Paragon Training Methods Metabolic Cycles

New Metabolic Cycles – Fall 2023

Cycle Periodization

Following the 7-week strength cycle, we are moving 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.

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.

Metabolic Cycle Deets

In this cycle, we will use the same “split” that we used in the last few metabolic cycles.

There are several different exercises that will be used as repeating movements, with different sequencing (using different exercise pairings for supersets, etc…).

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)

For the 3D Physique programs, the Thursday/Friday sessions will be combined into one full body workout.

The 3-Day training split:
Monday = Pull Muscles (hamstrings, back, biceps)
Wednesday = Pushing Muscles (quads, chest, triceps, shoulders)
Friday = Full Body

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

Systemic 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 concept can be extrapolated across an entire day of training.

Furthermore, being systemically conditioned can help you recover faster from session to session, as well!

In prior cycles, we’ve used “antagonist supersets” with large compound movements as a way to facilitate this “systemic” adaptation.

An example from the two cycles prior, we performed supersets of Lunges with Bench Presses or supersets of Squats with Rows.

In this current cycle, we are completely changing how we pursue the way we will be pursuing systemic conditioning. Instead of using antagonist superset and giant set sequences, we will be using “cardio” in its more traditional forms.

After discussing the local metabolic conditioning, there will be a large section below that will provide in-depth depth details of the cardio protocols.

Local Adaptations

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 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 within individual sets, as well as limiting 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 in 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’s sake, we will break it down into two main systems.

Aerobic Conditioning: 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 must 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, 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 in 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:
180 minus age = approx. Zone 2 (~75% of Max Heart Rate)

Lifter or non-trained aerobic athlete (generally in shape):
170 minus age = approx. Zone 2 (~65-72% of Max Heart Rate)

3. Duration: 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 in 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 is. It is just a steady and consistent effort.

Anaerobic Conditioning

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 is probably the safest, with an 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 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 the intensity rises. Meaning that the harder you push, the more impact is created.

There are a multitude of ways we can get into Zone 5 and build the engine to contribute to the 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 to the work sets! Not just a quick dynamic warm-up, but to get the heart rate elevated gradually. I like a slow 4-minute “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 output.

Repeating Movements for the Metabolic Cycle

Please note that there are alternative movement swaps for most of these exercises that will be available within the app. For the sake of this blog, the prescribed movement has been left more general.


A. Superset Movements:

Single Leg / B-stance RDL
Single Leg Curls

B. Wide Grip Pulldowns / Rack Pull-ups

The Part A superset sequence is primarily targeting the hamstrings. One of the key components of these “same muscle group supersets” for metabolic stimulus is to order the movements lengthened first, followed by short overload. This is because the primary stimulus is achieved seen in the second movement in sequence. Given the metabolic nature of this phase, we want the movement that focuses on the “contraction” (squeeze) to be placed second.

For the RDL, use the B-stance, or elevate the back leg for a single-leg RDL. Use DBs, a barbell, or a trap bar. Either way, this will be relatively heavy, since it’s the first movement in sequence.

Any type of leg curl can work for this, but a lying leg curl will more accurately target the short position, whereas the seated leg curl will be slightly more lengthened. In either case, you can make it even more shortened by pausing at the position where your heels are closest to your butt.

You will want to bring DBs over to the leg curl area so that you can move immediately from the RDL to the Leg curl.

The Part B Pulldown will use the “incomplete rest method” described in the above section about the “Local” metabolic stimuli. Deload week will establish a weight that we will then use in the first work week to complete the incomplete rest sequence. For those in a home gym, the Pulldown can be swapped for a rack pull-up variation or a banded pull-down.

As with any Pulldown or Row movement, the angle of the elbows in relation to the torso will have an impact on what part of the back receives the majority of the stimulus. For this pulldown, we are using the wide pronated (overhand) grip, which will let the elbows travel a bit outside the torso and target a lot of the upper back, with plenty of involvement from the lats, too. You can also go into a thoracic extension, meaning you sort of arch the back and lean back slightly, sticking the chest up nice and proud as you begin to pull each rep.


A. Superset Movements:

Sissy Squats
Walking DB Lunges

B. Chest Crossovers  

The Part A Superset sequence for the quads does not go “lengthened to short” like the Hamstring sequence from Monday. Instead, both movements are lengthened, which makes this an extremely daunting superset that is likely to leave you quite sore. Therefore, the starting “reps from failure” for this sequence will be approx. 5 reps for each movement. Even with this lower effort, it’s like you will get some soreness in the subsequent days.

The Sissy squat can be modified in a number of ways with the swaps provided in the programming (such as banded, wall-assisted, or with a “Bodyweight Leg Extension” movement; which can also be banded or assisted as needed).

The Sissy is meant to target the “Rectus Femoris,” which is the largest quad muscle that runs up the middle of the thigh. To properly target this muscle, we must make sure that the hips remain completely open the entire time. If we break the angle of the hips/torso, it will incorporate the other quad muscles, and begin to resemble a more standard squat-style movement.

When you move into the Lunges, understand that the total loading will be way less than you probably think. Many of you may not even need additional load, since the quads will be quite fatigued from the first movement.

The Part B Chest Crossover will use the “incomplete rest method” described in the above section about the “Local” metabolic stimuli. Deload week will establish a weight that we will then use in the first work week to complete the incomplete rest sequence.

Any type of Pec Fly machine or crossover (cable or banded) will be fine here. Just note that if you swap this for a DB fly, it is the opposite resistance profile (meaning the DB fly is hardest at the bottom, whereas the pec fly machine or crossover will be hardest at the contraction). As a result, you may need to keep more “reps from failure” when doing the fly.


A. Superset Movements:

Chest Supported Rows
Bentover Rear Delt Raises  

B. Weighted Hip Extensions

The Part A superset will target the musculature of the back and rear delts.

Starting with the Row (which is a mid-range overload movement), we will keep the elbows approx. 30-45 degrees from the torso, as to ensure the target area is an even and thorough stimulus. You can also pull all the way back into full “scap retraction” (i.e. try to pull your elbows as far as possible back behind your body at the contraction portion of the rep).

Any chest-supported row is fine, whether it’s a machine, T-bar, DB on a bench, etc.

The second part of the superset is very “short overloaded” meaning it’s significantly more difficult as the DBs move out, away from the body. This is a lot like a lateral raise, but because we are bent over, the raising portion will hit more of the rear delts and mid/lower traps of the upper back.

The Part B Hip Extension will use the “incomplete rest method” described in the above section about the “Local” metabolic stimuli. Deload week will establish a weight that we will then use in the first work week to complete the incomplete rest sequence.

Remember that you can Hip Extension on a 45-degree, GHD, or either of the home hacks (hips over barbell, or feet under barbell with hips across a box/bench). The DB programs will be using the at-home “Reverse Hyper” hack with hips over the edge of an incline bench.


A. Superset Movements:

Steep Incline Anterior Delt Press
DB Lateral Raise – No loss of tension

B. Leg Extensions

The Part A superset sequence targets the shoulders (delts), with a specific focus on the side delts with the lateral raise, and the front delts with the steep incline press. This superset (much like Monday’s hamstring sequence) goes from lengthened overload movement to a short overload movement.

The steep incline press is meant to be a “front delt” movement, but we should expect some upper chest in there, too. You’ll want to find a level of incline such that the DBs are touching the front delts at the bottom, and finish above the face, instead of over the chest (hence the “line of the press” is the proper path to bias the front delts over the chest). Most people will find 60-75 degrees to be a good range for the incline of the bench.

The second part of the superset is the painful “no loss of tension” lateral raise. This movement is extremely hard at the top (as the arms move away from the body). The no loss of tension part will further amplify the stimulus to the short position by avoiding the bottom of the lateral raise (the place where there is no tension on the muscles at all). So when executing this movement, it’s important to stop the descent where the arms are still ~30 degrees away from the torso. Very important to avoid using momentum from the torso to initiate the ascent.

The Part B Leg Extensions will use the “incomplete rest method” described in the above section about the “Local” metabolic stimuli. Deload week will establish a weight that we will then use in the first work week to complete the incomplete rest sequence.

One important note: The Leg Extensions would be ideal for a short overloaded movement (meaning hardest when the leg is extended fully). This can be accomplished with a Leg Extension machine, a DB Leg Extension, or a Banded Leg Extension. It would be a poor idea to try and do this in a complete rest sequence with a Sissy Squat or Bodyweight Leg Extension, as these are “lengthened” movements (meaning it will be difficult to recover with incomplete rest).

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LCK and Bryan from Paragon Training Methods

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