Metabolic Training by Design

In part 1 of this expert interview series, I introduced to you my friend Alwyn Cosgrove, who talked about five ways to do metabolic training.

Today, he shares with us what they use at Results Fitness to monitor calories burned with each workout.

Click here to listen to the call.


Craig:    You guys are big on the heart rate monitors. What do you recommend for clients? What do you recommend for trainers? What do you think is the pinnacle of all if budget is no matter and you just want to know as much about your training and calorie burn as possible?

Alwyn: Everything is limited by a trainer’s budget. The ultimate one is a Polar Team Display.

Every client in the class will get a strap and a coded heart rate monitor, so there is no interference. With the old heart rate monitors, or a cheap one, I can pick up your heart rate if we are standing close together. That was the flaw in that. It was designed for runners who were out there on their own. When you are in a big group class, it becomes a little more difficult.

The concept is that you can set your work and rest periods by what we call design. You are going to rest and go no matter how you feel. We’re going to rest and go on the clock, or by default where you have to rest and you’re not ready to go. There are changes in between them. The method to get across is a phrase I believe I first heard from Chris Frankel of TRX is “by default or by design” in metabolic training.

A simple heart rate monitor can do it.

RPE works okay, but there are some issues with that because how you walk into the session, how tired you are, and the rate of perceived exertion, if I just ask you to go when you’re ready. Some people are ready to go, but the whole session just trends towards aerobics.

I’ve seen guys where their interval training workouts are 50 seconds on and 10 seconds off. They call it, “High Intensity Interval Training.” That might be hard, but it’s just aerobic training. You’re not recovering at a 20% rest period from your work period. This idea came. We just use a simple heart rate monitor with people. The key part is, if you’re doing it with a group, the nice thing with the visual display is that the trainer can see everyone in the room at once because we have it on a projector.

The original idea came from sports teams who were doing it. They could look at everyone’s heart rate on the field on a laptop and see who was training and who had to be subbed out for practices if it was a soccer game. That’s where the original idea came. We have it in our facility for our classes.

Now if you can’t do that, what I would have people do is I would have everyone on a fixed work period where they work for 30 seconds. Then I would look at their heart rate monitor and tell them not to start their next work period until they’ve reached below 70% max heart rate. I would definitely get everyone some heart rate data.

When you are coaching one on one or in small groups you can adjust the rest period. This allows us to dial it in and get it a little more customized. My gut feeling was that it would give me slightly better results, and it gave us a lot better results. I’ll be honest; I can’t really explain why other than we dialed it in. I thought we’d dial it in, and it would be a few percentage points better, but it was significantly better.

Some type of biometric, where you could track the heart rate. The disclaimer is here is, if I had you do a heavy farmer’s walk, or a plank with a weighted vest on, your heart rate will go up, but there is very little mechanical work getting done. The heart rate doesn’t tell the whole story. There is a difference in what we call “contractile floor”, that the heart rate has gone up. If I just put a weight on your chest and let you lie on the ground, there will be a heart rate increase because of a compression effect. If I had you running, there is a different one.

You still have to understand exercise selection. It’s not just heart rate, but it does give us an idea as to whether a passive recovery of doing nothing at all helps you recover faster, or an active recovery where you’re walking around doing some light activity and maybe a stretch helps you recover faster, depending on the exercise.

If you are listening to this, you need to start introducing – maybe with your clients or yourself – some type of real time biometrics stuff where you can measure physiologically what’s going on with people and adjust based on what you’re seeing as it goes on.

Without waiting, we’re going to do 30/60 and then we’re going to do 30/70. We’re going to go basically on that whole idea that we’re individualizing this. If you are really fresh today, you might get a lot of work done and feel good. If you’re tired, your body will tell you. You just make adjustments like that.

Craig:    Very interesting. What about the exercise order when we’re doing this? Are we doing one exercise or four rounds as many times as we can in four minutes with 30 second work and then when the recovery heart rate goes back to a certain level we go again?

Alwyn: In a perfect world, we would do it as a big circuit like that, maybe four or five exercises. The problem with that is, when you have a big class everyone is not moving on at once. You might end up with a jam at exercise four which is kettlebell swings. Two people have caught up, and two people haven’t moved on. When we were doing this, we had to do it with each client got three exercises to do that could be done with one or two pieces of equipment. They almost worked out on their own. Do you know what I mean?

I like circuit format, and it was very popular with our classes. We called it “Metabolic Big Day.” They had a big circuit of ten exercises and everyone would just move around. The problem with this variable work to rest is that it takes you a minute to get your heart rate up and 30 seconds to get it down.

It takes me 30 seconds to get it up and two minutes to get it down, so we don’t all move on at the same time. You can end up with a logistical mess when you do the circuit.

We started doing three or four exercises with one or two pieces of equipment. Start introducing this with two.

For example, let’s do a kettlebell swing, and maybe a burpee. Work for 30 seconds. Go as hard as you can, rest until the heart rate comes down, and then do the second exercise. That way everyone can go at once. They might be going at different times, and doing different exercises, but it allows you to control it a little bit more. A lot of times the physiology makes sense, but the logistics of running a class or training your clients becomes a limiting factor. You will have to make some tweaks there.

Our exercise selection is the same idea we’re doing. You have to understand that not all heart rates are created equally. Holding a heavy plank for 30 seconds will get heart rate there, but there’s not a lot of mechanical work getting done.

You’re not doing a lot of physical work compared to a kettlebell swing, or ropes, or something like that.

Ok folks, let’s take a break here and come back tomorrow with part 3, as we look at three exercises used in these mini workouts.

Craig Ballantyne, CTT
Certified Turbulence Trainer