Circuits, combos, and complexes, known as “the 3 C’s of metabolic training”, can be easily integrated into clients’ traditional workout programs. Learn more about these challenging moves and prepare for unprecedented results!

Short on Time, Long on Results

Professional athletes, including bodybuilders, gravitate to the gym and usually look forward to intense personal training sessions (perhaps unlike the average novice fitness client). They grow accustomed to spending hours at a time under a bench, in the field, or working their quads to the point of utter exhaustion. However, the majority of our clients have busy lives outside the gym and therefore often prefer a complete workout they can accomplish in 30 minutes.

We can help clients solve any time-crunch issue by introducing them to total body metabolic strength training. The myriad benefits these workouts offer deem them worthy of the extra effort required:

  • shorter time commitment
  • perfect for home workouts
  • less muscular stress allows for ease of cross-training
  • boosts testosterone, heart rate, and metabolism
  • reduces workload on the central nervous system
  • builds lean muscle mass by increasing production of Growth Hormone
  • maximizes caloric burn
  • Elevates EPOC, facilitating fat burning for up to 36 hours post-workout

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The 3 Cs

While many different protocols can constitute metabolic exercise, three subclasses have risen to the top of the list in terms of both effectiveness and brevity. Here we discuss the attributes that define complexes, circuits, and compound moves.

A complex refers to a sequence of exercise sets performed back-to-back using a single piece of equipment. There are no rests between sets, no weight change, and no letting go of the equipment. Rep ranges can be adjusted for each exercise but are generally low. A complex typically takes 60-90 seconds. When choosing a manageable weight load, keep in mind the goal of challenging the weakest body part(s).

Examples of exercises that work well for complexes include squats, lunges, step-up’s, overhead triceps extensions, bicep hammer curls, push-up’s on dumbbells, burpees with dumbbells, stair climbing. Alternating between upper and lower body exercises minimizes fatigue.

Sample complex:

  • 5 Squats with laterally-extended arms
  • 5 Squats with bicep curl to shoulder press
  • 5 Side lunges with bent-over row
  • 5 Shrugs
  • 5 Pilates half roll downs (engage abs) and twist dumbbell side-to-side

Rest, then repeat for a total of 4-5 rounds.

A combination uses heavier weight loads, 3-4 exercises in succession on the same equipment, 1 rep of each.

Sample combination, using a cable-assisted machine:

  • 1 shoulder press
  • 1 triceps pushdown,
  • 1 bent-over row,
  • 1 chest press

Rest, then repeat for a total of 4-5 rounds, more if time and energy allow.

Circuit training involves very brief rests between sets generally to change equipment or move on to the next exercise. Clients choose dumbbells, barbells, or various machines, adjusting the weight load for each exercise.

Sample circuit:

  • Squat with arms extended in front of body
  • Bicep curl to shoulder press
  • Rear lunge with bent-over row
  • Pilates half-roll down (engage abs) and twist side-to-side
  • 10 jumping jacks or burpees
  • Decline chest press
  • Triceps kickbacks

Rest, then repeat for a total of 3 rounds.

A Super Way to Superset

Another similar workout paradigm includes groupings of supersets, or two exercises performed back-to-back, with only 30-45 seconds’ rest between supersets.

Sample  workout:

Perform 2-3 sets of each superset, 10-15 reps/exercise.

Superset #1
Barbell Squat
Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Superset #2
Alternating Fwd./Rear Lunges
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

Superset #3
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Plank Mountain-Climbers

The 4th C: Client Success

Each of these workouts can fit into a regular strength training/cardio program 2-3 times within 10 days. Cycle through them over a 5-week period. Clients should note increases in endurance, fat loss, and overall strength. Keep in mind that while lean muscle mass does increase, clients may not experience an equivalent burst in muscular growth. Typically, isolation exercises prove best for this purpose, another reason for interspersing these new paradigms with the client’s traditional lifting program.


Cathleen Kronemer

Cathleen Kronemer is an NFPT CEC writer and a member of the NFPT Certification Council Board. Cathleen is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, ACE-Certified Health Coach, former competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for over three decades. Feel free to contact her at She welcomes your feedback and your comments!