What Are Metabolic Conditioning Workouts and Should You Try Them?

bicyclecrunch_8295241597Have you heard about metabolic conditioning (metcon) workouts? Are you wondering what they’re all about? Wondering whether you should give them a try?

The benefits are impressive.  They’re great at burning fat. They create a long lasting afterburn effect (which I’ll talk about more in a minute).  The workouts are short so they’re easy to fit into your schedule even if you’re super busy. They can be done with little or no equipment. No expensive gym membership required.

So what is metabolic conditioning? The purpose of this type of training is to improve the body’s ability to store and use energy. It’s a great way to boost your metabolism and burn fat. It involves whole body, compound exercises rather than isolation moves (think burpees not biceps curls). It may involve weights, but not necessarily. It often includes things like body weight exercises, compound exercises with weights and explosive and speed movements like jump squats and sprints.  The Tabata method (8 rounds of 20 seconds work/10 seconds rest) and HIIT (alternating intervals of high and moderate to low intensity) workouts are two types of metcon you may be familiar with.

What defines a workout as metcon? More than anything else, metcon is about intensity. The workouts are tough! You need to push yourself as hard! With that said, good form still counts and, as always, listen to your body. As mentioned earlier these workouts are relatively short as compared to other types of workouts. The shorter duration is part of what allows you to keep the intensity high and get the best results. 

What is the after burn effect and why is metcon so good at creating this? The afterburn effect, also known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), refers to the additional calories you burn after the workout beyond what you would have burned if you hadn’t worked out. There’s some debate on exactly how long it lasts, but one study measured it up to 38 hours after the workouts. The intensity of metabolic conditioning requires the body to go through a process of recovery afterward. This recovery work and the resources required is what creates such a strong afterburn effect. While the body recovers you burn extra calories.

Do you need to be in good shape to do these workouts? Like most types of exercise it can be modified and customized to work for a range of fitness levels. One way to do this is to use a rest based approach. The way it works is that you work as hard as you can until you need to rest, then rest only until you feel like you can go again. This would automatically adjust the workout to almost any fitness level because the work and rest intervals are defined by the exerciser. It’s also a good idea to review the metcon workout before hand and make sure you can do each exercise (or a modified version) with good form. In the middle of a high intensity workout is probably not the time to try and master a new move. This tends to put you at higher risk for injury and slows you down keeping you from getting the full benefits of the workout.

Metcon workouts can be a lot of fun. Because of the intensity level they’re always a challenge. When you finish one of these workouts you can’t help having a sense of accomplishment… and let’s not forget the endorphins. These high intensity workouts will definitely get them going which will have you feeling great. There’s so much variety in the format and the exercises available you’ll never get bored. If you’ve got a competitive side, these workouts are ideal. You can make it social and compete with  your workout buddies or compete against your personal best.

The take aways: Metcon workouts are short and intense. They’re hard work, but easy to fit into your schedule. They offer fat burning and a long afterburn effect for extra calorie burn long after the workout is over. They can be adjusted for any fitness level. The workouts have the variety and challenge that can make them something you’ll look forward to doing, which means you have a better chance of sticking with it. While I wouldn’t recommend it as the only type of workout in your fitness program, it is a good staple to include in your training mix.

Last but not least… consider getting an interval timer for your metcon workouts. Interval timers are indispensable for this type of workout, especially if you’re working out on your own. There are plenty on the market including apps for your phone. I’m a huge fan of the Gymboss interval timer. They’re built just for these workouts, compact, durable and water resistant. I use them and (full disclosure) I like them so much I became an affiliate.


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