Metabolic conditioning, met con, or MetCon – what on earth is it? By Martin Colegate

Metabolic conditioning, met con, or MetCon – what on earth is it? By Martin Colegate

As our fitness journey continues here at Swell Fitness, we're learning about new forms of exercise every day and the latest buzzword seems to be 'MetCon' - not to be confused with the Nike trainer :-)

Short for metabolic conditioning, MetCon is the latest trend in the world of fitness but, did you know, it's actually not a new thing?

The history part...

The term metabolic conditioning was first used by Arthur Jones, in a 1975 article for Athletic Journal magazine. At that time, it was believed that athletes should train 'long and slow' - low intensity, long duration exercise was thought to be the most effective way of improving the cardiovascular system. But Jones revolutionised this by suggesting athletes should work 'hard and fast', at a much higher intensity - almost 100 per cent effort - for up to 20 minutes. And, so, the HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout was born.

What exactly is a MetCon workout?

MetCon is a type of workout that uses metabolic conditioning to build strength, endurance and power. It’s a combination of cardio and strength training - as well as using both aerobic and anaerobic exercises - designed to make you sweat and get your heart racing. You can do MetCon workouts anywhere—at home, at the gym or even outside.

One of the beauties of MetCon is how varied the exercise regime can be. The constant is that you are working intensively, with short rest breaks, for approximately twenty to thirty minutes. But, during this period, you can choose from a variety of exercises: squats, push ups, pull ups, lunges, kettlebell swings... anything goes, even the dreaded burpees!

You can choose to do as many as reps as possible within a given time frame (say 60 seconds) and then rest for between 15-30 seconds or you can start a new exercise every minute on the minute. If you want a challenge, you can set yourself a number of reps for each minute and only rest for the remaining time. Eek!

If you want to use equipment you can - deadlifts with the Swell Fit Bag sound cool - or you can simply use your own bodyweight.

You can also include running, rowing or jumping on the bike as part of a MetCon workout. The options are endless.

I'm confused... this sounds very much like a HIIT workout or CrossFit

It is a type of HIIT workout. It includes a variety of exercises, done at a high intensity with some rest periods. However, the HIIT workouts we tend to do today usually only require the heart rate to be working at just over 80%, whereas a true MetCon workout requires maximum (100%) sustained effort and the rest periods are usually shorter. CrossFit uses the principles of metabolic conditioning too.

The science part...

Our bodies have three major systems for producing energy at any given time - all with fancy scientific names. MetCon workouts can be designed to engage specific systems, or all of them, depending on which aspect of your fitness you are looking to improve.

Quick bursts of high-intensity training force your body to maximize its energy expenditure and increase the metabolic demand from your muscles. A 30 minute MetCon workout can burn upwards of 500 calories.

However, the benefits of metabolic conditioning extend for much longer that the workout itself. Your metabolic rate may rise between 10-25% for 1-2 days after the workout has been performed. One study even showed a rise in metabolic rate of up to 3 days!

What are the benefits of MetCon training?

There are soooo many... The variety of the routines means that it keeps you engaged - boredom is not an option here! They can be fun (if you like that sort of thing!), particularly when you workout as a group; the camaraderie experienced whilst working out intensely can be hugely motivating. And, finally, you'll be rewarded with improved body conditioning, muscle strength and a great big calorie burn.

Is it suitable for beginners?

Maybe not. Not in its true form anyway. Experts state that metabolic conditioning is not a beginner’s program, especially for anyone who might be significantly overweight, recovering from an injury or illness, or otherwise deconditioned. Start with lower intensity intervals or circuits, using exercises that you can do proficiently.

Listen to your own body and don't go too fast, too soon. You will need to build up to the 100% effort required but persevere - you will get there.

Are there any downsides?

Don't overdo it! If you have injuries, make sure to tell your fitness instructor and take any necessary precautions. And don't forget to warm up!

In summary...

Completing a MetCon workout once or twice a week will help you to challenge yourself; it might even help you break through a performance plateau and it will definitely increase your overall fitness level.


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