Cardiovascular fitness, Fitness & Training

Boost Your Energy System with Metabolic Conditioning

Metabolic conditioning or metcon is a training method used in Crossfit. By maintaining a high intensity of effort over short periods of time and minimising rest periods, you can boost your cardio and optimise your energy production. Learn how this technique works and put it into practice in short sessions without equipment.

Increase Metabolic Demand to Use Energy More Efficiently

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A metcon workout consists of a sequence of exercises performed at a high intensity in short, split sessions, with as few rest intervals as possible.

What is Metcon Training For?

The objectives of metabolic conditioning are multiple:

  • Burn more fat, with an afterburn effect that lasts after the effort because the body continues to use energy to return to a state of calm.
  • Increase the body’s resistance to effort.
  • Boost all energy production systems by increasing the body’s metabolic demand.
  • Improve general physical condition, breathing and cardio and allow the body to use energy more efficiently in daily life, even when not exercising.

The 3 Energy Production Systems

To understand how to put metabolic conditioning into practice, let’s take a look at the different energy synthesis systems used by the body during exercise:

  • The anaerobic alactic system is the “starter” of the muscles: during the first few seconds of effort, it can produce ATP (the body’s fuel) in the absence of oxygen.
  • The anaerobic lactic system produces ATP without oxygen from glycogen stored in the muscles. It is most active during short exercise sessions and generates lactate, a compound that can, in turn, be used as an energy source in the aerobic system (with oxygen). The presence of lactate also promotes the adaptation of muscle fibres to exercise and, in particular, their endurance capacities. When the body makes heavy use of this metabolic pathway, the pH in the muscles becomes more acidic, which is thought to be the cause of the feeling of fatigue.
  • The aerobic energy production system uses oxygen. This is mainly at work during long, medium intensity efforts, and it consumes carbohydrates and then fats (and, if necessary, proteins) to produce energy, which is why fat is burnt during long-duration efforts. It is also predominant during recovery and rest periods.

During a metcon training session, all these energy production systems are mobilised. The main challenge is to find the right ratios between effort and recovery.

The Different Strategies of Metcon Training

entraînement metcon

Depending on the goal, metabolic conditioning training can take several forms:

  • If you want to perform at your best (burn more calories, perform more movements, lift heavier weights and so on), you need to take enough rest time to rebalance the pH of the muscle and improve the efficiency of the cells.
  • On the other hand, the accumulation of lactate activates lipolysis (the burning of fat) and promotes the afterburn effect, the fact that the body continues to consume calories for some time after the effort. Therefore, in order to burn fat, reducing rest intervals is suggested.

It’s up to you to find the ratio that suits you, taking into account the results you want to achieve, but also your resistance to effort, your cardiorespiratory capacity and how you feel. To start with, you can test a rest time twice as long as the time spent doing the exercise.

How to Integrate Metabolic Conditioning into Your Sports Planning

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Since it is performed in short (but intense) sessions, metcon can easily be incorporated into your training schedule. You can do the whole session or set aside a few minutes at the end of a weight training session for metcon circuit training. It is recommended that you space out at least two metabolic conditioning sessions by 48 hours, especially if you are doing a full-body workout.

Select 2-3 cardio or strength training exercises, such as squats, pull-ups, push-ups, kettlebells or deadlifts, with sprinting as an effective option. Choose a pace of work, either by the number of repetitions of a movement or by the time of effort, planning rest periods according to your goals. A session usually lasts less than 10 minutes.

You should very quickly obtain convincing results: increased endurance, improved breathing, strengthened muscles, less pain on exertion and an overall increase in energy in your daily activities!

Check out our Fitness & Training page for more advice.