Metabolic Conditioning

‘Metabolic conditioning’ or ‘metcon’ for short,  is a term that has become quite popular among fitness professionals over the last couple of years. In this article I will attempt to explain what it is and why it is beneficial.

What is metabolic conditioning?

Metabolic conditioning simply refers conditioning your muscles to most effectively use your body’s energy by improving the efficiency of the systems that store and deliver that energy. The more efficient your energy systems, the better your metabolic conditioning.

There are three systems that the body can use in order to tap into its energy stores:

  1. ATP-PC: The ATP-CP system supplies only about 10 seconds worth of energy, and is used for only a very short and intense burst of exercise, such as a sub 100 metre sprint. This system uses adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and creatine phosphate (CP) as it’s energy source. Once ATP and CP stores have been used, the body will move to other energy systems to continue to create ATP. It is necessary to continually create ATP during exercise, as ATP is what allows your muscles to contract.
  2. Anaerobic: This system produces energy for short and intense bursts of activity lasting 1-2 minutes. It creates ATP by the partial breakdown of glucose. However a by-product of this pathway is lactic acid which builds up in your muscles and reaches a threshold that causes muscle burning and fatigue, making it difficult to maintain a high intensity.
  3. Aerobic: This system is the body’s method for making ATP with the benefit of oxygen. It uses oxygen to convert nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and protein) to ATP. It is both slower and less powerful than the other two systems, as it relies on blood circulation to transport oxygen to the muscles before it creates ATP. This is the dominant energy system used in endurance exercise, which is low to moderate in intensity and can fuel you for hours of activity.

It’s important to note though, that pretty much any movement will involve using all  three of these systems to some extent. But depending on the intensity and the duration of what you are doing, one will be dominant.

What is a metabolic conditioning workout?

Metcon workouts are generally a set of exercises put together in a specific arrangement in order to maximise the body’s ability to utilise energy from the energy systems that I’ve just outlined above. You will generally find that most metcon workouts tend to be high in intensity. This is because research has clearly shown that doing work in the anaerobic zone, using the ATP-PC and anaerobic energy systems, will have a positive effect on the aerobic system, but working in the aerobic zone, will not have a positive affect on the ATP-PC and anaerobic systems. Therefore high intensity workouts, when programmed and performed correctly, will have a positive effect on all three energy systems.

Examples of actual metcon workouts would include some which I have already blogged about, such as high intensity interval training and escalating density workouts.

What are the benefit of metabolic conditioning workouts?

There are many benefits of metabolic conditioning, including increased metabolism so you store less fat and look more toned, and increases in strength and cardiovascular endurance, power and speed. It will give you more energy and aid in improved sports performance.

In summary

Metabolic conditioning is simply a way of putting together a workout program that aids in making your energy systems more efficient, by developing your body’s capacity to store and utilise energy. There are many different workouts that would fall into the metabolic conditioning category such as high intensity interval training and escalating density training. Metabolic conditioning will help you lose fat, tone up, and build strength and fitness.

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