Creating a Metabolic Workout
When creating a metabolic training program, exercise selection is going to be a key part of the overall programming process. To make informed exercise selections, one must understand the nature of the various types of exercises, the movement and muscular requirements, the level of the clients, the equipment available, the timing, and well as a few other factors that will play a role in this decision.
Exercise Selection Criteria
Although there are thousands of exercises to select from when designing a metabolic workout, one must think about the following criteria before choosing an exercise:
Goals of the Session For Your Client/Athlete
For example, The exercises selected for a metabolic workout that focuses on conditioning for a particular sport need to be similar to the activities of that sport in their body and limb movement patterns, joint ranges of motion, and muscular involvement. Exercises should create a muscular balance and mobility to reduce risks of injury of the athlete. By creating a metabolic training program that does this, you are following sport-specific training philosophies.
Who are You Training?
Exercise selection largely depends on who is being trained. A personal trainer training their client is going to be much different than a coach training an athlete.
One client is more about aesthetics and health while the other is more focused on improving performance through strength and conditioning. Having a full understanding of this, the trainer must think about weaknesses or strengths that the client wants to develop or improve upon.
Limitations of Your Client
You also have to think about limitations and the functional level of your client, class or athlete. A beginner may need to focus on more basic movements and exercises, while one who is advanced can add more complex movements and exercises. If a particular client has not the best biomechanics, this may also mean that they need to avoid certain exercises more than others.
Likewise, if a client has a limited range of motion, this too will impact the exercise selection to be used. Never try and force a client into doing an exercise that they cannot maintain proper form.
Is there an injury present? Are there weaknesses that need to be avoided or work on? Are there limitations on the client? Do they have muscle imbalances? Answering these questions will help the trainer better determine which exercises should be performed.
Exercise Technique and Experience
If there is any question as to whether the client or athlete can perform an exercise with proper technique, this will determine the exercises to choose (or, may also factor into the total amount of time needed to teach that technique sufficiently for the client to use it in the workout).
If a full class of individuals have never performed a kettlebell swing, the trainer must realize that for a long period of the session would be dedicated to teaching the kettlebell swing to ensure they feel comfortable and can master the technique in a high-intensity metabolic workout.
How Much Time Do You Have to Train?
Other criteria to take into account is how much time has been scheduled for the session. This ties with goals, because if there is a need to work on a specific skill and only limited time, the exercise selection will be crucial. Clients will need to have a firm understanding of every exercise that they will be required to do.
Availability of Equipment
A boot camp trainer with an outdoor class tends to have exercises towards bodyweight only or a circuit with a circuit of specific exercises that will help reach the session goal. This avoids the need to transport equipment to the field or request clients to bring their own set of dumbbells, resistance bands, etc.
There are a great many factors that contribute to determining which exercise will be chosen to use in any given training session. It is not as simple as choosing which exercise the trainer thinks is most effective. The trainer needs to go deeper and look at which exercises are going to be the most effective for the specific clients being worked with.
Types of Exercises
Although there are hundreds of exercises to select from when creating a metabolic workout or program, most involve muscle groups or body parts, but that can also fall into movement-based categories or be related to an athlete’s sport.
The main categories/types of exercises to consider are:
- Body Part vs Movement Patterns
- Single Joint vs Multi-Joint
- Isolation vs Compound
- Sports Specific vs Functional Activities
These are self-explanatory exercises, but this is where one or more muscles have recruited that target a specific body part (chest, shoulder, biceps, quads, triceps, back, calves). They are usually used for hypertrophy or more bodybuilding style workouts, however, a metabolic training program may use body part exercises to target a body part as a finisher, to work on a weakness or fix any muscle imbalances.
These are also great when creating a full metabolic workout where the need is to train the entire body by breaking up the circuit into one body part at a time.
Movement pattern exercises are based on specific movements rather than one body part. This includes motions such as pushing, pulling, hip hinging, knee dominant movements, rotations, stability, and explosiveness.
Exercises such as a kettlebell swing that is a hip hinging movement, will work on the posterior chain as opposed to a single body part or an inverted row which is a pulling movement and focused on one single muscle.
Primal movements can also be considered here. These include crawling and animal flow. Lastly, mobility work would also fit into this category, as well.
Single joint exercises are movements that involve just one primary joint and are often considered assistance exercises because they recruit smaller muscle areas. These areas may be the upper arm, calf, neck, forearm, abs, or lower back. They are often done more as a means to gain a little more rest in between bigger movements in a workout program.
When an exercise recruits two or more primary joints, they are referred to as multi-joint exercises. These are considered core exercises, as they are intense to do and work multiple muscles at once. They hit the big muscles like the chest, legs, shoulders, and back. These are the exercises that tend to give the best ‘bang for your buck’ in terms of helping to burn a lot of calories in a minimal amount of time.
Isolation exercises are those that most closely tie into just a single joint and a single muscle. These moves are primarily used to work on proper technique and load one muscle with an exact amount of weight. Usually, these exercises are used as secondary exercises and utilized more to fatigue a muscle and bring up a lagging body part. These are similar to the single joint exercises described above, and the names can often be used interchangeably.
Compound exercises are sometimes also referred to as multi-joint exercises. These are movements that utilize one or more muscle groups and recruit several smaller muscle fibers as secondary movers. Compound exercises are the ones that will primarily make up the metabolic training routine for clients.
Effectively training to gain muscle mass means the routine should largely consist of compound movements, which are widely considered and research-proven to be more effective muscle builders because they recruit greater amounts of muscle fibers overall, allowing for more weight to be lifted. Furthermore, this larger muscle-recruitment positively impacts how anabolic hormones (muscle-building hormones) respond to training.
Post-exertion hormonal elevations correlate with how much muscle mass was involved in the exercise performed. As shown in the study “The importance of physiologically elevated hormone levels”, in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, and the study “Acute hormonal responses in elite junior weightlifters”, in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, compound exercises produce greater increases in growth hormone and testosterone levels than isolation exercises. As commented earlier, GH (growth hormone) and testosterone are potent muscle-building hormones. Therefore, they significantly help increase the overall success of the client.
Sport-specific movements are movements that are going to be the most similar to the sport that an athlete participates in. The main goal with these types of exercises is to have a greater transfer of benefits to the sport in question, improving athletic performance.
This falls in line with the SAID principle, which stands for specific adaptation to imposed demands. You’ll most often use these exercises when working with athletes.
Functional fitness exercises train muscles to help individuals do everyday activities safely and efficiently. They help the muscles learn to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements that might be done at home, at work, or in sports. While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also emphasize core stability.
The idea behind functional training is that each exercise should be more natural and carry over into daily life. Functional training exercises tend to activate more muscles and therefore consume more energy. These multidimensional exercises also tend to improve natural movement skills and enhance general mobility. They are excellent additions to any client’s program, especially an average client looking to improve their overall general fitness level.
Exercise Selection Breakdown
Generally, when creating a metabolic workout program, the preferred breakdown is:
- 65% Multi-Joint, Compound Exercises that are movement-based
- 30% – Single Joint, Isolation Exercisers that are body part based
- 5% – Sports Specific, Functional
NOTE: This is just a generalization. Obviously, depending on the goals of the particular client and a variety of other factors, these will dictate what is composed in an exercise selection breakdown.
Exercise Selection Protocols and Factors
When creating a metabolic workout, there are some factors and protocols that will ensure an effective session. Especially true in a group setting or when teaching as a guest trainer or coach at a gym that is not familiar.
The following is a list of considerations to be factored into the creation of a workout.
Anytime and Anywhere
First, consider whether the exercises can be done anytime and anywhere, or is there a need for specific equipment to be used. This may pose limitations depending on where the workout is being conducted. This is one reason why bodyweight circuits are so beneficial. These can generally perform these anywhere and at any time, even with limited space. They are the most versatile type of workout around.
What type of skill level is necessary to perform these workouts? Do the clients need to have a high skill level or will it be necessary to spend a length of time teaching the correct form? The easier it is for clients to perform the exercises right away, the better the overall workout session will generally be.
Note that what is considered ‘easy to perform’ will vary based on the individual in question.
If clients have physical limitations or are older, it would be best to focus on keeping the exercise selection as low impact as possible. This will help avoid injury and aid to alleviate any joint-related pain they may already be experiencing.
There is a time and a place to use high-intensity activities, but this must be thought through carefully and then decide when that best time is. When using high-intensity activities, these should be very carefully planned out.
Easy to Progress and Regress
It is usually most beneficial to focus on exercises that can be built upon. Once clients become more developed, they can then easily transition into more advanced workout protocols.
Start off with basic movements and then increase the difficulty as the client progress, and this will be a way to add an extra challenge to each session. This also allows the trainer to easily track the success of their clients. If the exercise which the client starts performing is too challenging, it is always good if they are able to revert to an easier exercise that may be more in line with their skill level.
Using timed intervals makes workout programming easier to add natural progression increases or decreases, as well. If the client becomes overly fatigued after 60 seconds for example, then consider dropping the intervals to 45 seconds. Or, if they are easily doing the program, the trainer might increase the intervals or transition to a harder more challenging exercise.
Another method for a client who is struggling to do the full 60-second interval is to have them go from a more challenging exercise to an easier one, once they hit that point of fatigue. This way, they can continue to exercise until the 60 second time period is up.
Self-Limiting Exercises and Auto Correcting
Self-limiting exercise is any form of exercise that makes the client think and feel more connected to the exercise and movement pattern being used. These exercises are going to create greater overall engagement and awareness throughout the workout session. This can be a good tool to use when clients tend to be just going through the motions.
These exercises are not necessarily easy to do and they cannot just hop onto a machine and perform them. They take time and mastery in order to perform correctly.
This form of exercise is great for preventing clients from ‘zoning out’ during their sessions. This can often be attributed to lower overall performance and decreased results. It’s important that clients are focusing in on “giving it their all” during each session. This form of exercise will help make that happen.
When doing self-limiting exercises, the client will be heavily focusing on their breathing, grip strength, balance, posture, as well as coordination. When used correctly, these exercises can be great for improving poor movement patterns and improving functional capability.
Examples of exercises that follow along with functional movement quality include running barefoot, climbing activities, medicine ball throws, half-kneeling, and tall-kneeling Turkish get-ups.
Now that having a better idea of some of the factors that go into determining exercise selection, let’s review the movement patterns which should be known.
Basic Movement Patterns
Hip hinge movements primarily target the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors). They involve flexion, extension, rotation, adduction, and abduction of the hip.
When in a standing position or when the upper body is involved, the torso needs to be bent forward more than 45 degrees for it to be considered a hip hinge movement.
Examples of these exercises include Deadlifts, RDL’s, KB Swings, and Bridging Variations.
Knee dominant exercises primarily target the quads, calves and involves flexion and extension in the knees and ankles. When standing or when the upper body is involved, the torso needs to be upright and bent no more forward than a 45-degree angle.
Examples of knee dominant exercises include squat variations, lunge variations, and calf raises.
When looking at push exercises, there are horizontal or vertical push movements.
Upper body push movements target the anterior, medial shoulders, chest, anterior core, and triceps.
Horizontal upper body push will shift the emphasis to the anterior shoulders and chest muscles such as when performing push-up variations, chest presses variations, and front raises.
Vertical upper body push exercises put emphasis on the medial shoulders, vertical push-ups, overhead pressing, and lateral raises.
Integrated pushing movements work the hips, trunk, and shoulders and involve the same muscles as in the upper body push. This includes the push press, 1 arm rotational chest press, along with medicine ball throws.
Pull movements can be both vertical and horizontal. Pull movements, in general, will target the rear and posterior shoulders, the scapular muscles, the lats, the traps, as well as the biceps and forearms.
Horizontal pull exercises include the many row variations, scapular raises and reverse-fly’s. On the other hand, vertical pull exercises involve pull-ups, pull-downs, shrugs, and bicep curl variations.
Integrated pulling exercises simultaneously work the hips, trunk, shoulders and also involve the same muscles as with upper body pulling. Examples here include high pulls, cleans, and snatches.
Core exercises are primarily focused on stabilization and rotational movements.
Stabilization exercises predominantly target the spinal cord, stabilizers, abs, obliques, and lower back muscles. The focus here is on “anti-movement” or preventing motion of the lumbar spine. When planning programs, the objective is to progress from static to dynamic stabilizations.
Here are some of the types of stabilization exercises to be considered:
These moves train the core to stabilize in the sagittal plane to prevent hyperextension of the lumbar region. Example exercises include planks, push-ups, and rollouts.
2. Anti-Lateral Flexion
These moves train the core to stabilize in the fontal plan (side to side) movement to prevent lateral flexion of the lumbar spine. Example exercises include side planks, get ups, and carries.
These moves train the core to stabilize in the traverse (rotational) movement to prevent rotation of the lumbar spine. Examples of exercises include T-push-ups, 1 Arm chest press, and Anti-Rotational Holds.
These movements teach how to rotate at the hips without rotating the lower back. Rotational benefits are achieved from rotational chops and med ball rotations.
5. Hip Flexion
These movements teach how to flex at the hips without flexing the lower back. Examples here include hanging leg raises and the hip bridge.
When it comes to cardio training for metabolic workout programs, the goal is to be doing fast explosive movements that enable the client to establish a high target heart rate, while also stimulating the fast-twitch muscle fibers. With this, the client not only gets the best conditioning response but also burns the most calories possible in a short period of time.
Ideally, the focus on cardio exercises should be those that will train power and elasticity by engaging the stretch reflex in the muscle connective tissues. This may mean performing exercises like jumping jack variations, tuck jumps, stationary running, low box cardio drills, or side-to-side lateral movements.
Which of these chosen will heavily depend upon the client and how imperative it is that they have low impact activities. Keep that in mind as program planning is developed.
Full Body /Burpees
If there’s one exercise I feel should be in every single workout program (as long as the client is able to!), burpees are it. These will simultaneously work the upper body, lower body, as well as the core, all at once.
If these are performed a little slower with more control than traditional cardio exercises, the client will get more “bang for their buck” and receive excellent muscle-strengthening benefits, as well.
There are plenty of burpee variations, thrusters, the clean and press, as well as bodybuilder burpees that can be included in the workout program. These are all excellent for targeting all the main muscles in the body.
Finally, there are some cardio movements that may not necessarily belong in with the above-noted exercise, but should not be discounted. All of these exercises will yield excellent training results and can help to break up boredom and monotony with a workout program plan.
- battle rope training
- animal flow
- sledgehammer work
- tire flips
- sled push/pulls
- treadmill work
- yoke machine exercises
Don’t forget to add these in whenever the equipment is available.
Exercise order refers to the sequence of exercises performed during a training or workout session. Although there are many ways to arrange exercises, decisions should be based on how one exercise affects the quality of effort or the technique of the other exercises. Usually, exercises are arranged so that the client’s maximal efforts are available to complete the exercise with proper technique. This is always a number one focus.
Here are some common methods of ordering exercises when creating a metabolic circuit.
Power/Compound Movements, Core and Assistance Exercises
When including all of these movements in one workout protocol, it is recommended to always start with the power or compound movements such as the snatch, cleans, and so forth. Do these first before fatigue sets in. Follow these with less powerful exercises, and then follow those with assistance work.
There are many studies that confirm that multi-joint exercises should be first in an exercise protocol, the do single-joint exercises to follow. This ensures optimal performance on both and prevents sacrificing balance and stability.
Remember that power exercises require the most skill and concentration, and are most affected by fatigue. Someone who is fatigued is more prone to using poor technique and is at a higher risk of injury, thus it is imperative to power exercises are performed first in the workout program.
Upper Body and Lower Body Exercises
Another way to arrange exercises is by the upper and lower body. With this set-up, the client/athlete will alternate between an upper-body move with a lower-body move so that one half of the body can rest, while the other half trains. This helps to ensure that the client is always feeling as fresh as possible whenever they begin their lift.
This is a great protocol to use for untrained clients who many
struggle to complete two or three exercises for just the upper or the
lower body all in a row.
It’s also a good method to perform metabolic circuits that target maximum fat burning, as there is very little rest time required between exercises. The client can go straight from a lower body exercise to an upper body exercise without trouble. In addition to burning calories, it will also maximally keep the client’s heart rate up, giving them optimal cardiovascular benefits.
Alternating Push-Pull Exercises
The next way to set up a workout program is to alternate between push and pulling exercises. Because each of these exercise varieties is going to utilize a different set of muscle groups, one set of muscles will work while the other recovers. This is a similar concept as alternating upper and lower body exercises, however is slightly more advance as the client will be targeting all the upper body. This is also an ideal technique for those who are either new to exercise, or who are returning after a layoff or injury.
Super Sets and Compound Sets
Finally, the last way that to arrange exercises is by using supersets or compound sets.
Doing this will pair one set of exercises together with little or no rest between them. If pairing opposing muscle groups together (antagonist and agonist), this is a superset. If performing two muscle groups working the same muscle together, then they are doing a compound set.
Both of these are more advanced and will actually bring a muscle to a final state of fatigue. Therefore good for those clients who have some experience.
Note that if someone is very experienced, a trainer may consider performing more than one exercise after another in this sequence – stacking three or even four movements together.
This is the basic information on how to construct a metabolic conditioning workout. As can be seen, exercise selection and exercise order does demand careful thought and planning. As a trainer, one needs to take into account many different factors, so that the most effective workout program possible for clients is designed.
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