Hitting the gym is hard work, and just like anything else you put a great deal of energy into, you want to maximize your gains. And metabolic conditioning is one of those ways to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to training, especially when you’re talking about getting lean, fast. We tapped into David Larson, C.S.C.S., a strength coach and trainer from Pulse Fitness in Scottsdale, AZ, to weigh in on some of the questions we get about the training philosophy.

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Q1: I like to do cardio workouts on the treadmill. What is an interval treadmill workout that will burn fat?

“Although there are numerous studies supporting the effects of high-intensity interval exercise [HIIE] on fat loss, an optimal protocol has yet to be established by research. Several different protocols have resulted in large amounts total fat loss. These programs have ranged from 60 seconds’ hard work with 8–12 seconds’ rest to 20 seconds’ working with 10 seconds’ rest [Tabata protocol]. Basically, any interval workout will help to reduce fat mass, as long as you work hard enough at it.”

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Q2: I have limited time in the gym and therefore have to often choose between cardio and weightlifting. What is better for fat burn?

“Progressive resistance training over time will increase strength, muscle mass, and burn more calories. It’s not necessary to do both steady-state cardio and weightlifting on the same day, in fact it’s likely to be counterproductive. If you’re at the gym, perform resistance training or high-intensity sprint work. The type of resistance training you perform should depend on how many times per week you work out, your goals, and how much you can tolerate. In cases of severely limited time, try a full-body, resistance-training circuit that uses different muscles on each exercise and 15- to 30-second work intervals and same amount [i.e. 30 seconds’ work, 30 rest, or 15 seconds on to 15 off] of rest between exercises.”

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Q3: Should I superset or not? What kinds of exercises should I pair together?

"Supersets can be a useful strategy to increase volume when time is limited. Try to avoid performing supersets with multiple complex and heavy lifts, as this will result in sloppy form and not using all your strength. For example, try supersetting a heavy bench press with some assisted dips and a pulling motion like a chinup work instead of benching, then moving right into heavy deadlifts."

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Q4: What type of athlete should I model my workout after if I’m trying to get lean while maintaining strength?

“The lean, muscular, and toned look that most people desire will not develop as a result of distance running. Just compare the body of an elite sprinter and a marathon runner, and this will be pretty clear. Gaining strength and lean mass while simultaneously losing body fat is the holy grail of fitness. High-intensity interval exercise has been shown to do this, while steady-state cardio has not. High-intensity interval programs that seek to train the whole body will be most effective for strength and lean mass gains. I’ve seen incredible results by combining heavy resistance training with metabolic conditioning.”

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Q5: Are lighter weights or heavier weights more beneficial in terms of conditioning?

“Ultimately, the weight should be dependent upon the goal of the person. A maximum effort set that results in failure at 15 repetitions is considered light in the world of a strength coach. A maximum effort set that results in failure around 6–8 repetitions is considered heavy. If maximum strength is the desired outcome, heavy weights will get you there. If endurance and higher exercise tolerance is the desired goal, lighter weights (12–15+ reps) are more optimal. Additionally, the ideal stimulus for muscle mass gain appears to fall somewhere in the middle of these ranges. Oftentimes the load variation between “light” and “heavy” is only a few pounds. Essentially, “light” lifting typically needs to be a lot heavier than one might think. Just keep it simple and change it up over time to see the results you want to see.”

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