Metabolic Workout Syndrome: The Cancer of Modern Fitness

“Don’t strain yourself Rick. You don’t want to hurt yourself.”

Pic from my wedding. Figured I might as well use it - I paid enough for the damn thing!

Pic of me and Mom from my wedding. Figured I might as well use it here – I paid enough for the damn thing!

Words oft spoke to me by my Mom when she used to come down to check on me in the basement after hearing grunts and groans while straining under a heavy lift.

Heavy being relative – back in my early lifting days a 155 pound Bench Press was massive…

I’d reply, with slight annoyance, “Don’t worry, I’m fine. This is what working out is all about.”

With a mildly concerned look on her face, she’d return upstairs while I finished my workout.

Despite her lack of a fancy personal training certification or accreditation, my Mom would probably be able to help a lot of fighters out with her over-protective and conservative attitude towards training.

You see, in this day and age, science is taking a back seat to marketing and hype.

“Metabolic <cough, vomit, cough> workouts” dominate the landscape and are promoted as the cure-all for your strength, power, fat loss, muscle building and uninspiring erectile performance needs.

If there were a manual for being a Metabolic Workout CoachTM, it would read like this:

  1. Pick 4-20 exercises (on the spot at random is fine).
  2. Perform each exercise until form breaks down, then continue with the same exercise for another 30 seconds before moving on.
  3. Keep rest between (death) circuits as short as possible by yell at your (torture) subject to start again.
  4. Repeat for the duration that you are paid for then say to your subject, “Great workout eh? I bet you’ll feel it tomorrow!”

Just because you read on a website about a (shitty) study talking about something called EPOC and how it helps you burn calories for 432 days after you finish your workout, allowing you to feel good as you sit on the couch chewing on Funyuns, doesn’t mean it’s true, no matter how badly you want to believe it.

Now I’m not saying that these types of workouts are all bad.

But the way they’re designed mostly sucks.

There’s often little to no thought behind them, or the thinking is on a very elementary level ie. what exercise order will be most painful.

And for fighters, if all you’re doing are “metabolic  workouts” to improve your conditioning, you’re impeding the progression of both your fitness and technical fighting skills.

We come from a world of “no pain, no gain” and because these types of workouts suck ass, we figure they’re good.

Well sometimes they are.

The way that most “metabolic workouts” are performed are heavily draining on both the nervous system and local metabolic pathways.

This in turn, limits your ability to drill and learn your MMA skills.

Your body can’t learn new skills, whether that skill is strength, power or a new combo, when it’s spending its energy on recovery.

And done to excess and without proper recovery can result in a new disease that I’m calling Metabolic Workout Syndrome.

Here are some of the symptoms of MWS:

  • Injuries, especially those ending in ‘itis’
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Trouble waking up
  • Muscles that are constantly sore
  • Low motivation/drive to train
  • Irritability
  • Strength loss
  • Muscle loss
  • Difficulty learning new skills and frustrated coaches
  • Feeling of working hard but going nowhere

I’m sure there are more.

But when your nervous system is drained and your muscles are overtrained and not recovered, you’ll experience at least a few of the above.

So what’s the cure?


Rest periods are becoming the bastard child of the training variables.

We’re manipulating exercise order, reps and sets, but we’ve totally thrown poor rest out the window.

I’m not going to give you any specific recommendations in this article.

I’ve created both free and premium programs that address this by outlining just how much “metabolic” training you should do.

I also scientifically describe my workouts instead of using the catch-all term metabolic.

My goal with this article was simply as a reminder to those who have already followed my teachings, and to open the eyes of those new to my world to the dangers of MWS.

We’ve got to fight this “more is better” mentality.

Instead, let’s adopt the mindset of “less is more”.

The less you can do to get your desired result, the better.


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9 years ago

Eric, While you mainly address MMA, I train only boxing now but at one point, I was in BJJ and MMA. I still find your advice very helpful. The common demoninator between the two sports is that they are both ‘metalbolic” in themselves. At one point I was doing way too much during training, thinking I would benefit..was I wrong. I may get flack here, but I have cut back on my supplemental work to once a week now as opposed to everyday. All other days it’s strictly bagwork, rope, shadowboxing, etc. Once I cut back on the extra work, my endurance, recovery and overall attitude have skyrocketed. I am actually learning new skills and my body and mind are allowing me to do so. We are told constantly that bouts are lost to not enough conditioning. Sadly, too many guys are being beat down with endless bodyweight and conditioning… Read more »

9 years ago

Hi Eric,
Because i have limited time and no access to a gym i started doing metabolic workouts, the ones from Funk Roberts, at home using my Body, my 20kg kb, pull up bar and a pair of light db’s.
My experience is that my conditioning went sky high, gained a little strenght and lost a lot of fat – and all in a set amount of time.
At the same time I cant help but to notice that I suffer from some of the sympthoms you listed above. I deffentlie somehow lost motivation for my MMA which i try dó 3-4 times a week and is more irritated and sore.
Dó you Think I would benefit from cutting the metabolic workouts Down from 4-5 to perhaps 2 times a week and dó more running since I have no gym for real strenght training.

9 years ago
Reply to  Anders

Yes I definitely think you should take time off of “metabolic workouts”.

2 times per week is plenty for both strength and conditioning – 4-5 days/week of MC workouts is murder, especially if you know how to push yourself.

I’d spend 2 weeks just doing 2 days/week of proper strength training (as outlined in the CAGE Cardio PDF) then add some conditioning after that.

Like everything, workouts need to be cycled.

Mark Ruth
Mark Ruth
9 years ago

Eric Once I read your article about the Weight Lifter that said more was less I immediately adopted after having a menisectomy on my knee from overuse. I used to lift three times a week and reduced that to twice a week. replaced body parts with squats, dealifts, bench, dumb bell rows and shoulder presses. I increased my strength two fold and am not sore the next day. I combine this with a modified version of your crazy eights twice a week along with yoga twice a week. All I can say is what a difference. I take one week of rest every 8 weeks I am 55 and I have gotten my resting heart rate down to 52 and feel like a new man. I sure learned the hard way that less is more and I only have you to thank you for finally breaking that mindset. Keep up… Read more »

9 years ago
Reply to  Mark Ruth

Yo Mark,

Thanks for the feedback brutha and I’m glad to have helped you along the way!

9 years ago

great article eric! too true!