Are you looking for a way to maximize your time, metabolism, and muscle mass? Today we’re talking about MetCon – short for metabolic conditioning. It’s a powerful tool in the hands of anyone looking to achieve peak performance.
By relying on high-intensity training, you can easily condition and boost your metabolism. Better yet, you can do it without diminishing your gains.
We’re not talking about CrossFit, which is just one example of Metcon. This complete guide contains everything you want to know about this transformative category of exercise.
Keep reading for the science behind MetCon, the pros and cons of a Metcon workout, and some example sessions to add to your training regimen right now.
What is a MetCon Workout?
Those who’ve heard of MetCon usually think of CrossFit workouts – but that’s just one way to implement metabolic conditioning principles.
Many mistakenly ask themselves what is MetCon in Crossfit, assuming that MetCon is part of Crossfit somehow. In reality, MetCon is a category of exercise of which Crossfit is an example.
It’s characterized by quick bursts of high-intensity training. Metabolic conditioning forces your body to maximize energy expenditure and increases the metabolic demand from your muscles for hours or days after the workout ends.
This type of exercise is dynamic in nature, unlike steady-state workouts such as running or biking for miles at a time. MetCons boost cardiovascular health but center around resistance-based weight training.
Each session aims to maintain your maximum possible effort for a sustained amount of time, reps, or sets.
As you’ll soon see, MetCon workouts are also marked by training plans that constantly change and combine moves. You’re never isolating a single muscle during metabolic conditioning either – instead, you’ll need to challenge entire muscle groups in unique ways.
Next, let’s dig into the details of a MetCon session.
How Do Metabolic Conditioning Sessions Work?
There are two basic structures to design your MetCon workout around: high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or circuit training.
HIIT workouts are based on alternating intervals of high-intensity and low-intensity training. These intervals are usually even in time or reps – such as sprinting for 30 seconds and walking for 30 seconds.
Circuit training involves switching the muscle groups you engage while completing a circuit of exercises. Rather than engaging one set of muscles repeatedly, you can rotate from group to group with little-to-no downtime in your session.
Effective metabolic conditioning uses unpredictability to improve your strength. There are countless ways to combine high-intensity moves – forcing your muscles to constantly adapt is a key component of increasing muscle mass.
There’s one other major piece of MetCon sessions: they’re designed to be short. A metabolic conditioning workout will ideally last less than 30 minutes, with most programs in the 10 to 20-minute range.
Creating a maximum output of energy in a short time leads to improved fitness according to this study from the NIH. You end up working your heart, lungs, and skeletal muscles at full capacity.
Benefits of MetCon Workouts
Now that you understand what a MetCon workout is, let’s go over the benefits of incorporating it into your routine.
As the name implies, the primary benefit of MetCon is conditioning your metabolism. High-intensity resistance training increases fat oxidation – even after your workout is over.
Some studies show that your body keeps burning through fat stores for up to 3 days post-workout. This method of training rewires your body to continually rely on fat stores instead of using up your hard-earned muscle mass, as explained in this article.
Not to mention, weight resistance is a key part of metabolic conditioning training. This means you won’t only preserve your gains – you’ll continue increasing them.
Although the goal of MetCon isn’t calorie-oriented, you can still expect to burn 500 calories or more in a 30-minute session. And, of course, this brings us to the last benefit.
You don’t need to carve a huge chunk out of your routine to do this kind of training. Metabolic conditioning can be achieved in just a handful of minutes per training day. You can tack it on to the end of another workout or rely on it as your main training program.
Are There Any Downsides?
The downsides to metabolic conditioning are few and far between. And, if we’re being honest, the drawbacks are due to people pushing themselves too quickly or building workouts that are ineffective.
A lot of workouts are mislabeled as a MetCon program. Any program that includes long periods of steady-state workouts is not conditioning your metabolism. So even if you see a circuit with multiple stages – such as 1-mile run, 100 push-ups, 100 pull-ups, 1-mile run – that doesn’t mean it’s MetCon.
Remember: true metabolic conditioning sessions are short.
The other difficulty arises from moving too quickly through the workout program. Those who attempt MetCon often use movements that are too rapid to be safe, or they try to lift weights that are too heavy.
Impatience leads to injury, so take it slow.
How to Build Your Own Metcon Training
Are you ready to learn the key pieces of an effective MetCon training program?
Let’s review the basics:
- Use it as a stand-alone program or to finish a workout
- Focus on having short or no rest periods during your session
- Engage entire muscle groups instead of individual muscles
- Incorporate variety in your program
The first part of any successful training program is your warm-up – but it’s crucial for MetCon sessions.
If you add this onto the end of another type of workout that has engaged all muscle groups, that can obviously stand-in for a warm-up.
Otherwise, plan to do 1 to 3 circuits where you engage in dynamic movements with only your body weight. This could include 8 to 12 reps each of push-ups, leg lifts, walking lunges, jump squats, and similar movements.
It doesn’t need to be long, but it does need to get your blood flowing to each muscle group.
You can engage in several types of training when completing a MetCon workout. For example, you can rely heavily on weight training, cardiovascular training, or create a hybrid program.
Weight training sessions might include medicine balls, barbells, kettlebells, and dumbbells – or anything else heavy that you can find to move around, like tires.
Cardio sessions may focus on short bursts of sprinting, swimming, or biking, contrasted with lower intensity rest periods.
A hybrid program is one of the most effective forms of metabolic conditioning. You can combine bodyweight exercises, equipment-dependent lifting, and bursts of cardio to create a comprehensive program.
When you shift from upper-body to lower-body workouts throughout your session, you’ll also engage in PHA: peripheral heart action. PHA is the practice of forcing blood flow to move quickly between the upper and lower extremities. As this journal article shows, it’s a powerful tool to improve the strength of your heart.
Make sure to complete a MetCon workout 2 to 4 days a week for maximum results. The length of each session will be up to you.
Whether you plan to do metabolic conditioning alone or paired with another program, focus on the level of intensity. You can do this in 2 ways:
- Set a time goal and do as many circuits, reps, or sets as you can within that time limit – ie 4 circuits in 15 minutes. As your fitness increases, so will your PRs.
- Set a small number of reps or sets to complete and focus on making each one as explosive and dynamic as possible.
Looking for some session ideas to inspire you? Below you’ll find several different options for MetCon exercises.
Example MetCon Exercises
1) Complete as many of these as you can while maintaining good form. Do it under a time limit or finish a realistic number of rounds. Good for a workout finisher.
- 20 Burpees
- 20 Alternating Lunges
- 20 V-Ups
2) Upper and lower body mixed circuit – 3 to 4 rounds total. Aim to complete an entire round before you stop and take a 2-minute rest. Can be done as a stand-alone workout.
- 10 Reverse lunges
- 10 Diamond push-ups
- 10 Hanging leg raises
- 10 Feet-elevated push-ups
- 10 Step-ups
- 10 Reverse-grip chin-up
- 10 Box jumps
3) Bodyweight circuit. Ideal for beginners or those without a gym. Aim to complete an entire round under a time limit. Can be done as a stand-alone workout.
- 10 Pull-up
- 10 Jump squat
- 10 Walking plank
- 10 Dip
- 10 Wide-to-narrow alternating press-ups
- 10 Burpee
4) Upper and lower body circuit. Ideal for intermediate to advanced exercises, and those who have access to equipment. Aim to complete an entire round before taking a 2-minute rest. Can be done
as a stand-alone workout.
- 10 Squat jumps
- 10 Renegade rows
- 10 Weighted step-ups
- 10 Plyo push-ups
- 10 One-arm kettlebell push press
- 10 Hanging twisted leg lift
If you’re ready to build muscle and boost your metabolism, then choose one of the training sessions above to get started. When you have a handle on the basics, move on to create your own MetCon workout.
There’s no better way to burn fat and get lean. What are you waiting for? Start your warm-up and get ready for some dynamic progress.