This may come as a surprise…
But my last name isn’t MetCon. Metcon is short for metabolic conditioning, one of the best ways to lose fat. It worked so well I made it a part of my personal brand. Before I found out about metabolic conditioning, I would do long sessions of cardio and lots of slow, controlled reps. Now I can get more done in 20 minutes than I did in an hour and a half. But more on that later…
How 1 Movie Changed Fitness
Several years ago there was a movie that shocked the fitness world. It took a handful of actors and stuntmen and turned them into living legends. What shocked everyone was not how lean and athletic they looked, though they certainly were impressive. It was how fast they transformed. They dropped fat and packed on muscle SO fast that few believed they could do it without cgi or anabolic steroids. The movie was 300. The actors primarily trained with a then little known style of workout called a metcon.
As far as I can tell, metabolic conditioning got its start with Dr. Izumi Tabata, whose researched showed that people got in better cardiovascular shape doing High Intensity Interval Training than steady state cardio. This principle was picked up by the Crossfit community who applied it to their WODs. It was then adapted to sport specific and combat training by Mark Twight at his training facility, Gym Jones. The cast of 300 trained at Gym Jones. When people remarked at the incredible conditioning of the cast, metabolic conditioning started to make its way into popular culture.
So What is Metabolic Conditioning?
Metabolic Conditioning Involves deliberately targeting anaerobic energy systems. That is, they consist of training at a level that is too intense to be fueled by breathing oxygen alone.
The body has three pathways of getting energy to fuel activity. Unless you’re sprinting or lifting right now, you’re using your primary system as you’re reading this – your aerobic energy pathway.
There are two more energy systems that fuel hard work like sprinting and max effort lifts.
Phosphagen or the Creatine Phosphate System: Good for very intense bursts of no more than a few seconds. Think heavy lifting or a 100 meter dash. Takes several minutes to fully recover from.
Glycolitic Pathway: Can fuel a minute or two of medium intensity work. An example would be a high rep set or longer distance sprint.
The way these systems work together holds the keys to getting the body you want.
3 Reasons Metabolic Conditioning Is Awesome
EPOC – Excess Postexercise Oxygen Consumption
When you do cardio, like running on a treadmill, you are using oxygen for energy. Your body can breathe enough oxygen into your blood stream to fuel your activity.
But if you go out to a field and do sprints, your body can’t breathe in enough oxygen to fuel the activity and it has to switch to a short term energy system like glycolysis.
When you strain to lift a heavy weight the same thing happens. Whenever your body can’t fuel an activity with oxygen it uses these alternate systems, but there is a catch.Your body has to breathe air, so when it relies on these other metabolic pathways, it creates lactic acid in the muscles. This acid has to be cleared out by breathing extra oxygen. This is known as oxygen debt.
If you jog up a few flights of stairs, you will start to breathe faster. When you get to the top of the stairs and start walking normally, you still continue to breathe faster. What you might not notice is that even after you catch your breath you continue to breathe just a little bit deeper. You are paying off oxygen debt.
This works just like a credit card. Normally, you’d want to pay cash or debit for purchases. However, if you need to buy something you don’t have the cash for, you can use credit. The catch is you have to pay it back with a little extra, interest. In your body, paying back all the time you used your short term energy systems burns fat. This is the kind of debt that’s good to pile up.
When you do cardio, you are using oxygen for all the work, so there’s barely any more calories burned when you stop. When you do intense intervals and lift heavy weights, you can rack up massive oxygen debts. The workout ends and you go about your day, but your metabolism is still working overtime to pay off the debt. This effect can last over 24 hours. This is called Oxygen Debt or EPOC (Excess Post Oxygen Consumption). It’s also been called the “afterburn” effect. The ability to keep burning extra calories long after your workout ends is just one of the advantages of metabolic conditioning.
Metabolic Conditioning Specifically Signals Fat Burning
In order to burn fat, you first have to coax the fatty acids out of their cells. The body doesn’t want to let go of fat, and requires certain signals to burn stored fat as fuel. Enter the catecholamines. The catecholamines, adrenaline and noradrenaline, get your fatty acids out of their cells and into the bloodstream for use.
Burning Fat through Heat Loss
Metabolic Conditioning has another advantage to it that people rarely talk about. It comes from heat loss. Using anaerobic energy systems generates tons of heat because of the chemical reactions they require. However, there are all these other vital chemical reactions that need to take place within a narrow temperature range. So, when your body starts to heat up, it activates your sweat glands to help cool you off.
Here’s the thing. If you recall back to science class, heat is lost in 4 ways. Radiation, Conduction, Convection, and Evaporation. When you sweat, the evaporation of the sweat from your skin causes you to lose .58 calories per gram of sweat. Depending on how much you sweat that could be anywhere from .8 to 2 liters per hour. Metcons usually only take around 15 to 20 minutes, so we’ll divide by four. Remembering that 1 liter is 1000 grams, a 15 minute metcon could tack on an additional 116 to 290 calories. The awesome part is that these aren’t calories you burned to fuel exercise. They’re bonus calories that just “disappeared” from evaporation.
Additional heat loss can come from radiation of heat from the surface of your skin to the air. If you are moving around quickly or working out near a fan, you can also experience heat loss from convection as the air whisks away the heat from your skin!
Side Benefits That Are Even Better Then the Main Benefits
Metcons Make Diets More Effective
Two diets that are greatly impacted by metabolic conditioning are IF, intermittent fasting, and carb cycling. This is because metabolic conditioning improves insulin sensitivity and stimulates growth hormone. Catecholamines are more effective at signaling fat burning when insulin is low such as in a fasted state or the low carb portion of a cyclical ketogenic diet. Doing metcons fasted stimulates catecholamines to burn fat. In a fasted, or ketogenic state, the growth hormone boost that happens a few hours after the workout isn’t ruined by high insulin levels.
“MetCons Before Cardio” Is the Secret to Rapid Weight Loss
When you do a met con workout you stimulate catecholamines, or adrenaline hormones that dump fatty acids out of your fat cells and into your bloodstream. Doing steady state cardio is now way more beneficial because you actually burn fat immediately. When you do cardio you normally don’t burn fat right off the bat. It takes a while to start burning fat for energy, but if you do metcons first you start burning fat right away. Cardio also increases the effects of heat loss and epoc created by the metcon workout.
Browning of Fat
Brown fat cells are heat producing, calorie burning fat cells that are packed with mitochondria. The mitochondria give them a brownish color. Brown fat burns calories to keep the body warm. People with more brown fat tend to be leaner. Endurance athletes also tend to have more brown fat. What’s interesting is that only the experienced endurance athletes have this transition from white fat to brown fat. So the more you do long runs, the more your body starts to produce brown fat. What’s great about metcons is they stimulate catecholamines like nothing else and catecholamines stimulate brown fat. So making a habit out of combining metcon workouts and cardio can really be a powerful way to stimulate your brown fat and develop more of it all while enjoying all the other benefits of metabolic conditioning.
Metabolic conditioning should be the go to training style for people who want to lose weight fast.
They help you lose weight through powerful hormones, heat loss, and caloric “afterburn”. They make diets way more effective and they change your fat profile so it’s easier to stay lean. There’s just one catch. They are tough. You will sweat, your muscles will burn, and when you stop you will breathe fire. But they work.
If you are looking for a complete solution that combines diet and metcons as well as strength training, check out Embrace Your Strength