Monday 4 January 2021 8:04 am

Metabolic Conditioning: What is Metcon and how can it help your January fitness?

Metabolic Conditioning or Metcon for short is by far one of the most misunderstood training techniques.  It is often associated with chiselled abs, hardcore workouts and aching muscles.  However, this high-octane training style isn’t just for elite athletes and it can be adapted to help strengthen our minds as well as our bodies.

What is it?

In simple terms, Metcon is performed in a circuit with either bodyweight exercises or weighted exercises.  Think “balls to the walls” maximum effort interlaced with as little rest as possible to make your body more energy efficient, which means results faster.

Metcon routines are gaining in popularity and are intended to be short. Take 5 exercises and perform them for 30 seconds each, back to back, then repeat five times, maintaining the same intensity.  This way, the workout is quick, effective, raises our heart rate, gets us out of breath and increases our overall fitness.  

The body 

The body has several ways it can produce energy, with jogging, walking and swimming all medium intensity exercises that use the aerobic energy system powered by oxygen.

Blood carries oxygen to our muscles to give us the energy we need to exercise, and different types of exercise use different energy sytems. High intenisty exercise like suddenly pelting it down the road for the bus draws on the anaerobic energy system, because the blood can’t transport the oxygen to our muscles quickly enough to power that sudden sprint.  The sudden sprint uses energy that is stored in the muscles in the form of glucose.

However, energy systems don’t work in isolation. The benefit of Metcon is that it uses both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, as it brings together “all out effort” with more moderate aerobic intervals.  This helps strengthen the centre of our physical universe, the heart and lungs. 

The mind

Metcon workouts because of their intensity also increase VO₂ max.  So, what does VO₂ max mean, exactly? 

VO₂ max is a metric that describes our aerobic fitness level.  Think about VO₂ max as an engine and getting the engine to run more efficiently is akin to our bodies being able to use oxygen, more efficiently to produce energy.  

This is the reason that your breathing gets progressively faster and deeper as your exercise intensity increases, your body is trying to provide more oxygen to your working muscles to keep you moving.  The healthier your heart and lungs are the more efficient they are at doing this.

Higher levels of VO₂ max is linked to lower incidences of cancer, type 2 diabetes and dementia and depression.  Metcon essentially increases our VO₂ max, which improves energy, mood and memory.

How to get started with Metcon?

Keep it short, 20 minutes maximum, include it as a component of a structured exercise programme.  Beginners should start with bodyweight exercises before progressing to weighted exercises.  Try adding a metcon set to an existing workout and slowly build up the intensity.  

Ready to give it a try?

Perform each exercise for 30 seconds with maximum effort and rest for 30 seconds before moving to the next exercise.  Gradually decrease the rest period and increase the 30 second activity period ensuring you can keep up the effort all the way to the end of 5 sets.  

Beginner Bodyweight Exercises

  • Frog Jump 
  • Bear Crawl
  • Sumo Squat Side Kick
  • Crab Kick
  • Plank Jacks

Advanced Weighted Exercises

  • Kettlebell Swing
  • Press Up & Row
  • Lunge & Single Arm Press
  • Side to Side Skater Jumps
  • Bear Crawl

Claire Cole is the founder of Movement for Minds.  Click the link for an introductory offer.