What is Metabolic Conditioning?
If you've ever tried to lose body fat through exercise you most likely have come across various methods such as high intensity interval training, metcons, metabolic resistance training, and circuit training. These methods tend to be higher intensity, claim to burn tons of calories, and can be completed in a fraction of the time a "traditional workout" would take.
But do they really WORK?
In general, all of the above methods fall under the general term of METABOLIC CONDITIONING, which refers to using structured work and rest periods to elicit a specific desired effect. Usually this is used to maximize efficiency of a particular energy system.
You have 3 main energy systems:
1. ATP-CP - sometimes called the phosphagen system, this is your EXPLOSIVE energy system. Think of events such as a max dead lift, 100 meter sprint, or anything fast taking place in 1-10 seconds.
2. Glycolytic - this is the mid range energy system, it specializes in events lasting 10-30 seconds up to 1-2 minutes. Think of a 400 meter sprint, a round of a circuit workout, or a 20 rep back squat. This system BURNS when you tax it, and uses primarily glucose (sugar) as fuel.
3. Aerobic - the classic CARDIO system. Used for longer events lasting 2 minutes and up. Think of a marathon, or a longer, lower intensity training session. This system gets a lot of hype because it's primary fuel source is fat.
Now you may think that if your goal is FAT LOSS that you should spend more time doing workouts that burn mostly fat. Makes sense, right? Well maybe not....
While there are major health benefits to improving your aerobic capacity through long, slow distance cardio, when you equate the time spent exercising and the total calories burned, low intensity cardio isn't as effective for getting rid of those last 5 stubborn pounds.
Doing higher intensity strength training burns more total calories per minute than lower intensity cardio, even though cardio burns primarily fat.
Think of it this way, would you rather have 100% of my monthly income? Or you would you rather have 15% of Bill Gates monthly income? You don't have to be a college graduate to see that 15% of his income is WAY MORE than 100% of my income.
Here are the top 5 reasons why you should include some metabolic conditioning in your workouts:
High intensity - there's a good correlation between the intensity of the effort and how many calories you burn. The higher the intensity, the greater amount of calories you burn.
Full body exercise - a good metcon workout will involve the whole body, using functional patterns and exercises that use all the muscles in your body. The more muscle you use during an exercise/workout, the more calories you burn.
Extended repetitive effort - workouts of this type usually last anywhere from 5-45 minutes. That's a lot of time spent doing high intensity, whole body exercises. Research has confirmed that there is a direct impact on the amount of time spent exercising at high intensity, and the amount of calories you burn after. This phenomenon is called excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). The longer you workout at a high intensity, you'll BURN MORE CALORIES throughout the next 24-48 hours after!
Resistance training - this style of training can use a wide range of modalities such as dumbbells, kettlebells, bodyweight, barbells, sandbags, TRX, and everything in between. With this you're able to progressively load your movements. This will make you STRONGER, and will BUILD MUSCLE. So not only will you get leaner but you'll also get stronger and more muscular as well.
Cardiovascular - the body adapts to the specific demands placed upon it, according to the SAID principle. Because your using all 3 energy systems during a metabolic conditioning workout, you will improve those systems! You can tailor this to your specific wants as well. Want to improve your cardio and focus a little more on strength and power? Do a shorter 5-10 minute metcon using heavier weight, or moving the same weight faster and more explosively. Want to run faster on your next 5k? Try doing longer metcons, 15-25 minutes, like a BODYWEIGHT AMRAP, going as fast as you can.
Sounds pretty good right? Well before you run off to your gym to go bang out some burpees, let me give you a few expert tips.
If you're a beginner, start slow.
These workouts are INTENSE and demand a lot from the body. Start by doing a 10 minute FINISHER at the end of your normal workout, 2-3 times a week. Let your body adapt to the higher intensity work before tackling a longer, heavy session. Otherwise, you'll have a hard time recovering between workouts, which means the next workouts won't be as intense or productive.
Once you're ready for a longer, more challenging workout sessions, you need to focus on the
intensity of effort. Each time you repeat a workout you goal is to do it better. Don't just strive for a longer time, try to go a little heavier instead, or do the workout faster, or with better form.
Remember, metabolic conditioning is all about INTENSITY OF EFFORT. If the effort starts to drop, you're no longer getting the adaptation you want.
I hope this gets you thinking about if metabolic conditioning is right for you. I usually put a 10 minute finisher at the end of my clients workouts 1-2 times a week. And occasionally we will ramp up to doing a 4-5 week phase of metabolic conditioning that is specific to their goals.
Kyle Cook, M.S.