Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Metabolic Acceleration Training

Guest Blog from Alwyn Cosgrove, CSCS - owner of Results Fitness (Newhall, CA)

I’m a huge believer in using the “alternating set” system when training. For time management reasons, I tend to do exercise one for a set, rest 60 seconds or so, do exercise two for a set, rest 60 seconds or so, and continue. This allows me to increase work density while still getting “true” rest.

In other words, I perform a set of squats, rest 60 seconds, perform a set of push-ups, rest 60 seconds, and repeat. So in effect, I’ve almost tripled the rest period between squat sets (60 seconds plus the time taken for push-ups plus 60 seconds) as opposed to using a straight set system. And for fat loss training, it’s unparalleled.

However, the biggest problem or complaint I get from clients who use commercial facilities is that it’s really hard for them to tie up two pieces of gym equipment at peak hours. I have my own facility, but I realize this can be a real problem elsewhere. So I started experimenting with a few things—doing dumbbell lunges and push-ups for example or step-ups and dumbbell bench presses where I could use one set of dumbbells and one piece of equipment.

It was an okay compromise, but it started to somewhat limit my exercise selection. And to be honest, it still had the issue of people working in and possibly disrupting your rest periods.

So I went a step further. What if I created a fat loss or conditioning program based around one piece of equipment where you stayed in the same spot, using the same load for the entire duration. So I tried it. At first it was awkward, but after reading Istvan Javorek’s work and talking with über strength coach, Robert Dos Remedios, I started to implement different variations of combination lifting.

I just hoped that it would work as well as alternating sets for fat loss and conditioning or at least close enough that it wasn’t too much of a tradeoff. As it turns out, it worked better! In fact, it worked so well that it became a cornerstone of my conditioning programs with several athletes.

Part two

Part two of the evolution of our fat loss programs came shortly after. I have always recommended interval training as a superior form of fat loss over steady state cardio. Interval training is essentially periods of hard work alternated with easier periods of work using a cardio exercise.

The problem—running a mile doing intervals involves about 1500 repetitions. For someone looking to cut body fat, and hit total body weight training two to three times a week, that is a lot of extra volume and potential joint stress. So I started thinking. Interval training is similar to weight training in that it involves sets (and reps) followed by a rest period (albeit active). What if I used a lighter version of traditional strength training and created metabolic circuits?

Timed sets

This is the simplest variation of metabolic work. Pick a load that is about 80% of your 10RM. Perform as many reps as possible at a constant tempo for a period of time (e.g. 60 seconds) and try to perform as many repetitions with as good form as possible. Rest for 15–30 seconds and perform another exercise.

Example #1

  • Barbell reverse lunge, left leg, 60 seconds
  • Rest 15–30 seconds
  • Barbell reverse lunge, right leg, 60 seconds
  • Rest 15–30 seconds
  • Barbell push press, 60 seconds
  • Rest 15–30 seconds

Repeat three times for a 12-minute routine.

Example #2

  • Kettlebell swings, 30 seconds
  • Rest 15 seconds
  • Push-ups/burpees, 30 seconds
  • Rest 15 seconds
  • Prowler push, 30 seconds
  • Rest 15 seconds

Repeat for five rounds for a 12-minute finisher

Metabolic density training

This is a modified version of 'Escalating Density Training (EDT)' as popularized by Charles Staley. However, Charles recommends two exercises performed as a superset for 15 minutes. In this case, we are going to use three exercises and work for ten minutes.

Example #1

  • Dumbbell bench press
  • Alternating lunges
  • Swiss ball crunch

In this method, select a load that will allow 10–12 reps and perform sets of 6–8. There is no rest between exercises. Work continuously for ten minutes moving from one exercise to the next. The alternate version is to perform five rounds of 6–8 reps of each as fast as possible.


Be warned, these are pretty grueling. Perform the complexes at the beginning of your workout when you’re fresh. They’ll elevate your metabolism beyond anything you’ve ever experienced before. The most frequently asked question about complexes is how much load to use. Remember, it’s a metabolic stimulus, not a strength or hypertrophy stimulus so be conservative. Now, don’t go too light either. A good “Cosgrove rule of thumb” is that if you’re not questioning why in the hell you’re doing these exercises or convincing yourself that twice around is enough, you’re not going heavy enough.
Let’s get into it.

Perform each complex once per week for four training sessions per week. Use the following progression:

  • Week one: 4 sets of 5 reps of each, 90 seconds rest
  • Week two: 5 sets of 5 reps of each, 75 seconds rest
  • Week three: 5 sets of 6 reps of each, 60 seconds rest
  • Week four: 6 sets of 6 reps of each, 45 seconds rest.

Then puke!

Complex A

  • Bent over barbell row
  • Hang clean
  • Front squat and push press hybrid
  • Jump squat (bar on back)
  • Good morning

Complex B

  • Romanian deadlift
  • Hang clean and front squat and push press (combination lift, perform one rep of each in series)
  • Reverse lunge (alternate legs)

Complex C

  • Deadlift
  • High pull (onto toes)
  • Squat clean (clean the bar from the hang and then drop into a full squat on the catch)
  • Military press (strict)
  • Jump lunges (switch legs)

Insert my evil laugh here!

Complex D

  • Jump squat
  • Squat
  • Squat and hold for 10 seconds
  • Military press
  • Push press
  • Squat and press (combination lift, perform one rep of each in series)

Note: Try to work all exercises at a speed of 1–2 reps per second.


A Tabata protocol is a very high intensity anaerobic interval program that involved eight rounds of 20 second work periods at 170% of your VO2 max with a negative recovery period of 10 seconds. The best way to use these with strength training exercises is to alternate one upper body with one lower body exercise. The second progression we used is to vary the work to rest ratio.

  • Beginner: 10 seconds work, 20 seconds recovery
  • Intermediate: 15 seconds work, 15 seconds recover
  • Advanced: 20 seconds work, 10 seconds recovery

A great pairing is squat jumps and running push-ups (a single push-up and two reps of mountain climbers in alternating fashion) in pairs.

Medley conditioning

This is similar to the other methods in that we are working for time, but we will use 15 seconds on and 15 seconds off and perform multiple rounds with different pieces of equipment. For example, an MMA fighter competing in five-minute rounds may use four exercises in a circuit and perform multiple rounds until the five-minute period is up.

Example #1

  • 15 seconds, Prowler push
  • 15 seconds, rest
  • 15 seconds, squat jump
  • 15 seconds, rest
  • 15 seconds, sledgehammer or medicine ball chops
  • 15 seconds, rest
  • 15 seconds, kettlebell swing
  • 15 seconds, rest

Keep working through the medley until the five-minute period is up


Finishers are just short body weight or single piece of equipment only, 3–5 minute routines at the end of each workout.


  • 3 push-ups, 1 tuck jump
  • 6 push-ups, 2 tuck jump
  • 9 push-ups, 3 tuck jumps
  • 12 push-ups, 4 tuck jumps
  • 15 push-ups, 5 tuck jumps

Continue to add three push-ups and one tuck jump to each set until you miss a rep. Then climb back down the ladder.

Leg Matrix:

  • 24 squats
  • 12 lunges each leg (alternating)
  • 12 lunge jumps each leg (alternating)
  • 24 squat jumps

If you can complete this in under 90 seconds, do two rounds with no rest.

Squat series:

  1. 20-second squat jump
  2. 20-second squat
  3. 20-second isometric squat

Repeat for three rounds with no rest


  • Select two exercises (e.g. kettlebell swing and burpees or squat jumps and plyometric push-ups).
  • Perform 10 reps of each, nine reps of each, eight reps of each and so on. Each week start with one set of one more rep than your top set (e.g. 11 reps, 10 reps, 9 reps, etc.).

A final warning

This isn’t for the faint hearted or de-conditioned!! They are not beginners’ routines. If you’re coming back from injury or illness, don’t try this program yet. It’s brutal. However, if you follow this routine for four weeks, you’ll see a very significant improvement in your conditioning and a massive drop in your body fat!


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