How to Program Smarter Metcons for Long Term Success

How to Program Smarter Metcons for Long Term Success

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.

  • For example, if you program a five minute Assault bike with five minutes best, they should be able to maintain the same pace during the second five minute effort. 
  • The same is true of an AMRAP of thrusters, pull-ups and double unders. The client should be able to repeat the effort after some rest

2. Slow to Fast

Less experienced clients should begin with slower efforts to develop an aerobic base before progressing them progress to faster and more intense ones. 

3. Long to Short

Similarly, newer, novice clients should be introduced to longer (slower) efforts first to build a foundation, before they begin doing shorter, more intense efforts. 

4. Simple to Complex

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.


The 4 Cs Framework to Progress Metcons for a Lifetime

Step 1: Cyclical

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

  • Non-technical work like this helps build a proper base of support safely and a robust aerobic system before adding more intense, complex for time pieces. 
  • Further, monostructural work ensures the novice client adheres to the intended stimulus of the piece—i.e. aerobic conditioning—as opposed to, for example, if you programmed conditioning with high reps of push presses, where muscle fatigue in the shoulders becomes the limiting factor rather than the lungs. 

An example of cyclical work could be:

  • 8 sets, 400 meter row. Rest 90 seconds between sets. 
  • The key with the above is for the client to hold the same pace for each working interval with an approximately one-to-one work to rest ratio.
  • Or, with a brand new client, an example of monostructural work might just be 30 to 45 minutes of easy biking to build a base before you work to give them shorter, more powerful efforts.

Step 2: Circuit 

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:

  • 15 minute AMRAP: 15 calorie bike, 12 DB deadlift, 9 push-ups.
  • The key here is to make sure the client has developed the skill and technique aspect of each movement before you put these movements into a metabolic conditioning effort. 
  • Further, it’s important that, just like with cyclical work, the client is able to maintain the same pace, rather than the first round being twice as fast as the last round. 

Step 3: Chipper

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:

  • For time: 50 cal row, 40 toes to bar, 30 wall balls, 20 burpees, 10 power cleans.
  • Similar to circuit work, the goal here is a sustained effort—breaking the work into small chunks with small rests—and being able to maintain the same speed and intensity throughout the piece. 

Step 4: Constant Variance

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. 
  • 10 muscle-ups
  • 15 handstand push-ups
  • 20 power snatches
  • 25 thrusters
  • 30 toes-to-bar

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.


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