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Strength Circuits to Rev Up Metabolism

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man working out with kettlebell

Our bodies have the ability to adapt quickly to different types of exercise when performed repetitively. This adaptability can also result in the number of calories you burn during and after your workout to plateau. An effective way to boost the number of calories you burn is to challenge your body metabolically by varying your workouts. Cooper Fitness Center Director of Fitness Mary Edwards, MS, shares how to take your workouts to the next level with metabolically challenging strength training.

Challenge your muscles by challenging your metabolism
To metabolically challenge the body means to create a disturbance in the body’s homeostasis state, or your body’s stable internal environment. “Performing a metabolically challenging workout requires the body to speed up its natural calorie burning process namely through increased heart rate,” says Edwards. “This is most effectively done by adding a cardio component to strength training and executing it in a circuit.” The overall goal of metabolically challenging workouts is to boost your body’s metabolism in such a way it continues to burn calories even into the recovery process following your workout. Essentially you are training your body to work faster and more efficiently.

The benefits of challenging your body metabolically through strength training circuits are numerous:

  • Increased fat loss
  • Improved strength
  • Enhanced cardiovascular function
  • Boosted metabolism
  • Improved blood lipid levels
  • Regulated glucose uptake

How do you know if a workout is metabolically challenging your body internally? “A metabolically challenging workout uses weight and speed of movement to challenge the body,” explains Edwards. “During this type of workout the body temperature, heart rate and breathing rate increase—all of which are signs that your body’s fuel demand is increasing as well.” This is the cornerstone of metabolically challenging workouts as the body is using more stored energy of glucose and fat and in turn boosting the rate your metabolism is working.

How to make strength training metabolically challenging
To make your strength workout more metabolically challenging, Edwards recommends selecting a weight that makes each repetition of every exercise challenging but still possible to maintain proper form. She also suggests limiting rest time in between each work interval.

For example, select three to four exercises to perform in consecutive intervals and add a cardio blast interval at the very end to finish the circuit. These exercises should target large muscle groups in order to burn the maximum amount of calories. Each interval could also alternate between a lower body and an upper body exercise movement.

In metabolically challenging circuits, aim for an intensity that allows you to reach about 75-95% of your maximum heart rate maximum during your work periods then choose a rest period time that only allows your heart rate to drop to about 65% or less of your maximum.

In order to determine your target heart rate ranges for your work and rest periods, you can use this simple equation:

(220 – age – resting heart rate) x goal percentage of maximum heart rate for interval + resting heart rate

For example, say someone is 24 years old, has a resting heart rate of 65 bpm and wants to work out between 80 and 95 percent of maximum heart rate.

(220 – 24 – 65) x (.80) + 65 = 170

(220 – 24 – 65) x (.95) + 65 = 190

According to the formula, this individual should maintain a target heart rate between approximately 170 and 190 bpm to reach 80-95% of maximum heart rate while exercising.

Keep in mind your circuit should be designed to be completed in two to four minutes with 60-90 seconds of rest in between each work interval. Repeat the full circuit two to three times for a complete workout.

Metabolically challenging movement patterns
Multi-jointed exercises targeting large muscle groups using a challenging amount of weight create the best metabolically challenging circuits. Some examples include a weighted squat, pull-up, weighted lunge and shoulder press. Single-joint movements such as a bicep curl, tricep push-downs and leg extension only utilize smaller muscles, which cannot challenge the muscles enough to create optimal metabolic stress on the body to result in fat loss.

Check out this metabolically challenging circuit Mary performs with her husband Shannon Edwards, who is also a Professional Fitness Trainer at Cooper Fitness Center.

If you are ready to challenge your body to maximize your workouts and improve overall calorie burn, incorporating metabolically challenging strength training circuits is an ideal way to push yourself to new limits.

Edwards advises all individuals be medically cleared before starting any type of new exercise program. This is especially important for those who have heart disease, cancer, diabetes, joint problems, osteopenia or osteoporosis or those who are pregnant or immune suppressed.

A Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer can develop a plan tailored to your fitness level and physical capabilities that will challenge you safely and effectively. For more information about Cooper Fitness Center or to schedule a session with a Professional Fitness Trainer, visit or call 972.233.4832.