Metabolic Zone Training

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For close to 10 years I have been working out in a gym. Doing a combination of weights, cardio and stretching. And this has gotten me thinking about the simplest and best ways to workout, over the years I have learnt a lot of lessons and now my workouts are always:

  • Short and intense
  • Involve compound exercises
  • Make use of free weight & body weight exercises
  • Cardio free except for warmups
  • Full of Stretching and Mobility

The most important move or shift I think has to be the inclusion of less exercises but a focus on training “Metabolic Zones” which is a term I have picked to describe the areas of the body which can be worked via compound, full body exercises to activate the muscles which I have found to work most metabolically. So what exactly are the Metabolic Zones?

  1. Upper Back and Shoulders
  2. Back of Legs
  3. Torso

The beauty of this concept is that these areas are all corrective and very hormonally active. Let’s start with the Upper Back and Shoulders – this would include exercises like pushups, shoulder pressing, rows, pull-ups and deadlifts which acitvate the huge body of muscles in your trapezius and shoulder girdle. Deadlifts also lead to the next Metabolic Zone which is the Back of the Legs which not only includes the hamstrings but the glutes which together make a large portion of muscle that is extremely metabolic when activated via exercises like the Lunges, deadlifts, squats, and sprints.

The final area is the Torso and when I say torso I don’t mean abs – Torso includes the deep abdominals, obliques and lower back muscles which make a huge chunk of our bodies. Just put your hands around your stomach and imagine what a huge focus of muscles is concentrated around that area. The torso is worked with just about every compound – especially Pull-ups, Deadlifts, Squats, Pullovers and static exercises (planks/bridge, rollouts etc) plus back extensions. Below is one of my favourite metabolic torso exercises…..

Now you maybe thinking these hot zones are all very well but omit some key areas like the chest and quads, oh and what about arm work? well the truth is when you concentrate around compound movements for the Metabolic Zones you will automatically include a lot of Quad, Chest and Arm work. Take lunges for example, although they work the Glutes and Hamstrings hard the Quadriceps are also a key player. As for upper body compound exercises like pushups, shoulder presses and Pull-ups these all take care of the chest and arms and I guarantee if you are shoulder press a big weight you will have an impressive chest regardless.

Another thing to notice is that the Metabolic Zones are pretty focused on the posterior chain or the back of the body. This has a dual benefit as it emphasises good posture and prevents injury. Most modern programs include too much pushing, especially chest work. This leads to unbalanced and hunched physiques which are prone to injury.

Next time you formulate a training program make sure you put more focus on the Metabolic Zones aiming to base your workout around exercises which work the three areas. If you do this consistently you will see amazing changes develop in your physique – Posture will improve, as will performance and your metabolism will speed up. Activating the neglected muscles that the Metabolic Zones include will work as a superb trigger for fat burning and athletic performance.

To finish off here is an example of a Metabolic Zone workout:

- Start with 5 minutes on a corss trainer or running to warmup. Throw in some joint mobility once this is done.

- Deadlifts/Pullups -Superset  6-10 reps of each with no rest, 2 rounds (1 minute rest between rounds)

- Lunges/Pushups - Superset 10-15 reps of each with no rest, 2 rounds (1 minute rest between rounds)

- Abdominal Walkouts (See video above) - To Failure, 2 sets (1 minute rest between sets)

- Cool Down and Full body stretching.


Please checkout my e-book ‘A Simple Guide to Eating Well‘. Thanks for reading.


  1. Neal says

    Good read. I wanted to start the new year by adding more movements to my daily routine beyond the infrequent BBS workouts I do. Last night were some easy pullups, DB swings, and air squats.

    Good video, until the blonde exited 5 seconds in!

  2. Chris Sturdy says

    Good advice. I have been doing similar short duration workouts for a while and think this is really the way to go. All done in less than 30 minutes and no more than twice a week.

  3. David - Get Fit Get Lean says

    Great advice. Spending hours in the gym can be boring not to mention time consuming. That simple sample workout is challenging enough and done with enough intensity will produce great results. Less really can be more.


  4. Thomas says

    Excellent post that’s very true. With all the technology and machines out there lasting results really only come from complex movements with free weights.

  5. Tandy says

    excellent and concise advice. Just like the workouts. Also another reason to check out pilates and yoga as supplements or as a variation in your workouts. They also focus on the posterior chain.

    @ Tandy: Pilates and Yoga are great, probably better for the average person starting out on a journey to health than any weightlifting. Both Pilates and Yoga encompass a good amount of resistance as well as joint mobility and flexibility….

  6. Julie Downey says

    Cool post Chris!

    I’m a yoga instructor, and
    I love the term “Metabolic Zone”.

    When I work with a class I typically will go through yoga sequences that match the groups you listed above…Upper Back and Shoulders, Back of Legs, and Torso, and of course the posterior chain.

    I’ve seen tremendous results in my “Yoga for PE” classes where students are required to attend twice a week over a 16 week semester.

    I’m definitely a believer in working with these Metabolic Zones.

    Thank you!

  7. NUFF says

    Good Stuff.
    Let me ask, what are your goals? Strength, conditioning etc. If a little of both, what would you say the proportions are? I like your style and want to get a sense of what you are going for.

  8. Luis says

    Thanks Chris for this informative article. I am currently considering purchasing the ab wheel and was wondering what your thoughts on this product are. How often can you target your abs? Three times a week or can you do this routine daily?

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