not necessarily see—but you’ll certainly feel.

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