If you’ve been on the fitness scene anytime during the past several years, chances are you’re already familiar with high-intensity interval training. But you may not have heard about metabolic conditioning, the broader category of training that HIIT falls under. Expand your workouts beyond traditional HIIT to take full advantage of all the muscle-building and fat-burning benefits MetCon has to offer.
MetCon workouts are intense — and while HIIT workouts are made up of primarily cardio- and bodyweight-based exercises (Think: sprints, burpees and mountain climbers) — other types of MetCon workouts typically incorporate weighted exercises like dumbbell squats and chest presses for greater anaerobic and strength-training benefits. It’s this addition of weight that makes metabolic conditioning such a great bang-for-your-buck exercise.
While HIIT workouts tend to follow a structured work-rest format (i.e., 30 seconds of work, 30 seconds of rest), other MetCons aren’t as fixed, says trainer Mike Donavanik, a certified strength and conditioning specialist. Instead, many MetCon workouts are rest-as-you-need.
According to Erica Suter, MS, certified strength and conditioning specialist and soccer coach based in Baltimore, Maryland, MetCon workouts are ideal for people who have hit a training plateau or who want to get an effective without spending an hour in the gym.
MetCons are also useful for fat loss. “It’s actually one of the better methods for a [weight-loss goal] because it uses movements that attack different muscle groups,” Suter says, “so it’s a more efficient way to boost the metabolism.”
Like HIIT, the fat-loss magic of MetCon lies in its intensity: “You’re asking your body to work at near-max effort the entire time,” Donavanik says, “So your calorie burn during the workout will be high.”
MetCons may help you add a little bit of strength and muscle — especially if you’re newer to resistance training — but if serious strength and muscle gains are your goal, you’ll need to incorporate traditional strength-training days into your weekly routine, Donavanik says.
You can do MetCons as a standalone workout on days when you’re not doing a regular strength routine, or you can tack on a short MetCon to the end of a regular strength-training routine as a finisher to really boost your metabolism.
If you’re newer to metabolic conditioning, Suter recommends starting with two 10-minute finishers per week. See how you fare after one month and bump it up to four weekly finishers if you still feel like you need a challenge.
When structuring a MetCon finisher, choose four exercises that target your upper and lower body (For example: dumbbell squat, pushup, dumbbell stiff-legged deadlift and dumbbell bent-over row). As you’ll be moving along at a good speed during your MetCon workout, Suter recommends choosing movements you feel proficient in. In other words, don’t hammer out a dozen burpees if you can’t do them with proper form.
As for weight selection, choose weights that are challenging, yet allow you to maintain a good pace.
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You can follow a rest-as-needed format, where you perform as many high-quality repetitions as you can, then rest for as long as you need to feel ready for the next exercise. Or, you can create a more structured workout: Perform as many high-quality repetitions of the first move as you can in 20–30 seconds. Then, rest for 40–60 seconds before you transition to the second move. Do the second move for 20–30 seconds, then rest 40–60 seconds. Continue in this manner until you’ve completed every exercise. If you want to be done in 12 minutes or less, perform two total rounds.