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Is Metabolic Resistance Training Right for Everyone?

Written on November 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today’s guest blog on Metabolic Resistance Training comes from Joe Dowdell, co-creator of the Peak Diet and Training Summit DVD set.

Metabolic Resistance Training has received a lot of attention over the last few years, especially for fat loss.  However, the reality is that many strength coaches have been using this technique with their clients and athletes for a very long time.

Before we go any further, and so we are all on the same page, my view or definition of metabolic resistance training is any strength training session that employs a series of 4-8 exercises (which are predominantly multi-joint in nature), while utilizing little (i.e., under 30 seconds) to no rest between sets.  In other words, these metabolic resistance training sessions incorporate things like the Olympic lifts, squats, chin-ups, push-ups, kettlebell Swings, medicine ball throws, etc. in order to call upon as many muscle groups as possible in a single training session.  In addition to the shorter rest periods, one may see “timed sets” as another variable, where the client performs as many reps as possible in a given time frame.

The overall training effect of metabolic resistance training is a greater metabolic disturbance in the body’s physiology, which in turn can elevate your caloric expenditure for a greater period of time following your workout.  Compared to a traditional strength training session, this style of training can be very effective for body composition changes as well as an increase in one’s work capacity.

All of this sounds pretty great, especially if a client’s goal is fat loss, right?  Well, yes and no.  You see, the problem is that some people just aren’t ready for metabolic resistance training, especially when they first come to see you (or at least not to this degree).  Many people, especially sedentary individuals, have underlying muscle imbalances that can lead to faulty movement patterns.

And, I’ve also found that some people are too weak to even get a proper metabolic training effect.  So, in both of these cases, wouldn’t these people be better served by doing some structural balance work and maybe just some overall strength training?  And, if we wanted to get some conditioning in with client, perhaps it might be better to use a Airdyne, VersaClimber, or Prowler after the strength training program wraps up for the day.  This way, we can still get them a bit of a sweat, but the learning curve is pretty low.  Just a thought.

So, you may be asking yourself, what should you do instead?  Well, you can actually still set up a strength and conditioning program that will improve someone’s body composition without using metabolic resistance training.  In fact, I often use more of a German Body Comp style of training for client’s in the early stages of training, especially for beginners or sedentary individuals.  In other words, I may pair up a lower body exercise (like a split squat) with an upper body exercise (like a flat, neutral grip DB bench press) and allow the client 60 seconds of rest between each set of the two exercises.  Or, I may use agonist-antagonist sequence, like a TRX high row followed by a push-up while employing the same protocol for the rest period.  This type of training program will allow me to get quite a bit of work done while also giving me the flexibility to target a client’s weaknesses, develop better overall strength and stability while also giving me the opportunity to teach them how to move more effectively.

On the other hand, if I just fast tracked them into a more metabolic style of training like I see many trainers doing with their clients, I’m not allowing that client the opportunity to develop the kind of solid fundamental movement patterns that I want them to have.  And, I may be just building strength on top of a dysfunctional foundation, which could lead to a setback further down the road.  So, next time, you sit down to design a new client’s fat loss program, ask yourself the following question:

Is this client ready for Metabolic Resistance Training or do I need to first progress them to that point?

Joe covers more on this, as well as proper periodization models, energy systems training, how to structure and sequence a training session, and a lot more in our new Peak Diet & Training Design Home Study Course. Grab a copy before Friday at midnight and you’ll save $100, get a handful of other goodies and bonuses, and earn 2.0 NSCA CEU credits.

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20 Responses to “Is Metabolic Resistance Training Right for Everyone?”

  1. Josh Lehman Says:

    I’m obviously a little biased here, but what’s so magical about 60 seconds rest for beginers. Your agonist-antagonist sequence sounds alot like EDT so why not let the client dictate what they can do in a set period of time, set a PR Zone and beat it in the next session.

  2. Greg R Says:

    Nice post Eric! I agree especially with the client not being strong enough to get a big metabolic effect. Additionally, I think people tend to cut the intensity down way too much when programming this type of training.

  3. Greg R Says:

    I mean nice post Joe!

  4. Billy DeLaRosa Says:

    Completely agree with this post. Once a client/athlete has mastered certain movements and corrected imbalances, then metabolic training can be employed at the desired intensity.

  5. James Cipriani Says:

    Good read. I actually ordered Peak Diet and Training Summit package. Even after 17 years in the business, I’m always looking to futher my knowledge…for me, for my clients, and for my business. I’m looking forward to delving deep into the material. My only regret is I was a little late pulling the trigger…Joe had some nice bonuses for the first 50 people that I would have liked to have gotten my hands on.

  6. Allison Says:

    So true. Very clear, and detailed.
    Love it.

  7. Jeannie Landis Says:

    Yes! Micro-progression is KEY. Thank you for this well said post -I’m passing it on.


  8. Jeannie Landis Says:

    Eric, what do you use address the “muscle imbalances and faulty movement patterns” of your clients – given that muscle contraction and motor programs are unconscious?

  9. Ryan Says:

    Well said

  10. Darin Cabell Says:

    As someone who personally prefers and enjoys using metabolic resistance in his own workouts, I also know the effects of muscle imbalances (MI) and the setup for disaster if MI is not addressed. I wasn’t ready a few years ago, and paid a price (and I was already a trainer at the time).

    This is a great perspective Eric, and why I appreciate the work you’ve done. Progression isn’t a dirty word, and it actually allows you to truly have the best interests of your clients in mind. In the words of my high school English teacher…”Fine job!”

    Jeannie, I think the DVD “Assess and Correct” by Eric, Bill Hartman, and Mike Robertson would address your question.

  11. Marc Kent Says:

    By inhibiting dominant muscles and activating those that are not firing through reciprocal inhibition you can usually correct faulty muscle firing patterns

  12. David Says:

    Good stuff EC – Chase the Skill, not the Fitness – there used to be a time when Physical development we about chasing a skill and using our strength to serve a greater purpose – and your fitness was better for it – today we are so quick to chase fitness and our skills suffer for it – Jeannie – I hope Eric gets a minute to fire back some ideas on addressing imbalance – he has a weatlh of experience there, starting with Assess and Correct – some cool stuff to check out is afferent and efferent impulses – as well as RNT and repatterning –

    I will pop down again soon E – Anna rocked that tire – let her know!


  13. George Says:

    Excellent post. Most injuries, at least in my experience, have been the result of muscle imbalance and/or “too much too soon” style of training. Taking someone out of their comfort zone is good, but there comes a point where you have to work them smarter not harder. It does no good to injure them in the first couple of sessions. Most will not come back.

  14. Christine Says:


    Agreed – too much of pushing hard, strenuous programs before proper baseline often only leads to more dysfunction, injury and pain.
    I personally like the German Comp style you mentioned – more so to keep my heart rate up a little, with less rest in between though if I am short on time and am wanting more body comp changes

  15. Christine Says:

    PS The video looks like a great way to take out one’s frustrations!

  16. Will Says:

    Everybody is doing it…it must be okay. Gotta go I feel a burning desire to go flip my tire, do a Javorek,then dive through a plate glass window.

  17. Jeannie Landis Says:

    Marc, I’m curious to know how you do this? “By inhibiting dominant muscles and activating those that are not firing through reciprocal inhibition you can usually correct faulty muscle firing patterns.”
    I’m learning about ways to activate muscle tissue (via Muscle Activation Techniques®) but not sure if I understand “inhibiting dominant muscles.”

  18. Jeannie Landis Says:

    Thank you for this…I have A&C and find it very helpful on a ‘global’ level when working with clients. I’ll look more into RNT – what’s a good source?

  19. Mike Says:

    Eric – great information metabolic resistance training… Just started to incorporate into my workouts. Congrats on the book… That is still on my bucket list!


  20. Gabe Says:

    Great post! Now, i must be smarter than i expected( i get to brag for once!) but this is a similar path i take with clients. I use an EDT style routine to teach really deconditioned people proper technique for the basic lifts. Sets of 5(or less if need be) for 10 minutes of 2 exercises. I stress proper execution over more load/volume till they can do it properly in a fatigued state…usually about a month or two later. Plus, i find starting people off on two lifts a day helps them learn faster. Faster they learn, faster the load increases. Never give people more than they can handle. Afetr about 3 months of this type of training, ill usually switch them to a 5×5 routine. Again, great article!

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