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The Best Fat Loss Workout? Metabolic Physique Conditioning

The most frequent questions we get asked here at Metabolic Effect have to do with our training methods. People want to know our thoughts about kettlebells, TRX, endurance training, athletic conditioning, and all our other musings on training. So, I thought I would take a little time to discuss one of the major Metabolic Effect training systems, something we call metabolic physique conditioning (MPC).

Our core belief is that moving more almost always leads to moving better and being healthier. We love all forms of exercise and feel people should cross-train for health as much as possible. However, the fat loss lifestyle is all about optimizing the body’s muscle to fat ratio and using that as a surrogate marker for overall body function and optimal health. While all exercise is healthy, our experience tells us that not all exercise is great at simultaneously building muscle and burning fat. That is why the metabolic physique conditioning system was developed.

Metabolic Physique Conditioning

Most people exercise for one of four reasons: to look good, feel good, function better, and live longer. Unfortunately, some exercise systems excel in one area and fall flat in the other. Time being the number one reason people don’t exercise, has necessitated another approach besides running for miles or hoisting dumbbells and barbells over and over. This realization has spawned an entire movement of exercise that fills in the gaps; hence the functional and metabolic exercise genres.

Metabolic physique conditioning (MPC) takes the best from both the metabolic conditioning world and the physique development world while sprinkling in elements of functional full body exercises. We built this system through observation of what actually worked for fat loss and muscle gain. We also integrated the best of what we gathered from top strength, conditioning, and fat loss research.

Integrating the systems

Metabolic conditioning is wonderful at burning fat, but it continually falls short in the muscle building category. It can help maintain muscle, but rarely helps actually build it. On the flip side, physique training such as that done by natural physique athletes (natural bodybuilders and female figure competitors) is the absolute king of building muscle, but falls flat in offering much in the way of functional attributes and can require extra “cardio” to take off the fat.

The concept of MPC was developed by integrating metabolic conditioning, anaerobic interval training, athletic conditioning drills, and the principle of overload used to build muscle in bodybuilding circles. Metabolic physique conditioning attempts to bridge the gap between all these exercise practices delivering the best of all worlds. The picture below illustrates the physique differences between athletes who are more on the endurance/functional side of the equation to those who are more on the hypertrophy and strength side of the equation. MPC seeks to find common ground between the look good, feel good, function better, and live longer goal sets.

The athletic conditioning continuum

On the left you see an endurance athlete who has less muscle and is mostly aerobically inclined. The next athlete is the famous boxer Muhammad Ali. He represents metabolic conditioning, the perfect mix of speed, power, anaerobic and aerobic endurance. The next athlete is one of the most recognized physique athletes and fitness models in the country, Obi Obadike. You can see his physique is a perfect blend of muscular physique development and lean functionality, He represents what metabolic physique conditioning “looks like”. The next athlete is our team member Gary Leake when he took first place in the collegiate national bodybuilding championship. He represents the epitome of physique development. Finally, we have Mariusz Pudzianowski, the famous World’s Strongest Man competitor. He represents what training for strength and size look like. By glancing quickly at these athletes it is easy to see what MPC is trying to accomplish.

The point of this picture is that, contrary to what many believe, one training system cannot be the best at all things. But, by combining elements of different exercise programs we can certainly create a good balance of fitness and function and develop a lean and muscular physique. For instance, metabolic conditioning is wonderful at burning fat and delivering full body functional exercises, but it is not great at building muscle. In order to get the perfect blend of fitness, function, and physique attributes, you need to add an element of muscle overload to the metabolic conditioning regime. MPC does just this, by marrying the tried and true high-volume, isolated muscle training practices of bodybuilders, with the fast-paced whole-body stimulus provided by metabolic conditioning. The result is a perfect blend of fitness, function and form (as in body shape).

How does it work?

Constructing an MPC workout is fairly easy as long as you remember four major things:

1) Short rests:

Keeping rest periods short means the workout is always aerobic, but anaerobic as well. This the quintessential attribute of metabolic conditioning.

2) Full body exercises:

Using full body exercises that integrate the whole body and involve multiple planes of movement not only add to the metabolic elements of the workout, but also develop a more athletically inclined fitness base.

3) Overload:

To get individual muscles to grow they need to be overloaded in a specific way. The use of multiple sets, reps, and burnout techniques assure a large volume of work and the correct stimulus for muscle growth.

4) Rest-Based Training (RBT):

The RBT method is an essential tool in metabolic physique conditioning workouts. Rest is a tricky parameter in workouts. Most all other programs give structured rest, but this ignores the individual responses in fitness. The idea is to optimize the work effort and rest just long enough to recover. Recent research shows we can do this naturally, and it may actually be more effective than defined rest (1). With RBT, participants “push until they can’t, and then rest until they can”, starting again right where they left off.

Sample MPC workout:

There are many tools and techniques to use in MPC workouts. The following video demonstrates just one. In this sample exercise, a weighted burpee is combined with a push-up, bent-over row, curl and then a press. This series of movements taxes the whole body, is highly metabolic and will provide a unique muscle feel with simultaneous intense cardio exertion. The reps of each part of the chain are then increased by one on each successive repeat of the burpee. This is the physique development/muscle overload piece. Together we call this a “metabolic compact chain”, “compact chain”, or “metabolic chain”. The term “chain” refers to the linking of separate exercises into one seamless movement. The term “compact” refers to the fact that one or more movements in the chain are increased each repeat of the chain. The rep additions can start low and go high (an up chain) or start high and go low (a down chain). Here is how to do it:

A 5-down burpee multi-chain:

1) Do a weighted burpee with 5 push-ups at the bottom, 5 bent-over rows, 5 curls and then 5-presses.

2) On the second repeat of the chain do 4 push-ups at the bottom, 4 bent-over rows, 4 curls and then 4-presses.

3) On third round do three of each, on the fourth round two of each, and on the fifth round just one of each.

4) Then start back over at the top of the chain and work your way back down again.

5) Set your watch, and time the exercise for as long as you want. You can make it one exercise in a workout by going for only 5 or 10 minutes, or you can make the exercise the entire workout by going 30 minutes straight.

6) Take rests when you lose form or reach failure. Rest as long as needed and start the workout again as soon as you are able. Start right where you left off.

1) Edwards, A.M. et al. 2011. Self-pacing in interval training a teleoanticipatory approach. 2011 Jan;48(1):136-41