What Is Metcon? Get Fit With Metabolic Conditioning

If you’ve ever overheard a group of your buddies who are CrossFit fanatics discuss their workouts together, you may have found that you nearly needed a glossary just to understand all the unfamiliar terms.

From WODs to AMRAP workouts, there’s a rather rich lingo to learn.

Another common style of workout you might hear referenced in these situations is metcon, which is short for metabolic conditioning training. Now you’re probably wondering, but what is metcon?

Although metcon training has certainly become popularized in recent years by the CrossFit community, this style of training has actually been around for a long time and has been used in many fitness and sports applications.

In fact, you might already be doing some amount of metcon training unbeknownst to you.

In this article, we will answer the question what is metcon training, covering basics such as the metcon meaning, the purpose of metcon training and how to do metcon workouts. 

More specifically, we will cover: 

  • What Is Metcon Training?
  • What Is the Purpose of Metcon Training?
  • Do Metcon Workouts Increase Weight Loss?
  • Pros and Cons of Metcon Training
  • Metcon Exercises and Workouts

Let’s get started!

People doing shoulder tap planks.

What Is Metcon Training?

Metcon training, often shortened to just metcon, is a term that refers to metabolic conditioning.

Metcon workouts involve performing exercise at different intensities in order to target one or more of the three primary energy-generating pathways in the body.

To do this, metcon workouts use a combination of strength and cardio exercises of varying intensities and durations and sequenced in particular ways, usually with little rest.

Some metcon workouts target both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, while others will primarily hone in on one energy system.

Metcon is similar to HIIT or Tabata in that it often involves varying intensity, but the intensity with metcon doesn’t have to be as high as either of these styles.

For example, HIIT workouts usually require your heart rate to be at least 80% of your maximum heart rate during the hard intervals, and Tabata is usually even higher than that.

A metcon workout may spend more time at low– and moderate-intensities than these other interval workouts. For example, circuit training can be considered a retcon workout, and your heart rate might only get up to 70-75% of your maximum heart rate.

Metcon also doesn’t have to include a variety of intensities; you might target just one of the three energy pathways in your workout.

Basically, HIIT and Tabata are examples of types of metcon training, but metcon is broader and includes lower intensities as well.

People doing squats.

What Is the Purpose of Metcon Training?

So, why are metcon Crossfit workouts such a buzzed about phenomenon?

Putting yourself through the riggers of an intense metcon workout isn’t just for the ego-boosting purpose of having an impressive workout to brag to your buddies about.

Rather, the primary benefit of metcon workouts is to increase your body’s ability to generate energy in less time, or your metabolic efficiency.

The better able your muscles can generate ATP (cellular energy) at varying workloads and intensity levels, the more efficient your muscles will be at producing energy during your workouts. 

Metcon training can improve your athletic performance because your body is able to produce energy through all three energy-generating pathways more efficiently, which can help ensure your muscles are always able to keep up with energy production when you exercise.

There are three primary energy-generating pathways in the body. 

All three of these energy systems are used to produce ATP during exercise, but the reliance on any one over the others is significantly affected by the intensity and duration of your workout.

People jumping in the air in an exercise class.

#1: Phosphagen System

The phosphagen system, often called the phosphocreatine system or ATP-PC system for short, is predominantly used during an extremely short, very high-intensity activity, such as performing a max-effort squat, or sprinting 100 meters.

This energy system can produce ATP extremely quickly but is very inefficient, and can only really sustain activity lasting 10 seconds or less. 

#2: Anaerobic Glycolysis

When your activity extends beyond 10 seconds or so, the glycolytic system kicks in.

Like the phosphagen system, anaerobic glycolysis still produces energy without needing oxygen, but the energy production is somewhat slower, so the intensity of your exercise will be lower.

Anaerobic glycolysis is the primary energy system targeted during max-effort exercise that lasts from 10 seconds to 2 minutes, such as running 400 meters or doing 90 seconds of burpees.

A group of people doing jumping jacks outside.

#3: Aerobic Metabolism

The oxidative pathways in the body include aerobic glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, and the electron transport chain.

These pathways can provide energy during sustained exercise, by burning stored carbohydrates (glycogen) and fat.

ATP is generated more slowly, so the intensity you are able to sustain while relying on aerobic metabolism is lower. Oxidative energy systems are the primary source of energy production for any exercise lasting more than 2 minutes.

Within this wide range, the higher the intensity, the greater the reliance on stored carbohydrates for the substrate, whereas lower intensity exercise utilizes more fat.

People performing box jumps, an example of what metcon training is.

Do Metcon Workouts Increase Weight Loss?

One of the purported benefits of metcon Crossfit workouts is that it can increase fat loss.

In much the same way that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) revs the metabolism, allowing you to burn more calories than normal after the workout is over, so too do metcon workouts.

The high-intensity efforts in a metcon workout, and the fact that you are continually changing your intensity and performing compound movements that involve most of the major muscles in your body, make metcon workouts very taxing from a physiological perspective.

As a result, you will experience an increase in your metabolic rate, due to what is termed excess post-oxygen consumption, or EPOC for short.

EPOC, which is sometimes called the “afterburn”, occurs because it takes additional energy for the body to restore homeostasis, replenish depleted glycogen, and recover from such an intense workout. 

Doing so burns additional calories, which is why these types of workouts can be so effective for fat loss.

Of course, successful weight loss depends on the interplay between your diet and physical activity, so even the best workouts aren’t going to help you lose weight if you are consuming an unhealthy diet and too many calories.

People doing kettlebell swings.

Pros and Cons of Metcon Training

There are several benefits of metabolic conditioning training, including the following:

Efficiency

From a time investment standpoint, metcon training is quite efficient because you can get a total-body workout that challenges both your aerobic and anaerobic metabolism in a relatively short amount of time.

Most metcon workouts are 20 minutes or less.

Variety

One of the hallmark features of any metcon workout is doing a bunch of different exercises at different intensity levels and for different durations. This keeps things fresh and prevents boredom, overuse injuries, and burnout.

Flexibility

You can do metcon workouts utilizing different types of exercises and equipment.

For example, you can perform only bodyweight exercises or you can use dumbbells, kettlebells, battle ropes, medicine balls, etc. This means you can tailor the workout based on your needs and available resources in space.

A person picking up a medicine ball.

Aids Progress

Because metcon workouts are dynamic and varied, they may help prevent weight loss plateaus and stagnation in your fitness improvements.

Metcon workouts aren’t necessarily a panacea or one-stop solution to getting fitter. There are downsides to metabolic conditioning workouts that include the following:

Not Beginner Friendly

In general, metcon training is really only appropriate for athletes who have some experience and base level of fitness.

The workouts often involve rapid cycling through advanced moves, and if you don’t have the proper technique down, you can injure yourself.

Limited Strength Gains

Metcon training is primarily geared towards improving cardiovascular fitness and aiding fat loss.

If your goal is to increase muscular strength or size, these types of workouts are not the most effective approach. Instead, you would want to focus on using higher weights and performing fewer reps than is typically used with metcon.

People doing lunges outside.

Metcon Exercises and Workouts

Almost any type of exercise can be used in a metcon workout, though compound, multi-joint movements are typically most effective, especially if stoking your metabolism and losing fat is your goal.

Examples of exercises that work well on metcon workouts include squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, jumping rope, box jumps, burpees, push-ups, dumbbell rows, pull-ups, jump squats, lunges, medicine ball slams, and heavy battle ropes.

The style and format of a metcon workout can vary.

Some include rotating through a bunch of strength training and cardio moves with little rest, which is essentially the same as circuit training. 

For example, you might do a metcon circuit training workout involving three rounds of the 15 reps of the following exercises: leg press, leg extension, step-ups, chest press, side lunges with a bicep curl, reverse lunges with an overhead press, Russian twist, and pull-ups.

People passing a medicine ball to one another at a gym.

Other metcon workouts are simple Tabatas of one exercise, such as doing 8 sets of burpees for 20 seconds with 10 seconds of rest.

Another common style of metcon workout is the AMREP (As Many Reps As Possible) format in which you set a timer and have a designated amount of time for each exercise and then perform as many reps as you can of that exercise during that period.

For example, you might do an AMRAP metcon workout doing 3 rounds of 60 seconds of each of the following exercises: 

  • 60 seconds of squats
  • 60 seconds of jumping jacks
  • 60 seconds of kettlebell swings
  • 60 seconds of burpees
  • 60 seconds of medicine ball slams 

Another style of workout that can be used for metcon training is EMOM (Every Minute On the Minute).

With this format, you have a set number of reps for every exercise, say 20. You begin the exercise at the start of every minute and must complete all your reps. 

Once your 20 reps are done, you’ll only have whatever seconds are remaining in the minute for your rest before the next exercise begins again.

An example of an EMOM metcon workout would be doing 3 sets of 20 reps of the following four exercises: jump squats, push-ups, kettlebell swings, and box jumps.

Incorporating metcon training into your workout routine is a great way to stimulate metabolic adaptations and get your metabolism firing on all cylinders, and now that you’ve got the metcon meaning clear, you’re ready to go!

For more Tabata and HIIT workouts, check out our guides.

A person flexing their biceps at the beach.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.