Following the 7-week strength cycle, we move directly into a 6-week “Metabolic” phase, starting with the typical Introduction/Deload week.
After a strength cycle, work capacity is lower. This is a result of the lower reps and less time under tension, meaning less impact on our cardiovascular system.
In a strength cycle, you don’t really get a great pump from training because you don’t have a lot of metabolite build-up in the muscles.
The weight feels heavy, and the muscles fatigue, but not with the same burning feeling they get from higher rep and superset sequences.
Simply because the body is de-trained to the metabolic stimulus, you should find your muscles are extremely sensitive to this very different training style.
Pumps will happen more rapidly and stay for longer. You may even notice some muscle volume increases during days off training, as all the nutrients are shuttled into the cells.
The training split:
Monday = Pull Muscles (hamstrings, back, biceps)
Tuesday = Pushing Muscles (quads, chest, triceps, shoulders)
Thursday = Pull Muscles (hamstrings, back, biceps)
Friday = Pushing Muscles (quads, chest, triceps, shoulders)
This effect of training both UPPER and LOWER in the same session during this cycle will provide a tangible systemic adaptation, as opposed to a more LOCAL stimulus that is achieved by training a smaller area of the body at once.
Two Types of Metabolic Adaptations
This is all about work capacity; increasing your ability to recover “systemically” between sets.
For a PRACTICAL example here of how SYSTEMIC conditioning can help your training, think about doing multiple sets of back squats. This can be extremely fatiguing, not just for the working muscles, but also for the system as a whole.
Now, let’s say you could achieve the same effort level, same weights and reps performed, but with 2 minutes of rest between sets, instead of 3 minutes. This would mean you could do more volume in less time! Hence, you are better conditioned for the task.
This can be extrapolated out across an entire day of training…
Furthermore, being systemically conditioned can help you recover faster session to session, as well!
In this CURRENT cycle we are using a traditional method of pursuing SYSTEMIC conditioning.
Instead of using antagonist superset and giant set sequences, which can cause high levels of systemic fatigue (like supersetting squats with bentover rows) we will be using “cardio” in its more traditional forms.
In this blog, we will first discuss the LOCAL Metabolic conditioning, and then there will be a large section below that will provide in depth details of the cardio protocols.
This is all about clearing metabolites quickly and efficiently within a specific muscle group (Lactate being the most commonly known; often referred to as “Lactic acid”).
As you work your way through a set, it begins to burn in the latter reps. This is the result of metabolites building up within the muscle and your body being unable to “flush” these metabolites fast enough.
Think about a Squat movement. You can sort of cheat the “pain” by resting at the top to temporarily to flush this Lactate. But in many ways, we would much rather see you “lean in” to the accumulation of metabolites and force the body to adapt and get better at flushing it, as opposed to looking for a way out of the pain cave.
Through this local metabolic training, we can get better at flushing this lactic acid these within individual sets, as well as to limit the recovery time needed to flush it between sets.
There are two main ways we will implement training to enhance this effect.
1. Same Muscle Group Supersets. This just means quickly moving between two movements that work the same area of the body. In this training cycle, we will have 4 instances of this setup (one each for Hamstrings, Quads, Back and Shoulders).
2. Incomplete Rest Method. This means that we will select ONE exercise and implement multiple sets in succession with brief rest between each set. For this implementation, we will take a weight that we *COULD* do 12-15 reps, and instead of doing 12-15, we will perform 6-8 sets of 8 reps with only 30-45 seconds rest between sets. This 12-15 rep weight referenced will be established on the pre-cycle introduction/Deload week). We will have 4 instances of this setup (one each for Hamstrings, Quads, Back and Chest).
The Cardio Programming
Cardio is essentially just a tool to train an energy system within our body. There are many many energy systems, but for simplicity sake, we will break it down into two main systems:
This is a “steady” state and “sustainable” effort level; often called ZONE 2 cardio.
This type of cardio has the largest impact on “mitochondrial function,” which essentially controls everything in the way our body processes Glucose and Lipids (providing the biggest help in fighting Metabolic disease over time).
Zone 2 is defined by the ability to keep the SAME PACE (without deviation up or down) for 2-3 hours.
This doesn’t mean you have to do 2-3 hours to get the benefits. It’s more a proxy for the pace/effort you will implement.
This type of cardio can be performed with any modality, however, there are certainly advantages to some forms over others (and it often comes down to the individual and how EFFICIENT you are at that protocol).
Without proper training and experience, many people lack proficiency with rowing and running. As a result, people will often find it difficult to stay within the heart rate area required for ZONE 2 training.
How do we find this magic heart rate zone?
The “Gold Standard” for determining ZONE 2, is to measure lactate. We would want to be between 1.7-2.0 mmol/L
Since this is not widely accessible, there are 3 Proxies you can use to determine your ZONE 2
1. RATE OF PERCEIVED EXERTION (RPE)
RPE is probably the best approach. Simply use a 12-15 word sentence that you have memorized with a normal speaking cadence (not rushed). When you believe you are in ZONE 2, speak this sentence. If you can complete it in one breath without having to stop to get air, and without feeling like that sentence caused you to go into a breathing deficit (i.e. you aren’t gasping for air at the end of the sentence), then you are likely in ZONE 2.
2. Heart Rate Zone
The two avatars below can also help get you into the range of Zone 2, but it’s important you are honest with yourself in your assessment (it’s better to UNDERESTIMATE than to OVERESTIMATE your heart rate)
Well-trained aerobic athlete (i.e. trained in endurance sport)
180 minus age = approx. Zone 2 (~75% of Max Heart Rate)
Lifter or non-trained aerobic athlete (generally in shape but not an endurance athlete)
170 minus age = approx. Zone 2 (~65-72% of Max Heart Rate)
The third proxy is the idea of sustainability.
As stated above, you *could* do it for 2-3 hours if you had to.
You should feel like the session never actually gets harder. The first 10 minutes should feel the most taxing, as you move from doing nothing into Zone 2. Once you’ve established yourself into Zone 2, each 10-minute period should be exactly as difficult as the prior 10-minute period. At no point should you think that the workout has increased in difficulty. It just a steady and consistent effort.
This is a HARD EFFORT output level that would be considered “unsustainable” over time. This is often called ZONE 5 Cardio and has the largest contribution to increasing VO2 max (the most correlated variable with longevity).
This can be done on any equipment of choice where you can push hard, repeatedly.
A bike or rower are probably the safest, with air bike (one with arms) being the potential top choice.
Whether you decide to use RUNNING as your choice here is very much an individual decision. Simply because most of us we are INEFFICIENT runners, it makes for a good choice (meaning our heart rate will get jacked up really quickly).
Running does present some safety issues that increase in risk as intensity rises. Meaning that the harder you push, the more impact is created.
In the last couple years, I’ve had 2 injuries, and both were from running at “sprint” level output.
There are a multitude of ways we can get into Zone 5 and build the engine to contribute to development of increased VO2 Max.
Some of these protocols incorporate 20 second all-out sprints (with longer rest/recovery), while other protocols are less impactful (such as a 1:1 work to rest approach, like 2 min on, 2 min off repeats).
The most common and heralded protocol in the research is the dreaded 4×4. This consists of 4 intervals of 4 minutes each, with 2-3 min rest between each. The goal is to sustain ~90-95% of your max Heart Rate for the duration of the 4-minute interval.
Ultimately, the overriding objective of the VO2 max intervals is to get the heart rate into the ZONE 5 region (approx. 90-95% of the equation: 220 – age, or your ACTUAL max HR, if you happen to know).
Without a heart rate monitor, you can be assured you are there if you are gasping for air at the end of each interval, and in desperate need of the rest/recovery period that follows each burst of effort.
For any of the ZONE 5 cardio approaches, you want to make sure that you WARM-UP PRIOR! Not just a quick dynamic warm-up, but to get the heart rate elevated gradually. I like a slow 4-min “jog level” of effort on whatever machine I am using, prior to embarking on the protocol for the day.
Over the course of the cycle, we will use various approaches to getting into this awfully painful zone of cardio ouput.
Overall, the metabolite portion of the periodized training year, is almost always the shortest. This is because the body really does create these adaptations super quickly. We can get in there, see tangible improvements in recovery in a few weeks, and then get right back into some productive hypertrophy training.