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Combining Metabolic and Tension Training – Q&A

Question: Lyle, I’ve been reading up on your articles covering the pathways of muscle growth while dieting to gain mass, as well as, when dieting to lose fat. With that being said I have some questions on what to do during dieting for fat loss. In some of your articles you’ve said that the tension pathway is the best for gaining or maintaining strength with a rep range between 30-60 reps per muscle group. Also in another article over training while dieting to lose you talked about using the metabolic pathway in order to deplete glycogen and increase metabolic rate, but that it is not the best for maintaining mass. You also talked about combining the two pathways on different days of the week or different body parts on the same day (1 muscle tension/other muscle metabolic). SO my question is can you do heavy tension training and metabolic training of the same muscle group on the same day? Also is the rep range for the metabolic pathway the same 30-60 rep range per muscle group? Or is there an increas e rep range? Sorry if I’m asking a question that you have already answered, if so then please direct me to the article. Thanks

Answer: Ok, the above is a little bit all over the place so let me see if I can de-all over the place it.  The question is sort of jumping from mass gains and dieting which aren’t the same.  Let me get dieting out of the way.  In these two articles I looked at metabolic and tension training, roughly heavy work in the 6-12 repetition range vs. high reps in terms of what should be done on a diet.  Basically I was addressing a very old (and mainly steroid-driven) idea that switching exclusively to high reps and short rests on a diet is not optimal for a natural lifter.

Take away the tension stimulus and muscles go bye-bye unless you have steroids to protect against it.  The only exception being beginners for whom most gains are neural, there is no increased muscle mass to lose and glycogen depletion may be beneficial to enhance whole-body fat burning during dieting.  Which isn’t to say that depletion work doesn’t have it’s place in addition to tension work on a diet.  But the goal is less fatigue and more

  • Glycogen Depletion
  • A Hormonal Response to Mobilize Fat (increased SNS output)
  • Probably Something Else I Mentioned in the Articles but Forget

But this is also generally combined with a reduction in total tension training.  Volume and frequency can be reduced fairly significantly without losing muscle.  But only so long as intensity (defined here as weight on the bar) doesn’t go down.

Depletion work can be done in a variety of ways.  In my Ultimate Diet 2.0, it’s done at the start of the week as either two full-body workouts to set up maximal fat loss before rebounding into an anabolic state with tension and power training.  But that is a very specific setup and there are many other ways to do it.

One would be to cut heavy, tension type weight training on a diet to two-full body workouts and do two full-body depletion workouts on the other days.  Another would be to follow any specific weight work with the appropriate depletion work.  So do lower body depletion after lower, or chest/delts/tri depletion after that workout.  See the chart

 Option Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
1 Depletion Full Body Off Depletion Full-Body Off Off
2 Upper+
Upper D
Lower +
Lower D
Off Upper +
Upper D
Lower +
Lower D
Off Off
3 Push +
Push D
  Legs/Abs + Legs/Abs D   Back/Bis +Back/Bis D    

Or whatever, the specific split doesn’t matter, the above are just examples.  Cardio after the depletion work burns off the mobilized fatty acids and it’s semi-like my Stubborn Fat Solution protocols.

But again that’s really a dieting application.  What about for mass gains, can metabolic (which I would here call fatigue work) and tension training be combined?  And the answer is yes.

We know that growth of muscle depends on a lot of things, a tension stimulus (provided by heavy weight) and a fatigue stimulus (provided by higher reps/shorter rest).  An eccentric contraction may be required although DOMS per se probably means nothing.  Early on it looked like metabolic accumulation was involved and it may still be.  The hormonal response to training probably isn’t; it’s acute and fairly irrelevant but the studies are mixed.

And while I cannot claim to have delved into the molecular pathways (involving things like mTOR, AKT and a bunch of other stuff) different types of training may activate them differentially and, while unstudied they may overlap and/or synergize with one another.  Certainly over the decades a variety of approaches using heavy work (sets of 5-8) and lighter work (sets of 10-12 or 12-15) have been used for growth.  And this appears in my own generic bulking routine.

And I do still keep  the total volume per muscle group to 40-60 repetitions although getting both types of training into the same workout usually means being at the high end of this.  So a bodypart workout might be something like

Heavy Compound (bench, row, squat, etc): 4 sets of 6-8/3′ rest
Which means 4 sets of 6-8 repetitions on a 3′ rest.  The goal here is to use the heaviest weights which means long rest intervals.
Isolation exercise: 2-3 sets of 12-15/60-90″ rest
This is a fatigue stimulus.

So you might do
Squat: 4X6-8 (or even 5X5) with a 3′ rest followed by leg extensions and leg curls for 2-3X12-15 with 60-90″ rest.  Perhaps a better leg workout would be
Squat: 4X6-8/3′ rest
RDL: 4X6-8/3′
Leg extension: 3X12-15/60-90″ rest
Leg curl: 312-15/60-90″ rest
Here I recommend doing the heavy work first since quads are involved in the RDL to keep the knees straight.

Any other bodypart workout would be the same: bench/chest-flye, row/shrugback, pulldown/pullover, etc, etc.

Now, the above is great but once people get a lot stronger, perhaps into year 3 as an intermediate trainee (about year 4 of training if they do it right), two heavy workouts in the above fashion can be too much.

At this point, I think it’s better to split up the tension and fatigue work but to keep both in the same week.   It’s just a basic heavy/light since medium work doesn’t fit anywhere.  This looks very much like the PHaT system.  So a week might look like this.

Day Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
  Lower H Upper H Off Lower L Upper L Off Off

Where H means heavy compounds for 40-60 total reps per muscle group.

Squat: 4X6-8/3′ rest
RDL: 4X6-8/3′ rest
Leg Press: 4X6-8/3′ restLeg Curl: 4X6-8/3′ rest

And L is more isolation work for 40-60 total reps
Leg press or leg extension: 4X12-15/60-90″ rest
Leg curl: 4X12-15/6-90″ rest

Or whatever.

Hope that answers the question.


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