According to Britannica, metabolism is the sum of the chemical reactions that take place within each cell of a living organism and that provide energy for vital processes for synthesizing new organic material. In simple terms, it’s how we break down food for energy.
Metabolic conditioning or MetCon as fitness enthusiasts call it is a type of exercise that focuses on patterns of work and rest periods to produce a desired response from the body. It has formed its unique category in terms of where it fits in the exercise world. It’s different from distance running or long steady-state cardio sessions and contains more challenging, dynamic sessions of training.
The response that it desires from the body is to maximize the efficiency of a particular energy system. The body has many ways of getting energy. There are different ratios of work-rest periods that call upon different energy systems that your body adapts to. According to researchers in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, a metabolic conditioning workout should be planned on outcomes and the level of fitness.
For instance, someone looking to add muscle mass should ideally have a different work to rest ratio than someone who wants to get lean. Doing tedious exercises and moving through a circuit without timing isn’t nearly as beneficial. Think of the workout as hand in glove. You are choosing the right fit for your goals. Using a variety of factors, metabolic conditioning keeps your workouts fun and energetic, while being mostly unpredictable.
Types of metabolic pathways
Three metabolic pathways provide energy to our muscles:
The Immediate System: Phosphagen
The phosphagen pathway is the fastest and most powerful method of getting energy. This system gets activated when performing power exercises that last less than 10 seconds such as sprinting or powerlifting. It provides an immediate burst of energy, hence it takes the most time to recover as well, taking around 3-5 minutes to fully recover.
The Intermediate System: Glycolytic
The glycolytic pathway is an intermediate system that provides energy for exercises that last between 1-4 minutes. It’s used in short duration activities such as strength training or 400m-800m, mid-distance running. The glycolytic pathway takes between 1-3 minutes to recover.
The Long-Duration System: Aerobic
The Aerobic pathway is a long-lasting energy system that can go for hours of easy-moderate intensity exercise. Since we have almost limitless amounts of fuel for the aerobic system in the form of fat, it can recover in seconds.
It is important to note that there is not just one pathway working at one time. Imagine these systems working as an orchestra. Every individual needs to come together for perfect harmony. Throughout a workout, every system contributes to some degree but certain work-to-rest ratios call upon one system to work more than the other. When your body chooses the pathway it would like to use more, the other pathways become support systems in the entire performance.
Benefits of metabolic conditioning
- Most MetCon programs are designed to be completed within 30 minutes. This means that you can maximise your routine with an effective workout without spending hours at the gym
- Metcon exercises are created to be performed at a moderate to high intensity. A higher heart rate during these exercises pushes your body to burn more calories effectively
- It can help build 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
- Moderate-and high-intensity interval training can reduce your body fat percentage
- Since muscle burns more calories than fat, using metabolic conditioning to tone your body can help improve your overall metabolism
- With a good MetCon workout, you can even burn calories up to 48 hours after the workout
MetCon vs HIIT
Even though metabolic conditioning and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are often used in the same sentence, they aren’t the same. Let’s look at each one:
- High Intensity: more than 80% of max heart rate or more than 8 on a scale of 1-10 rating of perceived exertion (10 being the most exertion)
- Periods of rest or active recovery: These will be controlled by the program you are following or based on your progression to reach a particular goal. For example, decreasing recovery times each week between 500-meter reps on the rower to achieve a 2000 meter timed goal in the future. These are normally fixed periods of rest.
- The workouts are typically done with single-mode activities: Running, rowing, biking, swimming, etc. However, there are no specific rules that say these types of workouts can’t be used with more complex equipment or even strength training exercises.
- High Intensity: the workouts need to be at a maximum sustained effort.
- Rest can be fixed like an interval (such as 30 seconds between rounds) or vary depending on when you feel ready to perform a complete set of the next exercise with the correct form and full range of motion
- The workouts can be done as a weighted circuit, single modality activity (running, rowing, swimming, biking, etc.), gymnastics movements or a combination of all of these, providing a wider range of tools in the bag
Various exercises fall under metabolic conditioning. Before each exercise, it is important to stretch and warm your body up. It will prepare your body for what’s going to come. A proper, complete warm-up will enable your body temperature to rise and prepare your muscles with better blood flow to prevent injury as well as prepare you mentally.
In case you are not familiar with the workout or the workout is new, you can do a dry run of your MetCon workout with no weights. This will raise your awareness about the structure of your program so that you can focus on doing the exercise rather than thinking about how to do it. Here are some exercises that you can do:
- Jumping jacks
Physical jumping exercise is performed by jumping to a position with the legs spread wide and the hands going overhead, sometimes in a clap, and then returning to a position with the feet together and the arms at the side
A squat is a strength exercise in which you lower your hips from a standing position and then stand back up. During the descent of a squat, the hip and knee joints flex while the ankle joint dorsiflexes (moves towards the shin); conversely, the hip and knee joints extend and the ankle joint plantarflexes (moves away from the shin) when standing up.
- Mountain Climbers
Start in a plank position with arms and legs long. Beginning in a solid plank is the key to proper form and good results in the Mountain Climber. Keep your abs pulled in and your body straight. Squeeze your glutes and pull your shoulders away from your ears and alternate bringing your knees into your chest
Squat and place the palms of the hands on the floor in front of the feet, jumps back into a push-up position, in some cases complete one push-up, return to the squat position, and then jump up into the air while extending the arms overhead
Upper body exercise where you grip an overhead bar and lift your body until your chin is above that bar, then bringing yourself down slowly, repeating the exercise
- Box Jumps
Stand in front of the box with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend into a quarter squat and swing your arms back, then swing them forward and explode up off the ground. Land on the box as softly as possible. You’re aiming to mimic your take-off position on landing – feet flat and knees slightly bent (don’t let them collapse inwards)
Bend forward to position yourself in a high plank, the top of a pushup position, with your palms flat on the mat, hands shoulder-width apart, and with your fingers facing forward or hands turned slightly in. Continue to lower yourself until your chest or chin touch the ground. Press upward with your arms.
With varying intensity, work to rest ratio, frequency and time, you can use some of these movements to attain your dream physique by activating the pathways that provide fuel to your body.
A well designed MetCon program can help you save time, burn more calories long after you have worked out and improve your overall fitness. The movements are created to include moderate to high-intensity exercises that improve the various energy systems of the body, maximising your workouts. By knowing which primary energy systems are triggered by what exercises, you can not only get to your goal faster but also make the most of your time.
All the different exercises such as MetCon, HIIT, Strength training, endurance training etc, are tools in your arsenal. Working out with intent and purpose with variations of the programs will get you to move beyond your plateaus, break the monotony and get you to your dream physique.