MetCon workouts combine strength and endurance training with low rest for an intense conditioning workout that won't sap hard-earned muscle.
A metabolic conditioning workout is one that combines strength and endurance training with low rest to create a powerful conditioning effect. It is more work in less time, which is just one of the reasons gym-goers have gravitated toward boot camp-style training and CrossFit workout.
Why do MetCons work?
MetCons allow you to condition the body, groove proper technique, and work at maximum capacity without beating yourself up with max loads. They are also the preferred choice of athletes who want to do intense conditioning workouts without losing any of their hard-earned muscle.
MetCons also adhering to a metabolic conditioning workout is one that combines strength and endurance to the SAID principle (specific adaptation to imposed demands), which means that doing metcons in training won’t just make you more fit, it will enhance performance for athletes of any level. But if you’re not a Crossfitter or have any desire to compete, what’s the point of pushing yourself through a grueling workout like these?
The release of growth hormone after a bout of exercise is dependent on the intensity of the exercise, so pushing yourself to the limit can result in 450% more body fat loss as the same amount of time spent on an elliptical. Crushing an overhead squat or barbell thruster is much more physically taxing than doing sets of static bicep curls, and bringing your body to the edge of your anaerobic threshold will optimize hormonal release, and get you in and out of the gym in minutes, rather than hours.
How do you structure a MetCon?
MetCons can be any length and can include strength, plyometric, or endurance exercises. But the main thing that is true across every metcon workout is the ability to track and improve.
For example, many workouts, like the AMRAP method, will test how many rounds you can do in a certain amount of time, while others will ask you to complete a certain amount of reps as fast as possible. This is another draw for competitive CrossFit athletes – there’s always a winner, even if you’re simply competing against yourself.
In either case, the goal is to do more work in less time.
What kind of exercises should you include?
Compound full body movements are the ideal choice for metabolic conditioning workouts because most metcons call for a lighter weight than your max, which gives you the ability to practice squats, deadlifts, and other technical movements in an environment that encourages fluid and efficient movement. This is called “greasing the groove” and can be very beneficial for working on technique and form.
Having more simple exercises is a plus as well, because with high intensity comes the potential for injury on overly complex movements. For example, a heavy kettlebell swing would be preferable to a snatch because both prioritize the glutes and hamstrings, yet a snatch becomes a lot more difficult to execute at after 12 minutes of exercise when sweat is pouring into your eyes, and your heart rate is pushing 180.
Plyometric movements like box jumps, double-unders on the jump rope and medicine ball slams are all moves you might meet in a metcon as well. But metcons don’t discriminate against cardio either if it’s high intensity. It’s not uncommon to see rowing, sled pushing, or Airdyne Bike sprints.
A good MetCon is the epitome of the adage “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you."
Example MetCon Workouts
Use one of these simple but monster metcon workouts next time you hit the gym and see how hard you can push yourself.
The Beat Down: CrossFit Fran
21-15-9 reps of:
Thrusters at 95 lbs
Guidelines: Finish 21 thrusters before moving on to 21 pullups. Repeat with both 15 and 9 reps. For reference, the world record is 1 minute, 53 seconds.
The Granddaddy: Tabata Bike Intervals
Four minutes. 170% of your V02 Max. Can you handle it?
Guidelines: This is one of the original HIIT workouts, studied by Dr. Izumi Tabata. It's 20 seconds work, 10 seconds of rest. Hop on a spin bike, and after a warm up you’re going to push yourself to the absolute limit for 20 seconds. Not “pretty hard”, and not “beast mode” but total and complete burnout. After the 20 seconds of hell, drop back to a resting pace for 10 seconds.
When those 10 seconds expire, you’re right back to the 20 seconds of all-out effort. Repeat these 8 times (or 4 minutes).
The Partner Challenge: I Go, You Go
20 Minute Kettlebell AMRAP (as many rounds as possible)
10 Kettlebell Swings
10 Kettlebell Front Rack Bulgarian Split Squats each.
10 Double Kettlebell Thrusters
10m Bear Crawl
Guidelines: With an “I go, you go” challenge, either you or your partner will be working at all times while the other rests. That means that as soon as they tag out, you’re in.
With this workout, you start with kettlebell swings, and as soon as your partner finishes, that means you’re up. When you’re done, they move on to the Split Squats, and so forth. This style is great with a little longer timer, since you’ll be resting for half of it.
The Training Camp: CrossFit’s Fight Gone Bad
Complete 3 rounds for total reps
1 minute on each exercise with 1 minute rest between rounds.
Row for calories
Wall Ball 20#
Sumo Deadlift High Pull 75#
Box Jump 20”
Push Press 75#
Guidelines: Record reps on each exercise (except rowing, which you’ll record calories burned in one minute). Do as many as you can during each exercise before moving on. Once you finish all five exercises, rest one minute, then repeat. The clock does not stop.
This workout is supposed to mimic the intensity of a UFC fight with 3 grueling 5-minute rounds.
The Bodyweight Burnout: 10 Minutes to Glory
10 Minute Bodyweight AMRAP (as many rounds as possible)
5 Chin Ups
10 Divebomber Push-ups
15 Jump Squats
Guidelines: For those days when you don’t have any time or equipment. All you need is a pull-up bar and some floor space. Do the exercises in the order listed. When you finish the jump squats, go right back to the chin ups with as little rest as possible.
This is hard enough to provide you with the benefits of a metabolic conditioning workout, without even needing to leave the house. Make sure to record your score, so that you can beat it next workout.
Whether you’re a competitive athlete, or you just want to look better in a bathing suit, MetCons are a great tool for getting the strong and functional body you want.
Feel free to do these as stand-alone workouts at the beginning, or add them as a finisher at the end of a more traditional strength training workout.
The most important pieces of successfully doing MetCon workouts are intensity and improvement. Don’t be afraid to take it slow at first and assess your ability. Just ensure that you are making progress by doing more reps, or finishing faster than your previous workout.