Metabolic Conditioning: What Is It and Do You Need It?

metabolic conditioning Metabolic conditioning, also known for short as “met con“, is a relatively broad term that might be interpreted and practiced differently depending on where you are.

More specifically, different gyms and training clubs prepare their own metabolic conditioning classes but all have one specific thing in common: they are very carefully researched and prepared workouts in order to achieve the goals of achieving the maximum efficiency of the different systems in the body and they way they use fuel or energy.

As the name indicates, met con is all about literally conditioning the metabolic system. The metabolism describes the way your body makes use of the food you eat for energy.

The two main purposes or goals that people have when considering metabolic conditioning are:

  • To improve athletic performance
  • To achieve a desired physique

For most of us, both of these goals are highly desirable.

But as with any form of training, the effectiveness of your met con work is going to depend on a small number of critical factors; and one of the big ones is how you balance your training and rest activity. And it’s here that really defining your goals more specifically will help you decide precisely how to shape your metabolic conditioning training.

Specifically: decide if improving your “short burst” fitness is the goal, or if you want to better your endurance exercise performance. Because metabolic conditioning is all about targeting the different pathways that the body makes use of as it delivers energy to the muscles, different systems result in different types of energy.

Targeting one of the three systems during training therefore, allows you to improve that specific system and optimize it for ultimate performance.

The three main pathways for energy delivery are:

  • Phosphagen
  • Glycolytic
  • Oxidative

The phosphagen system can also be known as the “immediate system”, because it’s here that the most powerful and quickest delivery of energy occurs. Think of this system being used during very intense bursts of power like sprints or power lifting.

Due to the intense energy exertion of the phosphagen system, despite its working time frame of just a few seconds, it can take up to five minutes to fully recover post exertion.

The glycolytic is in the middle and covers energy of intermediate intensity which can have a duration of several minutes but usually no more than four minutes maximum. Middle distance running and regular weight lifting make use of the glycolytic energy pathway, with a normal recovery time of between one and three minutes.

Lastly, the oxidative pathway (also sometimes called the aerobic system) is used for longer lasting, lower powered exercise which can last for up to several hours of moderately intense activity. It is very fast recovering, taking only seconds to recover thanks to its use of body fat as fuel.

Metabolic conditioning activities therefore target one of these energy pathways. Usually, more than one will be in use at any one time as the energy systems interact, rather than strictly working in isolation.

Most of your met con workouts will have all three pathways working in some way, but a carefully planned routine will contain specific ratios of work to rest, and it’s in that planning that you can more precisely target one of the three pathways.

For this reason, many people who are wishing to begin metabolic conditioning training do so through a gym program or personal trainer; although it is certainly possible to create your own met con circuits once you understand the principals.

Serious athletes in different spots will use met con to optimize their energy systems according to the needs of that sport; sprinters will focus on the phosphagen pathways, while those training for marathon will want to be optimizing the oxidative system to its maximum capacity.

But even if you’re not a professional athlete, and are just wanting to use metabolic conditioning to improve overall fitness and physique, it has huge benefits here as well. In particular:

Increased burning of calories: once you’ve finished a carefully planned met con workout, the high intensity of the exercise results in your resting metabolism being considerably higher for several hours afterwards. In other words, your body continues to burn calories while you rest.

Improved movement: the average person gains the ability to move better thanks to the way different met con circuits target both slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers; both essential to different movements during daily life.

But remember: metabolic conditioning training should be carefully planned in regards to your goals. Timing is crucial, particularly when it comes to work/rest ratios, and it’s that you will make or break the results you can achieve through the potentially very powerful process of metabolic conditioning.