Lester Burnham, the middle-aged man and focus of the movie ‘American Beauty’ found himself in a major rut. To perk himself out of it, Lester decided to hit the gym and, as he put it “look good naked.“
We all want to look good naked. Now, there are some who would rather have larger than life muscles. Others would rather showcase a ripped, toned look when in their birthday suit.
If you fall into the latter category, you need to find ways to burn calories more effectively while defining and toning out your muscular system. One option that has been tossed around in recent years is known as “Metcon.”
What exactly is this, what does it do, and does it really offer the kinds of results you’re interested in?
We’ve got your answers covered right here.
What are Metcon Workouts?
Metcon, or “MetCon” as some like to write it out, is short for metabolic conditioning. Basically long story short, you train your metabolism to burn more calories throughout the day, especially in times where you’ll be active.
Sounds good, right?
With an elevated metabolic rate, you’ll burn more calories, which means you turbo charge your workout and see more results, faster. Of course, we still have to decide whether or not this actually works, but let’s look at what a Metcon workout is.
The idea of a metabolic conditioning workout is to bring about fast paced, short, high-intensity workouts. These workouts are performed in a very short period of time, in order to push your cardio system into overdrive. You wouldn’t be off base if you simply assumed a Metcon workout was the same as a HIIT work out (high-intensity training).
With a HiT workout, you perform short, quick burst movements, followed by a small amount of rest, followed by another high-intensity move, and so on and so on. The two are very similar to one another, although there is one, very important detail, that is different: no rest.
With a high-intensity workout, you perform a certain move for 30 or 45 seconds and then rest for maybe 15 to 30 seconds. You then move onto the next exercise and do the same. With a Metcon workout, you cut out the rest all together. Instead, you go from one move to the next to the next, until you have finished the entire circuit.
Basically, you whip your body into shape with high-intensity moves. Now, these are not long lasting moves. Each likely lasts a fraction of what a traditional HiT move lasts, but the point of the Metcon workout is to hit all of your muscle groups and push it to near exhaustion quickly.
Basically, you whip your body into shape with high-intensity moves. Now, these are not long lasting moves.
Each likely lasts a fraction of what a traditional HiT move lasts, but the point of the Metcon workout is to hit all of your major muscle groups and push it to near exhaustion quickly.
There you are, in the gym, and you see someone going balls to the wall for 10 minutes. You’re not sure if it looks tough (you could totally do those squats, and that guy in the corner is cheating!), but it does look intense without the break.
What exactly is the purpose of Metcon?
So it’s short for metabolic conditioning. Great. Anyone can title their workout anything. It doesn’t mean that it is true.
Your body’s metabolic rate is how fast it is able to turn fuel (food) into energy.
The food is broken down and the derived energy is transported through the blood stream to the cells in need (such as your muscles). The faster the body is able to deliver the energy to your muscles, the more energy you’ll have and the faster you’ll burn the calories found within the energy (Precor, 2014).
Your body’s metabolic rate isn’t just based on how you workout though.
The kind of food you consume plays a major role as well. If you eat a large amount of processed foods and simple carbs, it takes longer for your body to process and breaks this food down, which slows down your metabolism. Exercising forces your heart to beat faster, which picks up the blood flow, allowing the energy to travel faster to the cells in need, but if your body is busy breaking down simple carbs and sugar, it doesn’t matter what kind of workout you’re putting in.
Your body needs everything working together to really turbo charge the metabolic rate and “train” your metabolism to burn energy faster.
Do Metcon Workouts Work Better Than a HiT Workout?
The array of Metcon workouts have sprouted from the popularity of HiT workouts.
Many of the most successful workout programs in the last decade (P90X, for example) are based around high-intensity moves.
You go all in, take a short break, then go all in and so on.
The fast move followed by the slow down period forces your heart to beat faster and then slower, which is an excellent strength trainer for the heart itself.
The thing about the Metcon workout is you can’t go as hard as you would with a HiT workout. There is only so much energy you can expel before you’re tapped. Your body uses three different energy sources. The primary energy source used for a Metcon workout is your “instant energy” source.
However, this particular energy source is quickly depleted.
If you’re into video games (especially role-playing games such as Fallout), think of it as the run feature. You can run for a few moments, but then when the energy runs out, you’re forced to walk until your sprint meter (or whatever it is called in the particular game) fills back up. No matter how much you’d want to, your character can’t sprint again until the meter begins to fill up. The same is true with a Metcon workout. Once you’ve tapped out the instant energy in your body, there just isn’t anything you can really do until it restores itself.
So are Metcon workouts actually better than a high-intensity workout?
If your sole purpose is to burn through more calories and torch your metabolism, no, it isn’t.
Surprised something called a metabolic conditioning workout doesn’t work as well?
You shouldn’t be.
This isn’t to say there isn’t anything good about the workout. But specifically with regards to burning more calories, you’re better off using a high-intensity workout. This is because of the short breaks. The short breaks allow you to go longer (with the breaks helping your instant energy levels to fill back up). This allows you to burn more calories.
Additionally, because your heart is forced to change intensities, it improves your heart strength as well. Due to all of this, if you really want to turbo charge your metabolism and burn more calories, stick with the high-intensity workouts (Athletic Club, 2017).
Why So Popular?
Alright, so a Metcon workout is basically just an abbreviated version of a high-intensity workout, just without all the breaks. High-intensity workouts burn more calories and are better for your heart.
How in the world did Metcon workouts become so popular?
It’s simple: people are lazy.
Okay, so that’s not exactly the answer, but it is part of it. People want instant gratification. They want to see and experience instant results. You’ve probably seen the infomercials showcasing guys and girls, lathered up in baby oil so their ripped bodies glisten as they tell you it is possible to have a body, just like theirs, in as little as 10 minutes a day.
That, of course, is not true. You will not look like those guys and gals in 10 minutes a day.
Because you want to know what?
They don’t just work out 10 minutes a day. However, the 10-minute workouts they show you are Metcon workouts. The workouts are the balls to the wall, high-intensity workouts that do burn all sorts of calories. If you were to compare 10 minutes of Metcon against any other workout, you’d burn more with Metcon. The thing is, after 10 or 20 minutes you’ll be completely tapped out, where as a high-intensity workout you can go for 40 or 80 minutes.
Essentially, long story short, people want to see results faster and don’t’ necessarily want to put in the kind of time it actually takes to achieve their dream body. That is why a 10 minute extreme Metcon workout sounds pretty good, if that’s all it takes.
Because most people can put up with nearly anything if it’s only 10 minutes.
So Metcon Workouts are Pointless?
No, we didn’t say that and that’s not true at all. When push comes to shove, if you want to improve your metabolism and burn more calories you should go with a HiT workout.
However, there are some solid benefits you can extract from Metcon workouts.
With a Metcon workout, you can target one area of your body and really blast it into oblivion. This is helpful for athletes looking to improve certain areas of their performance. Sure, weight training can make that area stronger, but Metcon helps build explosiveness until the muscle fails. The beauty of a Metcon workout is there isn’t just one workout. You can tailor it to meet your specific needs and to hit the area you want to improve upon.
There are general workouts (we’ll go over one in a second), and then there are the workouts you create yourself. By looking at the example workout, you can customize something specifically for your own needs (Bonvec Strength, 2013).
When to Perform a Metcon Workout
Now, a Metcon workout is great when you only have 10 or 20 minutes. We like to say a small workout is better than no workout at all. So if you’re day is tight and you can’t fit in a full body, 90 minute workout, just go for a Metcon option. At least you’ll torch your body for 10 minutes. You’ll feel better about yourself for the rest of the day as well.
If you have more than 10 minutes though, we like to recommend performing a Metcon workout after you’ve finished a HiT workout. Think of it as a finisher move to zap the remainder of your energy and take the workout to overdrive.
After all, a Metcon workout is just a shrunken down HiiT workout anyway, so why not put the two together?
Metcon Workout Example
If you decide to go about creating your own metcon workout, you don’t need to use these specific moves but keep the moves simple. You don’t need to do anything overly complex. Squat jumps or pull-ups can really hit certain areas of your body without putting you at risk for injury. Speaking of injury, before we get into the example, if you feel any kind of unusual pain or tenderness in joints, you’re overdoing it and need to stop.
Should the pain continue, you need to see your doctor.
The example workout routine is as follows:
- Push up
- 15-yard shuttle run
- Pull up
You can do these in any order (although we like to alternate between upper body and lower body). Do each move 10 times. After the final move, repeat the exercise nine times. Continue doing this until you are down to 1 rep. By the time you hit the one rep per move you’ll be completely milked of any energy. Should you tack this onto the end of a high-intensity workout you’ll feel it that much more.
The beauty of this kind of exercise is you can swap in different moves and use the same 10 to one rep method.
The main question regarding Metcon workouts is if the workout is effective.
It really depends on what you’re doing with the workout. If you’re using it as your main source of cardio, you’re leaving too much on the table, because there’s only so much gain you’ll get out of a 10 to 15-minute workout.
However, if you’re using it as a supplemental workout to add onto a high-intensity training session, if you only have a few minutes to workout during a given day, or if you want to target a certain area of the body and really focus on improving it, then yes, Metcon workouts can be especially effective.