Metabolic Conditioning Workouts: A Surefire Way To Get Lean Using Short Intense Exercises

It’s not a secret.  You want a body that is lean and ripped.  You want to have a body that burns fat faster than an F-16 burns fuel all while keeping your hard earned muscles.  If you want to get all the benefits in one workout without having to suffer through boring cardio then get ready to try metabolic conditioning workouts.

Burning fat and gaining or keeping muscle is often looked at as an either/ or option.  You are told that you can only train for fat loss or you can train for muscle gain but you can’t combine the two.

Maybe this theory comes from aerobics instructors who swear that sweating to the oldies will leave you weighing as much as a leaf.  Maybe it comes from muscle heads that are afraid that getting on a treadmill will make them lose those 20 pounds they fought so hard for.

Well there is no need to worry.  If you want to keep those muscles all while having muscle definition like never before then you can take advantage by doing metabolic workouts.

What Are Metabolic Exercises?

If you want to look lean there is no other way around it.  You need to elevate your metabolic rate.  If you have a slow metabolism you will have a hard time looking lean.  Speed up your metabolism and you will have no problem keeping your fat levels low.

The best way to increase your metabolism is by doing exercises that elevate your heart rate.  This is the simple explanation.

So you will often hear advice like, “do 20 minutes of any activity and you will increase your metabolism.”

Well, although this is not bad advice, the goal should always be to make our exercises more efficient.  The goal in a metabolic workout is to burn calories and raise our metabolic rate not only during the activity but also long after the workout is over.

If you have done cardio for long periods of time and done ONLY cardio you have noticed by now just how difficult it is to create that lean body.  It is very difficult simply because you are increasing your metabolism for a short period of time.  Once the workout is over, so is the increase in your metabolism.

Strength Training For A Maximum Metabolic Effect

Simply doing strength training is also not enough to boost your metabolism.  Sure you will burn calories and you will gain muscle but you will not look as lean as you would like if you are not doing the right exercises.

For example, picture yourself doing 4 or 5 sets of biceps curls on a day you want to work on arms and then call it a day.

To many this sounds like a good enough workout.  In fact, I see it often, people going to the gym and doing exercises like triceps extensions, biceps curls, leg extensions or some other single joint movement.  However, if you want to have an athletic body you need to do more exercises that are compound movements and use various muscle groups.

When it comes to metabolic training, isolation exercises like biceps curls are not the types of exercises you will be doing.

Typical exercises that are compound movements include:

  • Bench Presses
  • Squats and its variations
  • Deadlifts
  • Leg Presses
  • Power Clean
  • Clean & Jerk
  • Snatch
  • Hang Pull
  • Hang High Pull
  • Hang Clean & Press
  • Lat Pull Downs

You can also do these exercises in their variations using kettlebells.

Bodyweight exercises that are compound movements include:

The Difference Between Compound Exercises And Metabolic Exercises

As I mentioned earlier, metabolic workouts will consist of using compound movements.  However, simply using compound movements does not make an exercise or a workout metabolic.  A workout becomes metabolic when the level of intensity is high.

Ever done a workout and you completed one set, then another with long rest periods?  You noticed that your heart rate increased for a short period of time but after a period of rest your heart rate came back to normal.  This type of workout lacked the metabolic element.

If you want to increase the intensity of a workout then one of the best ways is by making your rest periods short.

Metabolic Conditioning Training:  Two Perfect Approaches

There are various ways to increase your intensity in a workout.  Like I said above, the way you are going to elevate your heart rate is by taking shorter rest periods.  Here are 2 ways you can easily decrease your rest time in your next period

Circuit Training (First Approach)

This is possibly the easiest and perhaps classic method of using strength training with very little rest.  In circuit training you will use mostly compound movements and move from one exercise to the next.  A circuit is simply a series of exercises performed on after another until you reach the last exercise in the series.  Once you finish the circuit, you rest for one minute and do the circuit again in the same sequence.

For maximum effect a circuit should switch between an upper body exercise to a lower body exercise each time.  The rest time between the exercises should be very minimal anywhere between 0 seconds and 15 seconds.  In other words, the only rest period you should have is between the time you move from one exercise to the next.

Here is an example of a circuit training workout:

  • Bench Press (10-12 reps)
  • Squats (10-12 reps)
  • Pull Ups (10-12 reps)
  • Lunges (10-12 reps)
  • Shoulder Presses (10-12 reps)
  • Bodyweight Jump Squats (10-12 reps)

Move from one exercise to the next and once you complete the last exercise it is time to rest for one minute.  Repeat one or two more times.

This is a good way to work out if you are a beginner or really focused on burning fat.  You can combine this in a way that is extremely effective if you want to get lean but we will get to this technique a bit later.

Barbell Complexes (Second Approach)

A workout that also fits in the metabolic training category and is for intermediate and advance level individuals is a barbell complex workout.  This type of workout is a personal favorite of mine and is definitely more intense than circuit training.

In a barbell complex the exercises are done continuously without any rest between exercises.  The exercises are done with a barbell and you do not put down the barbell as you move from one exercise to the next.

  • Deadlift
  • Push Press
  • Squats
  • Hang Clean
  • Front Squat
  • Romanian Dead Lift

Do 6 to 8 repetitions for 4 sets

Once you complete the series outlined above rest for one minute and start again.

One series equals 1 set.

There are various ways of doing barbell complexes and many different combination of exercises you can do.  Each complex should be done using only compound movements.  Also, make sure that the weight is light as this is very difficult to perform from beginning to end.

Metabolic Conditioning: Boost Your Fat Burning While Keeping Your Muscle

So far we have looked at using metabolic workouts using either circuit training or barbell complexes.  Both types of workouts are very effective and are done without a cardio type exercise.

If you want to push your metabolic workouts with a focus on conditioning, then one way to do this is by throwing in some cardio type exercises in between your strength training exercises.

Rather than rest between exercises you can replace your rest periods with a cardio type exercise like the following:

  • Jump Rope
  • Shadow Boxing
  • Burpees
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Sprints
  • Running in place
  • Box Jumps

For example, let’s say you want to work on your upper body today.  You can split up a workout in the following way.

  • Bench Press (3 sets of 6 to 8 reps)
  • Jump Rope (30 seconds between each set)
  • Pull Ups or Chin Ups (3 sets of 8 to 10 reps)
  • Jump Rope (30 seconds between each set)
  • Military Press (3 sets of 6 to 8 reps)
  • Jump Rope (30 seconds between each set)

You won’t be resting between sets and instead you will be performing some form of activity to keep your heart rate elevated throughout the workout.

You can also switch the jump rope for any other type of cardio exercise like those mentioned above.

Also, rather than doing just a jump rope exercise you can switch exercises each set.  You can do jump ropes one set, jumping jacks the next, burpees the following set and so on.

You can also do a metabolic workout using dumbbells.  Just like a barbell complex simply do a series of compound exercises using just a dumbbell.

Here is Brad Gouthro of “Awaken The Abs Within” showing a complex using dumbbells.

Metabolic Cardio- An Advanced Way To Finish Off A Workout

Earlier I had discussed circuit training as a great way to make your workouts metabolic.  Although a strength training workout alone can take you a long way towards getting a lean body if you increase the intensity the right way, there is a way to make it even more effective.  By simply adding a twist to your typical cardio sessions you can make your workouts even more effective than ever before.

Your average cardio session usually consists of getting on a treadmill or going on a jog for 20 to 30 minutes.  In the past I have talked about the advantages of doing burst training and intervals to get an athletic body.

Well, there is a way to take your interval training, which is metabolic, to more advanced levels.

Interval training is broken up into bursts of brief levels of activity followed by short rest periods.  The intervals are done repeatedly for a period of time usually in the range of 10 to 20 minutes.  Interval training can be done on any cardio equipment: stationary bicycle, bicycle, treadmill, track, literally any type of cardio machine or even outdoors.

There are various ways to break up the intervals and rest periods.  Ideally you do not want to have long rest periods but they can be broken up in intervals of either 1:1, 1: 1.5 or 1:2

For example:

1:1 ratio

30 seconds active/ 30 seconds rest

1 minute active/ 1 minute rest

1: 1.5 ratios

30 seconds active/ 45 seconds rest

1 minute active/ 1 ½ minute rest

1: 2 ratios

30 seconds active/ 1 minute rest

1 minute active/ 2 minute rest

These are some examples of how interval training can be broken up when you do cardio.

Once you complete your intervals lasting anywhere between 10 minutes and 20 minutes then move into some bodyweight movements like those mentioned in the metabolic conditioning portion of this article.  These bodyweight exercises can be done for the next 5 to 10 minutes and should be done for bursts of 30 seconds of activity followed by rest periods of 30- 60 seconds.

Here is an example:

  • Warm up for 5 minutes with a light jog
  • Sprint for 60 seconds
  • Rest for 60 seconds
  • Sprint for 60 seconds
  • Rest for 60 seconds

Repeat this sequence until you reach the 20th minute.  So that is a 5 minute warm up followed by 15 minutes of intervals.

Follow up your intervals with either burpees, jump rope, jumping jacks, box jumps or bodyweight jump squats.


After completing your intervals you do the following.

  • 10 Bodyweight Jump Squats
  • Rest for 30 to 60 seconds

Repeat until you have done 4 to 5 sets of jump squats

This will take about 5 minutes.

Total time including intervals and bodyweight jump squats 25 minutes

You can do the same using a jump rope, burpees or jumping jacks depending on your preference.

This type of cardio training can be done on days you are not doing weights or on the same day.  If you are doing circuit training or any other form of strength training you can easily include this at the end as cardio to get a great metabolic effect.

Having a lean body while keeping your hard earned muscle is not as difficult as you may think.  By including metabolic conditioning workouts you can burn some fat while keeping and even gaining muscle.


  1. Hey Sam! 🙂

    As always you totally over deliver man! 🙂

    I like your choice of pics, pretty neat and rather special…

    And I particularly like your explanation of the rest:work ratios, that’s one great way to ensure continuous improvement/progression! 🙂


    • Sam Munoz says:

      Hey Mark,
      I try to give as much info to the readers so that they may get as much as possible in their workouts.
      The rest work ratios are something I think is usually left out of workout info but is necessary in order to make gains and make progress.


  2. Great overview of metabolic conditioning workouts. Certainly a wealth of information. I especially like the tips on metabolic cardio finished off with bodyweight exercises.

    • Sam Munoz says:

      Hey Dave,
      I had to throw in metabolic cardio. For a long time I used these to get lean. It works!

  3. Sam,

    Wow, what a comprehensive article. I will definitely be incorporating some of the examples in my training. Another option I like is to complete a set of finishers after my HIIT component, using the tabata protocol. I always walk away from my training session, with pretty much an empty fuel tank.


    • Sam Munoz says:

      Hey Niko,
      Yeah definitely not easy to throw in some finishers but the effort is worth it when you see the results.