Workouts

How to Use Metabolic Training Tools for Cardio

Build muscle and burn calories in less time with metabolic training tools that can take the place of a cardio workout.

Woman Flipping Tire
Artiga Photo / Getty

Cardio doesn't just have to be performed on a treadmill or a spin bike. In fact, you can burn a lot more calories and launch your heart rate into the strat­osphere by incorporating metabolic training tools.

“Using equipment like battle ropes, tires, sledgehammers, sleds, and plyo boxes recruits a large amount of muscles, so you are working at a very high intensity and burning a ton of calories,” says Megan Dahlman, C.S.C.S., owner of Dahlman Elite Training Systems in Oregon City, OR. Bonus: You’ll keep burning more calories even after your workout is done, since these metabolic workouts tend to create higher levels of excess post­-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), aka afterburn. That means your body has to work harder to get back to its natural resting state, so it burns a higher amount of calories long after you’ve left the gym. Because your energy output is in the red zone, these workout tools are about getting the most amount of work done in the shortest amount of time. “People don’t have the time to spend hours in the gym,” notes Trent Bender, a functional strength and conditioning coach based in Los Angeles. “Using these tools helps elevate your heart rate in a fraction of the time as more traditional cardio machines.”

The more intense the workout, the shorter your power bursts need to be. In general, Dahlman advises keeping your intensity intervals in the 10­-to­-30­-second range. Then modify the recovery time as a way to increase the challenge. Start with a 1­-to-­2 ratio of work to recovery (i.e., 20 seconds of work followed by 40 seconds of rest), then shift by 10 seconds (work 20 seconds, rest 30; work 20 seconds, rest 20; work 20 seconds, rest 10). “That will increase the cardio­ vascular demand since you have less time to get your breathing back to normal before starting off on the next interval,” she says.

You can use these power tools as a metabolic finisher at the end of the workout, keeping it to three to five minutes, or create a circuit that can sub in for a full cardio workout twice a week, Dahlman says. Try the workout ideas here or come up with your own using whatever equip­ment you have available. Check out the form tips on three popular training tools (see “All the Right Moves,” below) to make sure you stay strong and avoid injury.

All the Right Moves

Avoid injury and get the most out of your workouts by following these form tips for three popular metabolic tools.

Tire Flips: “People tend to get injured when they try to muscle through this move instead of working more functionally,” Bender says. Get your butt low to the ground, then use that force to pick up the tire while keeping your hips low, rather than trying to curl the tire up with your back and arms.

Sledgehammer or Mace: Square your feet to whatever you are hitting (likely, a tire), with one hand on the bottom of the handle and the other toward the top, knees slightly bent. Keep your abs engaged throughout the swing. Oh, and start with a light hammer.

Heavy Ropes: Bender suggests keeping your chest out (not hunched over), your head up, and your legs in a semisquat.

Workout 1: The Power Circuit

How to: Perform each exercise for 20 seconds, then rest 20 seconds before beginning the next move. Do the first circuit three times through, then rest for as long as needed before beginning the second circuit with the same time intervals.

Circuit 1

  • Battle-rope waves Burpees
  • Med ball side tosses (to wall or partner; right side)
  • Battle-rope alternating waves
  • Med ball side tosses (to wall or partner; left side)

Circuit 2

  • 12-inch box sprint strides
  • Box decline pushups
  • Med ball overhead slams
  • Box elevated bridges
  • 18-to-24-inch box jumps

Workout by Megan Dahlman

Workout 2: Explosive Strength Drill

How to: Follow every two strength drills with 30 to 60 seconds of recovery.

Circuit 1

  • Tire flips (3–5 reps)
  • Battle-rope slams (1 minute)
  • Rest (30–60 seconds)

Circuit 2

  • Hammer slams on tire (20 reps)
  • Sandbag front squats (20 reps)
  • Rest (30–60 seconds)

Circuit 3

  • Sled pulls (30 meters)
  • Burpees (10 reps)
  • Rest (30–60 seconds)

Workout by Trent Bender

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