Metabolic Resistance Training, Cardio Resistance and More Ways to Burn Fat While Staying Strong

By on October 26, 2017

If you want to perform your very best, then packing on muscle alone is not enough. Being incredibly strong is of little use if you tire out in minutes. Real power means being strong, fast and high endurance. Bruce Lee even said that a fighter had no place in the ring until they had built up their stamina.

Punch Bag

And from an aesthetic standpoint, most people don’t just want to be bulky: they want to be lean and toned like a Greco-Roman statue or a superhero drawn by Jim Lee. Lifting weights alone using conventional methods will not create that look. Increasing your cardio fitness also improves your work capacity, meaning you can lift more weight for longer without tiring out, thereby letting you stimulate more growth. In the long term, cardio helps you train harder.

The reverse is also true. People who want to lose weight should consider using resistance training because muscle is metabolically active: simply having more muscle means you burn more calories at rest. And for people who want to tone up for aesthetic reasons, body recomposition is much more important than weight loss. Improving your transverse abdominis is perhaps the fastest way to get flat abs. And women who need convincing to lift weights should Google ‘women who squat’ to see why it’s a good idea.

Problem is, improving cardio fitness will always risk reducing muscle mass in the short term. And you might also assume that muscle will slow you down and increase the amount of energy you need to move around. The body of a long-distance runner is very different from the body of a professional bodybuilder. Plus, most people hate traditional forms of cardio. Throwing weights around is awesome. It’s like being in an epic battle. Running in a straight line for hours is less exciting.

So how can you have both? How can you have your cake and eat it too? Turns out, there are a few ways…

Combining Cardio and Resistance Training

If you were looking to build muscle while at the same time increasing your cardio fitness and definition, then an obvious approach might simply be to do both types of training. You might aim to take your regular weight lifting sessions and then just stack some cardio on top of that.

This type of training is called ‘concurrent training’; using CV and resistance training concurrently. The concern of course is that this could result in muscle loss. Running lowers blood sugar and once this is gone, the body looks for other sources of energy: fat and muscle. Cortisol is raised in response to low sugar and this increases myostatin – a substance known for breaking down muscle. In short, you put the body into a highly catabolic state.

Morning Run

This is in-keeping with the interference phenomenon. This is the idea that when you train in more than one modality, the two will interfere. This is why there are no world-class bodybuilders who are also world-class long-distance runners. It’s even why there are no Olympic swimmers who also break records in the 100 meter sprint (though the reasons for this are slightly different).

That’s the theory anyway, but in practice it turns out that combining weight lifting with a little running isn’t as counter productive as you might at first expect. In one paper that looked at the results of 21 different studies entitled: Concurrent Training: A Meta-Analysis Examining Interference of Aerobic and Resistance Exercise, it was found that:

  • Running did somewhat diminish muscle gains when combined with resistance training but other forms of CV did not
  • There were no reductions in VO2 max between concurrent and cardio groups
  • There is surprising common ground between high intensity interval training and weight lifting

So, in short running could damage your gains a little, but other forms of CV are less damaging. HIIT in particular, is very good for losing fat while protecting muscle mass.

Tuck Jump

Many bodybuilders will walk long distances as a way to try and burn calories without burning muscle. However, this might not be wholly necessary for the average Joe, seeing as swimming or cycling doesn’t seriously affect muscle mass. Even the damage caused from running isn’t as bad as you might expect and if you watched my video on this a while ago, you’ll have seen that running can actually lower your resting heart rate – which makes you more anabolic more of the time! You can also protect your muscles against breakdown by consuming BCAAs – which promote protein synthesis and prevent the breakdown of muscle cells.

Resistance Cardio

Why might it be that something like cycling is better than running for muscle mass? What about HIIT?

Part of the answer may come down to resistance cardio. Resistance cardio is any form of cardio that introduces some light resistance too, meaning that it almost straddles the line between cardio and resistance training. A good example of this would be battle ropes: beating heavy ropes requires muscular power but doing it for long periods of times will work your cardiovascular system, so it’s also cardio. Other examples include the rope climbing machine, kettlebell swings or cycling up a hill.


Resistance cardio is one of the best ways to burn calories, improve your cardio fitness and still maintain muscle mass. Resistance cardio burns more fat because using more force requires more energy. At the same time, using the muscles more will build up metabolites and protect the muscles from degradation. You’ll be building muscular endurance, and this can help you gain size. You may even benefit from some occlusion and blood flow restriction.

In many ways, it makes little sense to think of cardiovascular exercise and resistance training as being binary options. In reality, all forms of exercise are at once resistance and cardio and the question is simply where they land on the spectrum.

And note that performing any movement explosively will have a similar effect to resistance training. That’s because the body is still exerting force, just as it would be to lift a heavy weight.

metabolic resistance training

We can see all this in practice when we look at CrossFit athletes. While some of the advice is debatably ill-given (performing huge sets of heavy compound lifts after running may be an invitation for injury), the way they perform high repetitions of traditional resistance exercises may be what gives rise to bulky, toned physiques like that of Rich Froning. Kipups are simply pull ups, performed as explosive cardio.

When you perform HIIT meanwhile, you are a) performing much more explosively and b) using your anaerobic system more than your aerobic system.

The Best Options for Combining Cardio and Weights

With all this in mind, there are many different ways you can utilize concurrent training to maximize muscle mass and weight loss.

The most obvious option is just to combine a weightlifting program with small amounts cardio, whether running or ideally cycling/swimming. You might lift weights three days a week and then run on the fourth day, or you might cycle for 10 minutes at the end of each weightlifting session.

DB Squat

If you’re going to use resistance cardio, which I recommend you do, then consider targeting the same muscle groups for added benefit. There’s nothing like performing as many bench presses as you can on a heavy weight and then trying to complete 100 press ups later in the same workout!

Cardio Acceleration

If you want something a bit more unique and challenging, then you could always try cardio acceleration. This is a protocol that simply replaces your rests with cardio. So, you might perform three sets of ten bench presses but skip for a minute in between each set. This keeps your heartrate high throughout the entire workout, thereby maximizing the metabolic challenge and burning huge amounts of calories. In fact, some have suggested that cardio acceleration will burn 900%+ more calories than cardio alone (study). It’s also suggested that cardio acceleration will result in greater hypertrophy.

Press Ups

I’m not 100% sold and it’s also a brutal form of training. But definitely interesting and one to watch.

HIIT Finishers

Another option is to end a workout on a HIIT ‘finisher’. This means that after your regular workout, you’ll perform 10-20 minutes of HIIT. As we’ve seen, HIIT is particularly effective when combined with weight lifting and seems to have minimal detrimental effect on muscle. It also has a ton of other benefits, such as helping to rejuvenate cells!

But I find that it is a shame to miss out on steady-state cardio. HIIT is great for your VO2 max but it’s not so good for things like your resting heart rate. It’s also once again rather brutal.

Metabolic Resistance Training

And so, my favourite form of cardio: metabolic resistance training.

This simply means that you are performing a regular resistance training session but with ‘incomplete recovery’. The typical way to achieve this is by training with a circuit of different compound moves and calisthenics but not to rest between them.

As mentioned, all resistance training is also CV: it still requires energy. The problem is that you can’t continue long enough under normal circumstances to utilize the aerobic energy system. If you do hundreds of biceps curls for 40 minutes straight every day, you’ll likely get tendon damage.

BUT if you perform curls, chin ups, squats, sit ups, press ups, burpees and tricep kick backs all without a rest in between, then you are increasing the work capacity enough to start burning fat while building muscle.


For added credit, design the circuit to bounce from upper body work like shoulder presses to lower body work like squats. This way, the heart has to work even harder to send blood first to the top of the body and then the bottom. Another tip is to keep the weights you use relatively light to avoid injury.

Blurring the Line

That said, I’ve always liked to do something like this by combining explosive movements with some of the Joe Weider intensity principles. In particular: drop sets.

During an arms workout, I’ll often start with a regular 8 reps to failure, then immediately lower the weight to keep lifting for another 5-6 reps. Then I’ll switch to a different exercise (curls to hammer curls, rows to pull ups) that is a little easier and then I might do a static hold, or a flush set. In this way, I am performing with heavy weights and I’m keeping the exercise going long enough to burn fat. I do all this without pause and even between these complexes and giant sets I’ll often only have a minute or a 30 second break. Mainly because I’m just impatient…


Whatever you decide, know that you don’t necessarily have to add cardio to your resistance training. You can make them one and the same thing. And the result is the kind of lean, ripped physique you get from intense HIIT finishers or CrossFit training.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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