Menu Close

Workout Durations for Metabolic Conditioning


Workout Durations for Metabolic Conditioning

When designing the workout routines for clients, the one thing that needs to be taken into account is the workout duration. How long should each workout be? On one hand, the workout duration should be long enough that the client sees results. On the other hand, if the workout duration is too long, overtraining will set in, or the intensity of exercise will go down.

One very good way of looking at the overall workout duration is to look at the workout volume. This refers to how many total reps times sets a client is doing. The more reps and sets, the more total volume is being performed. The mission will be to match the volume level they are performing to their fitness level and overall physical capacity.

The following article will look at the details on how to choose the right number of right number of reps, sets and rounds a client is doing while performing their metabolic training sessions.


In order to begin burning fat, all that is really needed is just one set of a single exercise.

A Ball State University researcher found that fat-burning hormones can increase after just a single set of exercises being performed, showing dramatic changes taking place in the body.

Additionally, many studies have looked at the concept of single sets versus multiple sets. For example, a Greek scientist discovered that there was no real difference in results when subjects completed four sets of an exercise versus six sets of those same exercises.

Yet another study also showed that there was no measurable difference when subjects performed a single set versus three sets of an upper-body exercise. It appeared that although doing the extra work will burn a few calories (simply because it is more exercise), the overall results do not dramatically differ.

Using this concept, we can infer that if an individual was going to do multiple sets of an exercise, they would be better off doing those multiple sets of a lower-body exercise as their total calorie burn per minute of exercise would be a lot higher than for upper body exercises. Thus, better results should be seen.

Note that with metabolic training, the total number of sets performed will all depend on the type of workout being done. However, performing anywhere from one and six rounds (or sets) total would be sufficient.

Straight Sets vs Alternating Sets

Looking at the normal ‘bodybuilding style’ workouts or just an everyday workout that the average gym-goer is performing, they typically do one set, followed by rest, followed by another set, before eventually moving on to another exercise.

This technique has been proven to work very well if the goal is to step on stage and compete in a bodybuilding show. By training in this manner, one can focus on each individual body part, making sure that they are bringing it up to the correct size and density that is desired.

With metabolic training, however, there is less concern with getting each muscle group looking as so, but rather, with achieving a great overall desired result. That result? Fat loss and accelerated muscle development.

By using alternating sets, were moving from one exercise to the next without taking a rest, and then repeating the process over again a client can gain a metabolic and cardiovascular advantage, doing more work in less time. This is what allows for the powerful fat-burning benefits that metabolic training has to offer. Many of my more popular circuits have four, six, and 10 exercises being grouped together for this reason.

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in April of 2010, documented that researchers at the Syracuse University discovered that reciprocal supersets resulted in greater energy expenditure both during, as well as after the workout, compared to the traditional set protocol. The researchers noted that excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or the post-workout after-burn was roughly 30% greater with the superset group compared to the straight-set group. This is very powerful in terms of total body fat loss. The more one can increase metabolic rate so they are burning calories at rest 24 hours a day, the faster the results seen.

Likewise, in a study published by the University of Colorado, it was confirmed that using a superset approach to weight lifting appeared to increase energy expenditure above pre-exercise levels for an extended period of time. This was noted by Dr. Christopher Melby, head of the Department of Food Sciences and Human Nutrition.

Yet again, in another study published in the Journal Strength and Conditioning Research in September 2010, Australian and Canadian researchers from the University of Sydney and University of Newfoundland compared supersets with traditional straight set training. Though both experimental groups suffered from fatigue and progressively did less volume over the course of the workout, the superset group did more total exercise volume (reps) than the straight sets group.

Again, supersets prove to be the clear winner for maximum fat-burning and muscle-building in minimal time.

The Power of Super Sets

Let’s explore more into supersets because they are a powerful means to help get clients and athletes the results in a short period of time.

A superset involves two or more sequentially performed exercises that stress two opposing muscles or muscle areas. This means an agonistic and antagonistic muscle such as the biceps and triceps, chest and back, or the quads and hamstrings.

A compound set involves sequentially performing two different exercises for the same muscle group. Both the superset and compound set are sometimes interchanged, but both are time efficient and purposely more demanding than just doing a straight-set alone.

Note that for the purpose of this metabolic conditioning course I use ‘superset’ to mean and include both of these types of set-ups. They are incredibly time-efficient and take advantage of one of the most fundamental principles of exercise science, called Sherrington’s Law of Reciprocal Innervation.

It states that: “When a contraction of a muscle is stimulated, there is a simultaneous inhibition of its antagonist. It is essential for coordinated movement.”

There are two main types of supersets: Antagonists and Agonist.

Antagonist supersets can be broken into three main supersets:

1. True Antagonists: A pairing of 2 non-competitive exercises working opposing muscle groups, like push-ups and rows (chest and back), bicep curls and triceps extensions (biceps and triceps), and squats and hip-hinges (quads and hamstrings).

2. Bilateral Antagonists: A pairing of 2 non-competitive unilateral exercises that train or asymmetrically load one side of the body at a time, like single-leg squats, 1-arm chest presses, or lunges.

3. Proximal Antagonists: A pairing of 2 non-competitive exercises that work distal (distantly located) muscle groups including upper and lower[PG1]  body supersets (squats and push-ups), upper body and core supersets (rows and planks), or lower body and core supersets (lunges and side planks)

Antagonist supersets are best for fat loss, cardiovascular conditioning, peripheral heart action [PG2] and maximum exercise performance

Agonist Supersets are supersets that involve just one focal body part. They are a full-on, total destruction of that muscular area leading to increased ability to resist fatigue, accelerated fat oxidation rates, greater insulin sensitivity, and superior strength and muscle density.

In contrast to the previous type of superset where the goal was to increase recovery by alternating between two opposing muscle groups, with this superset, the client will focus on working just that single area, attacking it from as many angles as possible before it results in complete and utter exhaustion. Agonist supersets are best for targeting specific body parts (such as what’s often done when performing a finisher exercise), as well as for working on muscular endurance and hypertrophy.

Most of metabolic training will use antagonist supersets, but one can definitely find ways to implement agonist supersets.  It is important to consider setting up time and transitions of each exercises so they are as seamless as possible.

Hardcore Metabolic Supersets

If you really want to take your client’s training to a whole new level, you might implement hardcore metabolic supersets. These supersets are designed to take the client’s body up to a new level of toughness by combining multiple exercises together with very little rest periods, all done with maximum intensity.

In programs that I’ve designed, you typically aren’t going to be having clients performing supersets for reps like most programs would have you doing, but instead, your clients will performing them for time[PG3] .

I want to give examples of how to set up specific types of metabolic supersets that are different from what are generally seen. Essentially, the client will perform as many reps of an exercise as possible in a given time frame, and then immediately move onto the next exercise.

This amplifies the benefits that was just noted above. Be aware that in order to reap these benefits however, it’s imperative that rest periods between supersets are kept to five seconds or less. If resting 10-12 seconds, their muscles can recover up to about 40% of what they started with, and if rest is for 15 seconds they would be up to 50%. Five seconds or less rest is the goal.

With this program, four types of supersets are done.

Fat Incinerating Double Supersets (Metabolic Supersets)

The first type of superset to do, is a double superset in that it does
not just have two exercises stacked back to back, but rather, three or
four exercises. This is going to give it extreme fat burning potential, allowing the client to torch fat quickly.

These supersets are also primarily going to focus on compound exercises, which work multiple muscle fibers at once. This allows to maximize strength gain, improve total calorie burn, and increase full-body power. The entire body is put into play with these supersets, hitting muscles from all regions as they are completed.

There are two primary types of fat incinerating double supersets that can be done:

1. Metabolic Supersets

Metabolic supersets will have the client performing an upper body exercise, a lower body exercise, and then a compound exercise. Rest is then is taken before the process is repeated. These can be done with bodyweight exercises or weighted exercises depending on how the protocol is structured.

2. Giant Metabolic Supersets

Next there are the giant metabolic supersets. These will have the client doing four exercises in a row, and will involve a push movement, a pull movement, a press movement, and a core movement.

For these, the client will be doing all upper body exercises plus their core move, or all lower body exercises plus their core move. This allows them to really focus on one half of the body, bringing themselves to a maximum state of fatigue. This gives these supersets supreme endurance boosting capabilities.

Foundation Building Supersets (Lower Body Supersets)

After fat incinerating supersets, there are the foundation building supersets. These are going to involve two exercises and will target strictly the lower body. As the lower body is the foundation upon which every other exercise is performed, it is important that it is as strong as possible.

When the legs are strong, the client is better prepared to perform all other exercises, like barbell presses, rows, push-ups, and so forth. These supersets will not have them working antagonistic muscles, but rather agonistic muscles, meaning two muscles that work in conjunction with each other. This will help you build up more muscular endurance and prolonged strength production.

Defining Supersets (Upper Body Supersets)

In addition to foundation building supersets, there is also defining supersets, which are upper body supersets that will help bring out maximum muscle definition, while encouraging strength production. These supersets will be working two upper body muscles, often pairing an upper body muscle with a core muscle. These supersets are what will carve out the physique, giving the client speed and power, while also helping them look great naked.

Full Body Supersets

Finally, the last type of superset done in this routine is the full-body superset. This superset is going to call into play an upper body exercise along with a lower-body exercise, both of which utilize a compound exercise.

Because compound exercises work for more than one muscle group at once, it is possible to hit nearly all the muscles in the body with this single superset, hence the name, the full-body superset.

Workout Durations

Workout duration can vary depending on goals and also how long the warm-up and cool-down are, along with how many different circuits have been set up within the session. Clients can burn as many calories with a shorter, higher intensity circuit as they would with a longer workout.

A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that only 10 minutes of metabolic circuit training provided the same post-workout calorie burn as the 30-minute version.

Although the longer workout did burn more overall calories, if the intensity is high enough the client can still get just as good, if not better, of a metabolic response with the high-calorie burn.

The Ultimate Workout Duration Window

What’s optimal? How long should clients train to see the absolute best results possible?

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the anabolic muscle-building hormones including testosterone are maximized at the 30-minute mark of the high-intensity workout window.

At the 45-minute window mark, these hormones begin to fall as their catabolic counterparts, namely, cortisol, start to rise and counteract the beneficial effects those anabolic hormones are having. This means that at no point should workouts ever last longer than 30-35 minutes. The closer you approach 45 minutes, the lower the chances are that your client will see results.

It’s been shown that the maximum metabolic benefits will start to occur at about 10-20 minutes into the workout session. Therefore if the goal is to optimize overall fat loss, workouts should be at least this long. Going shorter could short-circuit results.

All things considered, the optimal length for a workout session should be somewhere in the realm of 20-30 minutes. This will allow for the intensity to stay high, the anabolic hormones to be optimized, and for the peak metabolic response to occur.

About 10% of workouts may go higher, into the 40-60 minute range simply to ensure that your clients are becoming fully conditioned to longer exercise durations as well, especially if they are at a more advanced level.

On the other hand, about 10% should be shorter than the 20 minute mark, simply allowing to increase intensity levels to the max, which will then train the body how to work at such a high overall capacity.

Usually any Finishers that will be done should be around the 10-minute mark. These can be easily classified as this type of training.

Getting Started

Remember, variety is key with this training. Never let workout programs become too stagnant or results will elude your clients.

Check out what it takes to start a career in personal fitness training. This is your most affordable and fastest way to become a highly qualified personal trainer.

Our Metabolic Conditioning Coach Course is the #1 training system that will help your clients burn fat, lose weight, build muscle, improve cardio and quickly get into the best shape of their lives.

Is your recertification coming up? Learn more about earning your CEU credits. You can find the full list of CEU courses here.

One of the most popular and fastest ways to get started working with clients while you travel is to coach/train online. You will want to learn more about GymGo. GymGo lets you work with clients and make money in different ways: online, live-streaming virtual training & on-demand training. Use our link to get yourself a free 14-day trial >>>

If you are ready to start your online personal training or coaching business, don’t forget to learn more about our online coaching course. You will also really enjoy this very comprehensive training course called Online Expert Empire.

There is always something exciting about earning a new training or coaching certification and applying that new knowledge of how you train your clients. This also helps you hit the reset button.

NESTA and Spencer Institute coaching programs are open to anyone with a desire to learn and help others. There are no prerequisites.

That’s it for now.

Take action!

NESTA | Spencer Institute

PS: Click here to see many helpful business/career resources

NESTA Pinterest