When it comes to program design, metcons are often treated like vegetables: A side dish. An afterthought. An opening act. The necessary accompaniment to the grass fed, dry-aged steak main event of the night.
But when it comes to ensuring you’re designing sustainable metabolic conditioning pieces that allow your clients to progress their fitness long term in a safe and effective way, as much attention needs to be put into metcon design as does strength and skill design.
Consider this: Most of your clients are simply looking to live a long, healthy life, have good energy, feel good and look good naked, thus their aerobic training needs to be sustainable when it comes to intensity.
On the other hand, when metcon intensity is too high, it can become unsustainable as it can cause compensatory movement patterns, or can simply make it hard for the person to recover. As a result, it doesn’t result in long term progress, and can even hinder development.
As a starting point, consider these four principles when it comes to ensuring metabolic conditioning is sustainable long term:
Everything you program should be repeatable with equal amounts of rest to work.
Less experienced clients should begin with slower efforts to develop an aerobic base before progressing them progress to faster and more intense ones.
Similarly, newer, novice clients should be introduced to longer (slower) efforts first to build a foundation, before they begin doing shorter, more intense efforts.
Novice clients should begin with single modality, simple movements in a metabolic conditioning setting before moving to mixed modal metcons with more complex movements. Further, more complex movements need to be mastered in a skill environment before these movements can be introduced during a metabolic conditioning setting.
Cyclical metcons—meaning monostructural work, such as running, rowing, biking or swimming—is essentially the first level in the 4 Cs approach to metabolic conditioning work.
An example of cyclical work could be:
Circuit training can involve cyclical work, but also gymnastics or weightlifting activities, and, once again, the goal is a sustained effort.
An example of circuit work is:
The chipper is step three because it requires more experience and awareness to know how to break up chipper work, and how to pace it to avoid reaching failure on any given part of the workout.
An example of a chipper metcon is:
It’s important to note that many lifestyle clients, whose goals are simply to be fit and healthy for life, will never need to reach this fourth step—constant variance.
An example of constant variance is:5 rounds (change the order of the movements each round). Rest five minute between each round.
Again, constant variance metcons are appropriate for higher level athletes or those competing in CrossFit of function fitness competitions, as being able to do this type of aerobic work requires a huge amount of experience, volume training and overall fitness.
The bottom line: While each client is unique and it requires a certain amount of critical thinking in order to determine what kind of metcon training is best for them on any given day, following the latter principles and concepts is a great starting point to help you create metcons that challenge your client’s aerobic development in a safe and sustainable way to keep them healthy and fit long term.
Striking a balance between training for longevity and having fun in the gym may sound hard, but it doesn’t have to be.
The key to helping your clients reach their goals and enjoy their training is learning to program with intent, not just intensity. How to Program Metcons for Health will teach you just that.
This free guide will explain the six principles of creating sustainable and effective metcons, so that you can add fun and variety to your client’s metabolic conditioning workouts. Download the guide now and learn the key principles for programming metcons for health.