“If you want to lose fat,” says Alwyn Cosgrove, CSCS, “your No. 1 priority in the gym should be metabolic resistance training.” As in, you should lift weights, hard and fast.
Hold up — lifting weights to get smaller instead of bigger?
Metabolic resistance training, says Cosgrove, co-owner of Results Fitness in Newhall, Calif., and coauthor of The New Rules of Lifting for Life (Avery, 2012), is a road-tested way to burn fat — better even than jogging and other forms of more traditional “cardio.” (For more on the science of lifting for fat loss, see “Lift to Lose,” page 62.)
Here’s how it works: Each time you hit the gym, you work your whole body with circuits or pairs of multijoint, free-weight exercises that put the body through a full range of basic functional movements such as squatting, deadlifting, lunging, pulling, pushing and twisting. Because you exercise your entire body every workout, your metabolism has to work overtime for many hours afterward to help you recover. This leads to an intense, round-the-clock fat burn that you can’t get from programs that isolate muscle groups.
It’s a tough workout style, but well worth the effort. Typical strength-training programs are either heavy and slow or fast and light. This one’s both heavy and fast. Follow Cosgrove’s system to the letter, keeping your weights heavy and your rest periods short, and you’ll turn your metabolism into a fat-burning furnace. And you’ll build yourself some functional, head-to-toe strength and fitness at the same time.
The Metabolic Resistance-Training Workout
- Perform the following workout after a dynamic warm-up on nonconsecutive days, two or three times a week.
- If you’re just starting out, do three sets of 12 to 15 reps on each move.
- If you’ve been training regularly for six months or more, alternate between two different rep schemes: On Monday, for example, do three sets of 12 to 15; on Friday, do four sets of six to eight, adjusting the weight accordingly.
- If you do the program three times a week, alternate rep schemes every workout, so during the first week you might lift heavier on Monday and Friday, and lighter on Wednesdays, whereas the following week you’ll lift lighter on Monday and Friday and heavier on Wednesday.
- Challenging weights are a key component of the program. The weight you select should allow you to do, at most, two more reps than the recommended number.
- Alternate between the first and second exercise in each pair, resting about a minute between each set. Complete all sets in one pair of exercises before moving on to the next. Perform the final exercise, deadlifts, on its own in consecutive sets, again resting for a minute between sets.
- Keep the rest periods at 60 seconds. Any longer and your heart rate will drop too low between sets, negating some of the cardio and fat-burning effects of the workout. Rest less than a minute and you won’t be able to use enough resistance on each exercise to challenge your muscles.
- Once you’re comfortable with these exercises, try the alternates listed or seek out a personal trainer for other options. Just make sure to always use compound, free-weight exercises like the ones listed. Avoid machines and isolation exercises like biceps curls and leg extensions so you don’t overtax some muscles and neglect others.
1A. Barbell Squat to Press
- Take a shoulder-width, overhand grip on a bar set to shoulder height in a rack (not shown).
- Bend your elbows under the bar so that it rests on the fronts of your shoulders. Keep your upper arms parallel to the ground.
- Straighten your knees, lifting the bar from the rack, and step back a few feet from the uprights.
- Assume a shoulder-width stance, toes pointing forward or slightly out.
- Keeping your elbows high throughout the movement and your torso as upright as possible, slowly descend as deep as you can without
- losing the natural arch in your lower back.
- Slowly reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
- Once in a standing position, smoothly press the barbell overhead until your arms are fully locked.
- Pause, lower the barbell to shoulder height, and repeat for the appropriate number of reps.
Alternate Exercises: Dumbbell Squat to Press, Barbell Back Squat, Front Squat, Overhead Squat
1B. Inverted Row
- Adjust the bar of a squat rack or Smith Machine (that’s the device with the barbell that slides along two vertical tracks) to about chest height while standing.
- Sit on the floor beneath the bar and grip it with a shoulder-width, overhand grip.
- Straighten your body and look up at the ceiling so that your body forms a straight line from your heels to the top of your head.
- Keeping your body straight, your shoulders down, and your elbows close to your sides, pull yourself up toward the bar until it touches your chest.
- Lower yourself under control.
- Repeat the movement for the appropriate number of reps.
Make It Harder: Lower the bar, place your feet on a raised surface, or perform the exercise with a weight plate resting on your chest.
Make It Easier: Raise the bar and move your feet back.
Alternate Exercises: Barbell Bent-Over Row, Dumbbell Row, Suspension Row, Seated Cable Row, Assisted Chin-Ups
2A. Alternating Reverse Lunge
- Take a neutral grip (palms facing one another) on two moderate-to-heavy dumbbells or kettlebells, and hold them by your sides.
- From a shoulder-width, parallel stance, step your right foot backward about a stride-and-a-half.
- Keeping your back straight, your torso upright and your eyes looking straight ahead, slowly bend both knees.
- When your right knee is an inch or two from the floor, reverse the movement, stepping your right foot forward and returning to the start position.
- Repeat the movement, stepping back with your left foot.
- Alternate legs until you have completed the appropriate number of reps on each side.
Alternate Exercises: Split Squat, Overhead Split Squat, Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat, Walking Lunge
- Assume a standard pushup position on the floor: hands beneath shoulders, elbows locked, body forming a straight line from heel to head.
- Maintaining this alignment, bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor, stopping a few inches before your chest touches the floor.
- Reverse the movement, returning to the top position.
- As soon as you do, lift your left hand off the floor, rotating your arm and shoulder back and upward until your left hand is reaching directly toward the ceiling.
- Lower your left hand to the floor and repeat, this time lifting your right hand from the floor after you come up from the pushup.
- Repeat for the appropriate number of repetitions, alternating sides on each rep.
Make It Harder: Place your feet on a raised surface.
Make It Easier: Place your hands on a raised surface.
Alternate Exercises: Hands-Elevated Pushups, Weighted Pushups, Swiss-Ball Pushups
- Assume a shoulder-width, neutral stance with a heavy barbell on the floor directly in front of your lower legs.
- Bend at your knees and hip joints and take a firm overhand grip on the barbell, with your arms just outside your knees.
- Roll the barbell backward until it touches your shins.
- Raise your hips so that your torso forms about a 45-degree angle with the floor.
- Keeping your back in its natural arch, your arms straight, and your feet flat on the floor, push strongly through your feet and drive your hips forward, lifting the bar off the floor until you are in a fully upright position. Keep the bar as close as possible to your body throughout the entire lift.
- Reverse the movement, keeping your back straight, lowering the bar under control all the way to the floor.
- Repeat for the prescribed sets and reps.
Alternate Exercises: Romanian Deadlift, Trap-Bar Deadlift, Sumo Deadlift, Kettlebell Swing
Andrew Heffernan is a Los Angeles–based fitness coach and a contributing editor of Experience Life. He blogs regularly at www.malepatternfitness.com.