Metabolic Conditioning and Exercise

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

What Is Metabolic Conditioning?

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 the ATP phosphocreatine energy system to fulfill our immediate need for fuel.


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.


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 injuryburnout, 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. 

How to Prepare for MetCon

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.

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. 

Change Workout Elements

Changing the metabolic demand on your body can be as simple as lifting heavier weights, working slightly harder during cardio sessions, adopting interval training, performing combination exercises or introducing short bursts of cardio into your regular strength training program.

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  • American Council on Exercise. 2013. Metabolic Conditioning - How to Train for Real Results (Recorded Webinar).
  • McCall, Pete. "How to Get Real Results with Metabolic Conditioning." ACE Fitnovatives Blog, October 26, 2012.