Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.
The term MetCon has been thrown around as of late and is a favorite of hybrid-style training such as CrossFit and other similar programming. But what exactly is MetCon, what is it used for and how can you create your very own program to build one lean machine?
MetCon is simply short for metabolic conditioning. This general term has recently separated itself from the old, tried-and-true steady-state cardiovascular form of exercise such as distance running or long sessions on the elliptical and has been more aptly assigned to more challenging and dynamic sessions of interval-style training.
Utilizing circuits, complexes and, at times, very specific and timed groups of exercises, MetCon may consist of bodyweight moves, equipment from kettlebells to medicine balls and other forms of familiar activities such as sprints. The take-home message here is that it doesn’t have to consist of 45 minutes of low-intensity treadmill walking or long sessions on the recumbent bike.
MetCon uses a myriad of variables to be highly effective while keeping your trips to the gym fun, interesting and unpredictable.
What can MetCon do for you?
Now that you know what MetCon is, what can it do for you? Why should you give it a try? Aside from the aforementioned interest factor, it has many unique qualities making it an ideal choice for adding it to your arsenal.
The first factor that rears its head to the forefront is a wicked metabolic shift. While it doesn’t necessarily burn heaps of body fat during its execution, MetCon will jack up your metabolism for hours after – possibly for a couple of days. As with most cardiovascular exercise, little fat is actually burned in the gym. In reality, exercise is the practice of teaching your metabolism to function better and work faster to burn more adipose (fat) tissue at rest.
Ask yourself this: Would you burn more fat for the hour or so you are training or for the 48 hours after you walk out of the gym?
Another great benefit of a well put together MetCon program is that it can actually build a little muscle along the road to a leaner physique. Using some key weight resistance moves will push your body to its limits while putting on some significant muscle mass.
Lastly, a well-planned MetCon will not make you lose that hard-earned muscle mass you have painstakingly built. Since you won’t be spending what seems like an endless amount of time on a piece of machinery, you will both stoke your metabolism through the roof while preserving your muscle.
When performing any MetCon program it's important to pace yourself in such a way as to complete the workout with good form and technique but also challenge yourself.
Eight elements of MetCon
Below is a sort list of some of the more basic elements of an effective MetCon program. Since this isn’t an exhaustive list, other variables may come into play as you progress toward your goals.
- Resistance training-based conditioning: This type of conditioning refers to the use of resistance training equipment used in a circuit-style session such as barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and other unique pieces such as tires, sledgehammers and medicine balls among others. The act of utilizing a piece of equipment for either added resistance or to generate power will add an appreciable amount of muscle in a short time.
- Cardiovascular-based conditioning: This refers to more traditional modes of cardio-respiratory training such as running, sprinting, biking, shuttle runs, swimming and other pieces of gym equipment such as elliptical, recumbent bikes, rowers and step machines. Training under these conditions will enable you to use both steady-state and short-burst interval training to stoke your metabolic fire.
- Hybrid conditioning: You guessed it; this type joins the two elements above into one effective fat-scorching routine. Using both resistance equipment and traditional cardio-style modes will challenge you to no end. Switching from one to the other within a program is a surefire way to keep things interesting. This, of course, can include many other variables such as bodyweight exercises, exercise order and your scheduling preferences.
- The use of bodyweight and equipment: There is something to be said about the ability to manipulate your own bodyweight. The act of lifting, pulling and pushing yourself off the floor, up to the ceiling or up over a bar is an amazing display of true strength. Pull-ups, chin-ups (yes, they are different), inverted rows, parallel dips, bench dips, push-ups (feet elevated) and various forms of sit-ups crunches, planks and leg lifts all contribute to not only total body strength but also one serious metabolic boost.
- Upper/lower split: Normally you would think of a conditioning program involving a mix of full-body moves rounding out the program, however, you can also split a circuit into upper and lower body installments. Due to equipment availability, gym set-up and specific goals an upper/lower split may prove beneficial. Whether it is to work on a specific weak point or simply mixing up your routine splitting up the body can focus on things such as upper body strength or lower body power, for example.
- PHA training: PHA stands for peripheral heart action meaning blood flow is shuttled to and from your peripheral limbs from alternating upper and lower body exercises over and over to force the heart to work at a higher intensity. Demanding as it may sound, PHA training isn’t anything new. Around for decades, this style of training will set your metabolism ablaze.
- Training for time: Traditional weight training has you perform a predetermined number of sets before the finish line. With many MetCon programs workouts are often performed for time. Speed becomes the factor of concern with form and technique sometimes becoming compromised. Your ability to properly perform the requisite exercises is paramount toward your long-term success.
- Training for completion: Another way to set a goal for a challenging MetCon is to perform a specific number of reps per exercise for a certain amount of rounds before calling it quits. Your conditioning will gradually increase as you take less rest breaks between exercises and/or increase weight slightly or perform each move in a more advanced way. Either way, this method presents that coveted light at the end of the tunnel so your program becomes very quantitative in nature.
Another great benefit of a well put together MetCon program is that it can actually build a little muscle along the road to a leaner physique.
Pacing and adapting
One of the most important points to remember when performing any MetCon program is to pace yourself in such a way as to complete the workout with good form and technique but also challenge yourself. When starting any program, be sure to run through the moves familiarizing yourself with range of motion, proper rest periods if necessary, injury prevention, transition from one move to the next and rehearsing the next step.
Soon, you will adapt and will find that you can pick up your pace slightly with each workout. Be warned that too much increase in pace, weight or complexity will run you the risk of injury. Take your time, perfect your form but challenge your ability. Once the program becomes familiar then you can fool with other elements to make it more challenging and shift your physique into high gear.
Just as you would any with traditional weight training, changing up your conditioning program is just as important for long-term results. Of course, adapting to a specific program “learning the ropes” so to speak will keep enough intensity due to the newness of the training, but after a period of time change will rear its head.
You may want to change up from bodyweight only to using equipment or adopt a more hybrid approach or take on a timed program. Whatever the change, just be confident that it is a good thing and to openly embrace the new challenge.
A step-by-step guide to creating your own MetCon workout
Now, let’s put together your very own MetCon workout. Using a time-tested method that can be applied to any fitness program, the FITT principle, you can easily structure a program based on your ability, availability of equipment and your personal schedule. FITT stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type. Let’s look at these a bit closer and adapt them to building an effective program.
- Frequency: How many days per week can you train? Ideally three or four days would be best, but even getting in two days per week can make an impact. Depending on your availability of time per day, getting in a MetCon workout (since they are normally not lengthy) is fairly easy. Also, take into consideration your other resistance training days (if applicable).
- Intensity: Intensity can refer to many factors related to a workout. Here, we are talking about the amount of work done in the amount of time you have available. Is it a timed workout? Is it based on number of reps and sets? The more you adapt to training the more you can pack in more work in less time. A circuit of 5 to 8 exercises is plenty to get you started.
- Time: As mentioned in frequency, both your time available and the total training time is important to factor in. Either using a MetCon program as your only weekly workout or attached to your current a session could last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Again, it depends on your level of ability, endurance, strength and availability to train.
- Type: Type refers to the specific types of exercises you will use. This depends on the type of equipment available, how crowded your gym is (what you are able to do without occupying several stations at a time and getting dirty looks) and your level of ability. Type can also be applied to the elements listed above such as bodyweight exercises and equipment used.
Example MetCon workouts
Prior to each workout a full-body warm-up is imperative to prep your body for the work to come. A comprehensive warm-up will raise your body temperature and “prime” your muscles with blood to help prevent injury as well as mentally prepare you. Below is just an example of a dynamic warm-up you can adopt as your own.
It may also be a good idea to perform a “dry run” of your MetCon workout with little to no weight especially if the moves are new to you. This will familiarize you with not only the exercises but also the cadence and structure of your program.
Do 1 to 3 rounds of the following circuit with little to no rest between exercises.
- Jump squats – 10 reps
- Push-ups – 10 reps
- Walking lunges – 20 total steps
- Inverted rows – 10 reps
- Calf jumps – 10 reps
- Bicycle crunch or leg lifts – 20 reps
Bodyweight PHA workout: Perform 3 to 5 rounds, 3 minutes rest after each round
- Box jumps – 10 reps
- Feet-elevated push-ups – 15-20 reps
- Reverse lunges – 10 reps each leg
- Reverse-grip chin-up – 10 reps
- Step-ups – 5-10 reps each leg
- Diamond push-ups – 15-20 reps
- Hanging leg raises – 10-15 reps
Equipment muscle-builder: Perform 3 to 5 rounds, 3 minutes rest after each round
- Clean and press – 5-10 reps
- Weighted walking lunge – 10 reps each leg
- Renegade row – 10 reps
- Goblet squat – 10 reps
- Ab rollout – 10 reps
- Kettlebell front swing – 10 reps
Hybrid routine: Perform 3 to 5 rounds, 3 minutes rest after each round
- Squat jumps – 10 reps
- Renegade rows – 10 reps
- Weighted step-ups – 10 reps
- Plyo push-ups – 10 reps
- One-arm kettlebell push press – 5 each arm
- Hanging twisted leg lift – 5-10 reps each side
Upper/lower split - Upper: Perform 3 to 5 rounds, 3 minutes rest after each round
- Push-up – 20 reps
- Close-grip pull-up or inverted row – 10-15 reps
- Kettlebell swing – 20 reps
- TRX curl – 10 reps
- TRX triceps press – 10 reps
Lower: Perform 3 to 5 rounds, 3 minutes rest after each round
- Jump split squat – 10 reps each leg
- Goblet squat – 10 reps
- Side lunge – 10 reps each leg
- Farmer’s walk – 20 yards