As fellow fitness freaks, you’re no doubt familiar with the concepts of high-intensity interval training, complex workouts, hypertrophy training, or functional training. If you’re not familiar, you’ve at least heard these terms thrown around by personal trainers and fitness bloggers.
If I asked you what’s the best way to burn fat, you’d probably give me the standard answer; high-intensity interval training (HIIT), sprints, Tabata….something along those lines, right? What if I were to ask you what you knew about metabolic conditioning? Does anyone have any idea what I’m talking about? If not, it’s time for you to soak up the knowledge I’m about to drop on you, because metabolic conditioning is literally changing fitness instruction and the lives of people who are adopting this method of training.
Metabolic Conditioning Explained
First and foremost, metabolic conditioning is not simply aerobic exercise. Metabolic conditioning refers to a series of exercises which aim to increase the storage and delivery of energy for activity.(1) When people have a goal of increasing their endurance, they usually turn to cardiovascular exercise. While at one time, it was believed this type of training was the only way to increase cardiovascular endurance, studies now show that anaerobic exercise may condition your CV system to the same extent as aerobic (running, etc) exercise.
Additionally, when you engage in metabolic conditioning, you improve the muscles ability to use energy stores by improving their efficiency through a variety of metabolic pathways.(2)
If all of this is getting too scientific for you, let’s get back to how this relates to you and your workouts….
How to Perform Metabolic Conditioning
Metabolic conditioning makes use of compound exercises that work a wide variety of muscle groups across your body. It often combines two exercises into one, i.e. powercleans, weighted burpees, etc. However, it doesn’t stop there. To achieve the benefits of metabolic conditioning, there must be an aerobic factor worked into the equation. The aerobic movement dominates the lower body, while the anaerobic (weight-bearing) exercise dominates the upper body. This type of training is supported by research which shows it to be a highly effective way to burn fat, increase muscle mass, and improve endurance. The journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise put out a 2001 study that backed this effect. Additionally, studies found in Vol 94 and 97 of the European Journal of Physiology replicated the same findings.
The goal of metabolic conditioning is to perform each exercise, one after another, with little to no rest. Rest shortly at the end of each circuit, before repeating the whole thing again. For instance, here is an example of a metabolic conditioning circuit…
- Treadmill at 8 mph for 30 seconds
- 10 Dumbbell Swings
- 12 Wide Grip Push Ups
Repeat 4 times total
- Treadmill at 10 mph and 5% incline for 30 seconds
- 10 Barbell Bent Over Row
- 10 Diamond Push Ups
Repeat 4 times total
…and so on..
A great program would include 3-4 circuits hitting all of the major muscles in the body, while intermixing various types of cardiovascular work. Be sure to perform the cardio portion at max intensity to get the ultimate benefits from this type of workout.
You Aren’t Metabolic Conditioning If…
Keep in mind metabolic conditioning is all about keeping a high intensity throughout aerobic work, hitting the upper body with compound weight-bearing exercises, and minimizing rest. If you are doing iso-exercises, body builder style, with loads of rest time, you aren’t metabolic conditioning. If you are running HIIT sprints or biking, you aren’t metabolic conditioning. If you are performing a complex workout with only an anaerobic (weight-bearing) component, you aren’t metabolic conditioning. Metabolic conditioning is a very specific form of training that is able to produce tremendous results in those who stick to the format precisely.
Remember, metabolic conditioning is different from other forms of exercise in that it combines short bursts of aerobic exercise with compound anaerobic exercise, following a circuit format. Rest times are limited, and you move from one exercise to the next as swiftly as possible.
The benefits from metabolic conditioning are numerous but include increase in power, speed, endurance, metabolism, and muscle mass….while serving to decrease your body fat percentage. All in all, combining a metabolic conditioning workout with a full routine is an ideal way to ensure you are getting great diversity and effectiveness in your workouts.
- Glassman, Greg (June 2003). “Metabolic Conditioning”. CrossFit Journal (10).
- Baye (June 22nd, 2008). Q&A: What is Metabolic Conditioning?. Baye.com. Retrieved on 2008-10-18.