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All You Need to Know About Metabolic Training

11 Mar 2013

Ignite the moment...If you’ve been training for an obstacle race, you may already be familiar with metabolic training, whether or not you realize it.

Metabolic training is a “work-out-til-you-drop” training technique that comes in handy for building fitness and mental toughness for obstacle racing.

What Is Metabolic Training?

Metabolic training consists of compound exercises, performed with or without weights, that recruit multiple muscle groups and are completed in a circuit-like fashion.

There is little to no rest in between exercises. As you build stamina, you will work up to completing circuits with limited rest in between series of exercises.

For metabolic training circuits, you can alternate strength and cardio-focused exercises, but as you increase stamina, each exercise will test both your strength and cardiovascular fitness. This will also test your mental perseverance to endure a tough challenge.

Metabolic training is best for advanced exercisers and athletes.

Beginners need to master basic strength and core exercises before progressing to more challenging movements like deadlifts, plyometric jumps, burpee variations, and power lifts such as cleans, snatches, jerks, etc.

Where Did Metabolic Training Come From?


Metabolic training gained popularity from CrossFit and bootcamp.

Some of the typical exercises in CrossFit overlap with the staples of metabolic training: burpees, lifts, squats, push-ups, and pull-ups.

Originally, bootcamps consisted mainly of bodyweight exercises that are common to metabolic training. Nowadays, bootcamp is often used in reference to many group circuit training classes, some of which integrate exercises and implements beyond the scope metabolic training.

Rationale for Metabolic Training (Overall Fitness)

What are the benefits of metabolic training on overall fitness?


Metabolic training provides you with a strength and cardio workout in one session, making it a great time-saver.

Boosts Overall Fitness

In addition to engaging both your muscular and respiratory system, metabolic training increases your aerobic capacity.

After a few weeks of metabolic training, you’ll notice you’ll also be able to withstand longer runs and other bouts of sustained cardio.

Burns Calories

Since you’re engaging a lot of muscles at once through a series of exercises, you’ll be expending a lot of energy! This means tons of calorie-burning.

Improves Performance

Beyond it’s impact on obstacle race fitness, metabolic training can boost your aerobic performance for nearly any other endurance sport.

Metabolic Training Rationale for Obstacle Race Training

Big Sur Mud Run 2012

All of the Above Under Overall Fitness

The more fit you are, the more readily you will be able to endure and overcome the challenges of an obstacle race.

CrossFit Overlap

Some of the same elite forces that designed CrossFit also developed obstacle racing.

What better way to prepare for an obstacle race than to incorporate some of the methods OCR creators employed for fitness?

Mental Toughness

Performing one exercise after another simulates the challenges of race day, when you’ll encounter numerous obstacles scattered throughout the course.

Metabolic training can help you build a tough mindset for obstacle racing.

Staple Metabolic Training Exercises

Metabolic training exercises include those requiring your own bodyweight as well as resistance implements like dumbbells and barbells.

You can divide metabolic training exercises into two categories: building blocks (for beginners) and advanced movements.

Building Blocks of Metabolic Training

Shoulder Press
Curls-Shoulder Press
Basic Burpees (no push-ups)


Advanced Metabolic Training Exercises

Once you’ve become adept at the basic metabolic training exercises, you can progress to more complex ones.

Work with a trainer in order to learn the proper form for some of these advanced exercises, namely the power lifts like cleans, jerks, and snatches.

Squat Jumps
Lunge Jumps
Other Plyometric Jumps
Burpee variations (with push-ups, pull-ups, etc.)

*Includes variations.

Metabolic Circuits for Beginners


If you’re new to metabolic training, start with a series of 4-6 exercises followed by 60-90 seconds of rest.

Be sure to master the building blocks before moving on to advanced exercises. As you nail down the basic exercises and learn the advanced ones, you can adjust recovery time in between sets.

Some metabolic protocols drop recovery time to as little as 20 seconds or less in between circuits.

Sample Circuit

4 sets of 6-10 reps each
1. Squats
2. Push-Ups
3. Lunges
4. Pull-Ups
5. Burpees
Rest for 60 seconds
Repeat for 3-5 sets

Closing Thoughts on Metabolic Training

Metabolic training is challenging and can wear you out. But it’s worth the challenge, especially if obstacle course racing is your goal. Build foundation fitness in strength and cardio before attempting metabolic circuits.

Give yourself time to rest from these rigorous workouts if you’re new to them. The last thing you want to do is burn out after learning a new way to improve your fitness and readiness for an obstacle race!

More Articles on Metabolic Training

Can CrossFit Prepare You For an Obstacle Race?

What is Metabolic Training?

Metabolic Training 101

Guide to Metabolic Training

Metabolic Circuit Training – Men’s Fitness


Image credits: match, training room, obstacle race

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