Everything You Need to Know About Metabolic Conditioning

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If you've been following anything related to exercise, you're probably familiar with the latest trend: High-intensity training.

Why is HIIT so popular? It's because this kind of workout offers two very important things that other workouts don't: Shorter workouts and more calories burned than you would find with most traditional cardio or strength training workouts.

Also known as MetCon, this type of training involves a very high work rate while using exercises that burn more calories during your workout and maximize calories burned after your workout (or, as that period is often called, the "afterburn").

 

These challenging high-intensity circuit-type workouts often involve total body compound exercises and short recovery intervals. Shorter recovery time allows you to spend more time in your anaerobic zone, a level at which you should stay for around 2 minutes before you must stop and rest.

You'll find a variety of programs out there that incorporate metabolic training such as P90X, Insanity, and CrossFit, all of which push the human body to its limits with fast-paced cardio and strength exercises designed to build both strength and endurance.

Types of MetCon Training

MetCon training comes in various forms. The one you choose should depend on your goals and, in some cases, your job.

  • Tactical metabolic conditioning for firefighters, military or law enforcement personnel, and others who regularly engage in demanding physical activities. 
  • Metabolic conditioning to enhance athletic performance.  For example, a triathlete might use MetCon to train for upcoming events. 
  • For everyday health and fitness, which is how most of us will utilize the training. 

The Basics of a MetCon Workout

The term "metabolic conditioning" doesn't describe a specific workout. It instead refers to a type of workout designed to challenge the two major energy systems that contribute to exercise effectiveness.

Strength training relies most on ATP, an energy system that fulfills our immediate need for fuel.

On the flip side of that,  moderate cardio uses glycolysis to fuel our bodies over longer, slower exercise sessions. Metabolic conditioning targets both energy systems in the same workout by using high intensity, whole body movements along with a very short work-to-rest ratio.

That means you go from one challenging exercise to the other with little or no rest in between. You do this for certain intervals, anywhere from 20 seconds to more than 2 minutes, to tax your body, your mind, and your energy systems. Some examples of exercises you might do in a typical MetCon workout include burpees, lunge jumps, pushups or bear crawls.

Should You Try MetCon?

Whether MetCon is for you largely depends on your goals and your fitness level. As long as you watch what you eat, programs like P90x, Insanity, and CrossFit can help people lose weight. The sheer volume and intensity of the training ensure that.

However, the high volume and intensity of the exercise are best suited for people accustomed to taking their bodies and training to the next level. Workouts that are too intense for beginners can lead to injury, burnout, and severe muscle soreness.

If you don't work your way up to the workouts, you may find them so difficult, you'll quit altogether. 

So, if your workouts haven't been particularly challenging, you must gradually build up your endurance and strength before tackling the MetCon challenge. 

Getting Started

If you're not ready for the intensity of the exercises you'll find in CrossFit or P90X, you can adopt a workout program that will prepare you for the more rigorous demands of metabolic conditioning. For example: 

  • Practice circuit training. Whether you're performing strength circuits, cardio circuits or a combination, circuit training replicates one element of MetCon by compelling you to move from one from one exercise to another with either short rests or no rests in between. Practice your exercises one after another with 30 or more seconds between each set. As your fitness improves and you become accustomed to the rigors of the training, start reducing the rests each time, decreasing the rest intervals by 10-15 seconds or, eventually, removing the respites altogether. This simple act will increase the metabolic demand on your body, and that's what MetCon is all about. 

Sources:

McCall, Pete. "How to Get Real Results with Metabolic Conditioning." ACE Fitnovatives Blog, October 26, 2012.

American Council on Exercise. 2013. Metabolic Conditioning - How to Train for Real Results (Recorded Webinar). https://www.acefitness.org/continuingeducation/course/4a5287x6/metabolic-conditioning-how-to-train-for-real-results-recorded-webinar

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