How to Use Metabolic Conditioning

How to Use Metabolic Conditioning

The 4 C’s of Metabolic Conditioning

In the fitness world, the term ‘metabolic conditioning’ is growing in popularity. Popularized by CrossFit gyms, metabolic conditioning workouts  are now mainstream and can be found at your local Gold’s Gym, YMCA, micro gym, and everywhere in between. But with its rise in popularity, the art of progressing metabolic conditioning workouts safely and effectively has been lost. Here are four steps to follow to use metabolic conditioning safely.  

What is Metabolic Conditioning?

Metabolic conditioning, or ‘metcon’ for short, is a buzzword in the fitness industry. The term describes intense, time-sensitive workouts that leave participants sprawled on the floor in a puddle of sweat. To accurately define metabolic conditioning one needs to define its two words individually.  

Metabolic suggests a change in metabolism from training. Increased blood flow, heart rate, ventilatory rate, and thermoregulation are examples of metabolic responses. Conditioning, meanwhile, suggests a learning through the experience of training. Putting it together, metabolic conditioning is work that creates a metabolic effect that the body learns and adapts from.

Why is Metabolic Conditioning Popular

Metabolic conditioning workouts have gained popularity quickly because they get results, fast… at least at first. These workouts can be very effective and create rapid changes in the body because of their intensity.

Since metabolic conditioning workouts are very intense they put the body under a lot of stress. To handle this stress the body taps into the adrenal glands in order to produce cortisol, the stress hormone. While undoubtedly powerful, this response puts the body into “fight or flight” mode, which diverts energy from other important bodily functions. If this happens on a regular basis the result is chronic stress, which can negatively affect recovery, energy levels, hormone production, mood, digestion, sleep, and overall health.

(Tip: Learn how to create workouts that are effective and safe in this free course.)

But if you follow a few simple steps and progress your metabolic conditioning workouts properly you can reap the benefits without the drawbacks.

How to Use Metabolic Conditioning

To safely perform metabolic conditioning it must be progressed over time. As a helpful nomenclature, we call this progression the 4 Cs (Cyclical, Circuit, Chipper, Constant Variance). 

Cyclical

The first step in progressing metabolic conditioning is cyclical work. Cyclical work is anything that recurs in cycles, i.e. riding a bike and rowing. This is the first step because the contractions that take place during the movement are easy to repeat.

Begin cyclical workouts with long and slow intervals that can be repeated easily. The goal is to build aerobic capacity. A great way to make sure that the workout is aerobic (repeatable) is to measure intraset repeatability. For example, during rowing intervals measure the pace every 500m. Learn more about aerobic workouts here.


Sample Cyclical Workout:

Row 500m at a consistent pace

Rest the same amount of time it took you on the row

Row 500m at the same pace as row #1

Rest the same amount of time

Repeat 5 times

Add volume over time then increase the pace without suffering

(Coach’s Resource: Learn more aerobic rowing workouts in this blog.)


Circuit

Once the adequate time is spent building volume in cyclical workouts the next step is circuit workouts. This type of training involves multiple exercises, which a participant rotates between for a certain number of total circuit sets or for a set duration.

When first starting circuit workouts begin with easy exercises. The exercises chosen should be easy to complete as the focus of the workout is to challenge the aerobic system not reach muscle endurance fatigue. Again, to ensure that the workout is aerobic measure the time it takes to complete each round (intraset) and aim to repeat that same time each round.

As more time is spent doing circuits the exercises within the circuit can be progressed to more complex movements assuming the prerequisite level of muscle endurance have been developed. Learn the basics of developing muscle endurance here.

Sample Circuit Workouts:


Beginner:

10 Minutes – As Many Rounds As Possible

12 Calorie bike

8 Walking lunges

8 Hand release push-ups


Intermediate:

10 Minutes – As Many Rounds As Possible

12 Calorie bike

5 Dumbell front rack walking lunge steps/leg

4 Strict handstand push-up negatives


Advanced:

10 Minutes – As Many Rounds As Possible

12 Calorie bike

10 Barbell thrusters

8 Kipping handstand push-ups


Chipper

Following circuit workouts are chippers. Chippers are workouts with multiple exercises back to back with the exercises being completed in the order in which they are written. These workouts challenges one’s ability to self-pace. Since the exercises are not repeated they pacing needs to be determined in each set.

Like the previous workouts, chippers should only be performed once the adequate time has been spent in cyclical and circuit workouts. 

Pacing a chipper is highly complex, and an athlete must learn to break each movement, when necessary, into sets with a short rest to complete the work as efficiently as possible. If they attempt to do sets that are too large they will burn out and be unable to recover to complete the workout. 

Sample Chipper Workout:


Beginner:

For time:

50 Calorie row

40 Air squats

30 No push-up burpees

20 Ring rows

10 Med ball bearhug squats


Intermediate:

For time:

50 Calorie row

40 Air squats

30 Burpees

10 Strict Pull-ups

10 Kettlebell front rack squats


Advanced:

For time:

50 Calorie row

40 Wall balls

30 Burpee box jump-overs

20 Chest to bar pull-ups

10 Cleans


MetCon #4 Constant Variance

The fourth and most elite level of metabolic conditioning workouts is constant variance. This workout is a type of circuit workout in which the order of the exercises changes each round with the goal is to keep the split times (intra set repeatability) the same each round. 

This workout is the highest level because the variance forces the body to relearn how to pace the workout in each round. This type of workout should only be done after many years of completing the prior workouts, cyclical, circuit, chipper, with repeatability and is usually reserved for high-level CrossFit athletes.

Sample Constant Variance Workout:


Beginner

For time:

A. 15 No push-up burpees

B. 15 Calorie bike

C. 15 Sumo KB Deadlifts

D. 15 Air Squats

E. 15 Push-Ups

-rest 5 min-

x 5 sets

*Vary order per set, ie:

  • ABCDE
  • CBAED
  • EDCBA
  • BAEDC
  • DCAEB

Advanced

For time:

A. 15  Burpees w/ overhead clap

B. 60 Double unders

C. 15 Hang power clean

D. 15 Wall Ball

E. 15 Box Jump Overs

-rest 5 min-

x 5 sets

*Vary order per set, ie:

  • ABCDE
  • CBAED
  • EDCBA
  • BAEDC
  • DCAEB

Metabolic Conditioning 

With great power comes great responsibility, and this is certainly the case for metabolic conditioning program design. While the workouts are very effective they can turn from helpful to hurtful very quickly. Learn how to determine what kind of workouts your clients actually need and become the coach that build clients up while not breaking them with our free Professional Coaching Blueprint.

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