Metabolic Conditioning

Metabolic Conditioning Should Be a Core Training Strategy in Your Routine. Here's How it Works

This style of training challenges your body’s metabolic pathways in one efficient workout.

By Renee CherryApril 23, 2024


Exercise buzzwords—EMOM, AMRAP, drop set, metcon—tend to inspire two very different reactions: enthusiasm or dread. While the lingo can send some people running, there are plenty of benefits to trying different training styles. In fact, you may have tried metcon, or metabolic conditioning without even realizing it.

Metabolic conditioning combines aerobic and strength to challenge your body’s energy systems in a short amount of time. 

If you think metcon workouts sound intense, that’s because they can be, but they’re not just for athletes. Metcon sessions are perfect for fitness enthusiasts who want an efficient workout. Find out what differentiates metcon workouts, the advantages of this style of training, and how you can add metabolic conditioning into your workout routine.

What Is Metabolic Conditioning (Metcon)?

Metabolic conditioning is a style of workout that uses all three of your body’s metabolic systems, according to Peloton instructor Ben Alldis. “Metcons often involve a combination of strength training, cardiovascular exercises, and high-intensity intervals in a structured and systematic way to enhance overall metabolic efficiency,” says Ben. “The focus is not only on cardiovascular fitness, but also on building strength, endurance, and improving the body's ability to utilize energy efficiently.”

The goal behind metabolic conditioning is to train your body to become more efficient at burning calories, Ben explains.

The Science of Metabolic Conditioning Workouts

“Metabolic conditioning workouts often alternate different exercises or groups of exercises to work between high and moderate intensities and work the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems,” says Alex Rothstein, an exercise physiologist and program coordinator of exercise science at the New York Institute of Technology.

As mentioned earlier, your body has three metabolic systems—phosphagen, glycolytic, and oxidative—which it relies on to store and make use of energy. 

“All three systems are always working but the percentages of energy that come from each vary depending on our body’s needs,” says Rothstein.

Here’s how they all come together in a metcon workout, according to Rothstein.

  • Phosphagen system: Used during short bursts of speed or power

  • Glycolytic system: Used during exercise lasting between 15 seconds and three minutes, typically for speed

  • Oxidative system: Used during exercise at lower intensity and longer duration (aerobic workouts) after the other two energy systems fatigue.

What to Expect in a Metcon Workout

Metcon workouts are often structured as circuits, meaning that you cycle through multiple exercises with little to no rest in between. They can challenge you to do more work (i.e., completing as many reps as possible, also known as AMRAP) in short periods of time, but they can also require sustained periods of effort with even shorter rests in between, according to a 2022 article published in Frontiers In Sports and Active Living. In any case, metcon workouts are relatively short in duration but intense. Fitness experts typically recommend 20 to 30 minutes of work along with a warm-up and cooldown, says Rothstein.

Metabolic Conditioning vs. HIIT

Like metcons, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions are designed to provide a cardio challenge and improve overall fitness, notes Ben. However, the two terms aren’t interchangeable. “While HIIT is a specific type of training that alternates between high-intensity bursts and rest, metabolic conditioning is a more comprehensive approach that addresses multiple aspects of fitness and metabolism.”

During HIIT workouts, you complete short, intense bursts of exercise before periods of low-intensity movement or rest. “The goal of HIIT is to push the body to its maximum effort during high-intensity intervals, which can be anywhere from 20 seconds to several minutes, and then allow for recovery before repeating the cycle,” says Ben. “This type of training is known for its ability to improve cardiovascular fitness, increase metabolism, and burn calories in a shorter amount of time compared to steady-state cardio.”

Metabolic conditioning is a broader term encompassing all training methods aimed at improving your body’s energy systems and metabolic pathways, explains Ben. 

Metcon workouts often combine periods of HIIT with strength exercises and/or lower-intensity forms of cardio. “The focus is not only on cardiovascular fitness, but also on building strength, endurance, and improving the body's ability to utilize energy efficiently,” says Ben. 

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Benefits of Metcon Workouts

If you spend a lot of time working out, especially if you keep your cardio and strength sessions separate, incorporating metcon training may allow you to reach your goals without spending as much time exercising. Well-programed metcon sessions can provide quite a few benefits. Here are the main perks you stand to gain from metcon workouts, according to Ben:

  • Mental toughness: Metcon workouts aren’t easy, and they require a degree of mental resilience, determination, and grit that can carry over into your everyday life.

  • Boosted calorie burn: In addition to burning calories while you’re exercising, you’ll likely benefit from excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (aka EPOC or the “afterburn effect”), continuing to burn calories after your metcon workout has ended.

  • Improved cardiovascular health: Metcon workouts tax your heart and lungs, and over time this style of training can lead to a stronger heart and increased lung capacity.

  • Increased strength and endurance: A metcon session that includes a variety of exercises including compound movements can increase strength, stamina, and muscular endurance.

  • Increased metabolic rate: Over time, metcon boosts your metabolic rate, making your body more efficient at burning calories and using extra calories for energy.

Types of Metabolic Conditioning Exercises

Metcon workouts can include countless variations of exercises, and are more so defined by how they’re structured in terms of sets, reps, and rest time. 

Even those factors can vary. “The structure of metcon training is for the most part flexible,” says Rothstein. “Metabolic training in general is usually more similar to endurance training where a combination of higher repetitions (greater than 15) and lower rest intervals (30 seconds or less) is used to produce more metabolic waste in the working tissue and stimulate the required adaptations."

However, other structures of workouts can also qualify as metabolic conditioning. “For example, doing every minute on the minute [EMOM] or as many reps as possible [AMRAP]-styled sets can also be used instead of strict 15-repetition sets,” says Rothstein. The unifying factor between all metcon workouts is that they stimulate all three energy systems with a high amount of total movement, at a challenging intensity, with relatively low rest intervals, he says.

All that being said, these are some common exercises you might encounter during a metabolic conditioning workout, according to Ben:

  • Jump squats

  • Push-ups

  • Alternating reverse lunges

  • Sprinting in place

  • Dumbbell thrusters

  • Walking lunges

  • Goblet squats

  • Lateral lunges

  • Burpees

Many of Peloton’s strength training classes feature these moves in metabolic conditioning portions like circuits, AMRAPs, and EMOMs.

Tips for Metcon Workouts

First and foremost, you’ll need to determine whether you’re physically ready to try metcon workouts, or if they’re something you’ll need to work up to. “Metcons are great, but they’re not beginner-friendly,” says Ben. “You’ll need a proper grasp on strength training’s basic movements—squats, deadlifts, rows, pushups—and some level of conditioning before you can attempt a metcon safely.”

When you’re ready to give metabolic conditioing a try for the first time, it’s best to start with the basics. “People who are new to metcon-style training should start with a bodyweight-only [workout],” says Ben. “Once this workout starts getting easier, progress to more advanced bodyweight movements and weighted exercises.” As you become more experienced, you can increase the range of exercises you include and advance the movements, providing a continuous challenge so that you can progress over time, he says.

It’s important to focus on executing each exercise correctly above all else, even when completing AMRAP-style circuits. “One risk of metcon workouts is if proper form and technique isn't followed, you can sometimes risk injuring yourself,” says Ben. “So when pushing yourself at high intensities, focus on perfecting form and technique over speed of movements to protect yourself from injury.”

If you’re ready for the challenge, the medley of strength training and cardio found in metcon workouts can benefit your mind and body in one speedy workout.


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