Metcon: Not Another Boring Cardio Workout
Standard cardio workouts can be time-consuming and boring. But don't lump all "cardio" into the same category. Smart metcon workouts will make you fitter, more resilient, and better looking.
If you're not motivated to do it, the following six reasons will get your mind right. If you ARE motivated to do metcon, but you're unsure how, skip to the workouts.
1 Improved Work Capacity
Whether we're doing aerobic or anaerobic conditioning, we're increasing our work output potential. Work capacity is our body's ability to positively tolerate, adapt to, and recover from training stress.
The better our oxygen uptake and the fitter we are, the longer we're going to last during our training sets, and the more total work we'll be able to handle. The greater your work capacity and the more stress your body can handle, the more bulletproof you become.
2 Improved VO2 Max
Also called "maximal oxygen uptake," it refers to the maximum amount of oxygen you can utilize during intense or maximal exercise.
The greater your VO2 max, the more efficient your heart and veins become at pumping blood into your working muscles. Although traditionally considered an endurance-performance enhancer, it helps lifters become well-rounded, healthier, stronger, and more muscular.
As a lifter, you should want the ability to pump more blood into your working muscles.
3 It Trains Multiple Energy Systems
Conditioning affords us the ability to train all of our energy systems within a given training week. If you're always lifting, you primarily use the phosphagen and glycolytic systems but neglect your aerobic system.
The added benefit of training your aerobic system dynamically compared to traditional steady-state cardio is the versatility of training and, consequently, the preservation and potential increase of lean muscle mass.
The simplest example is sprinting, but it can also include combined methods like pushing a sled and doing a loaded carry, single modalities like swimming and running, high-intensity intervals, mixed modality training, strongman endurance, and more.
4 Faster Recovery
Circulation and movement between training sessions actually speed up the recovery process by eliminating waste build-up, removing toxins, keeping muscles pliable, and reducing soreness.
Contrary to popular belief, lying down all day isn't the best form of recovery after having a tough workout. This is the difference between passive recovery and active recovery.
Swimming, biking, light running, walking, hiking, kayaking, sled work, and carries are all viable options. If your body isn't feeling super sore, moderately programmed aerobic and anaerobic sprint work can work too. Think tempo intervals on the AirBike or Ski Erg.
5 Increased Life-Expectancy
Looking strong and lifting a lot of weight is great, but so is living longer. Life expectancy is directly related to our aerobic fitness and can prevent premature death by fighting heart disease, stroke, and inflammation.
Conditioning also improves mitochondrial density: your body's energy powerhouse. Fewer mitochondria equate to lower ATP production, lower oxidative capacity, diminished antioxidant defense, and weakened immune system, which negatively impacts our health.
6 Health and Mood Booster
Conditioning improves your life, not just physically but mentally. Conditioning that challenges the body's musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems in a way that's different than lifting is great for the body and mind.
As long as you don't overdo it, your joints will feel better and your workouts will improve. Your mind gets a chance to escape to something different. Your body needs rest days to grow anyway, so why not do something that's as beneficial physically as it is mentally.
This form of aerobic conditioning makes you more efficient with oxygen consumption. The cardiac output method is a low intensity, steady-state form of conditioning that doubles as active recovery between strength workouts.
HIIT accelerates fat loss and replenishes high-energy fuel sources like ATP and CP. It also significantly improves stroke volume and cardiorespiratory fitness. Do HIIT in zone 4 (80-90% max heart rate), focusing on high-systemic exertion rate.
- Do 5-7 rounds
- Work for 30 seconds, rest for 2 minutes
Strongman-style endurance training involves pushing or carrying a heavy object for a short period of time. It won't just condition the body aerobically; it'll increase grip strength and improve total-body strength and muscle development. It's perfect for powerlifters and bodybuilders.
- Load up a trap bar
- Carry it for 8-10 rounds
- Go 30 seconds on, 60-90 seconds off
Power intervals are built around short, max-effort power output. The goal is to engage as many muscle fibers as possible, produce as much power as possible, and then fully recover between sets. Rest double the amount of time you worked.
This is a great form of conditioning for becoming more powerful and forceful within the ATP-PC energy system. It's key for athletes like sprinters, football players, baseball players, and MMA fighters.
- Do 6-10 rounds
- Work for 6-10 seconds
- Rest for 2-3 minutes
Tempo intervals are a challenging upgrade from the traditional cardiac output method due to the nervous system's higher exertion rate. The rest periods are incomplete, which means you perform work sets on an incomplete gas tank – about 50% fully recovered.
Tempo intervals are a great tool to improve aerobic capacity while being more muscle-sparing than typical low-intensity cardio. I prefer to use traditional equipment like a ski erg, rower, or AirBike.
- Do 10-15 rounds
- Go for 15 seconds on (hard)
- Rest or go easy for 45 seconds
Power capacity differs slightly from power intervals. These sessions are slightly outside of the pure ATP-PC system and engage our glycolytic energy system by working for an extended 10-15 seconds per set.
Glycolysis is present anywhere between 10 seconds to 2-3 minutes of work. Because work capacity is also the goal, perform these sets with incomplete rest. Unlike tempo intervals, where power output isn't the intent, power capacity gives you much longer rest.
- Do 10 rounds
- Go for 10-15 seconds on
- Take 90 seconds to 2 minutes off
For this versatile form of conditioning, do multiple exercises and use a variety of timing protocols.
You can even introduce high-skill exercises like swings, thrusters, and overhead work. You'll need greater core stability, strength, and movement fluidity to do these well.
Grab a kettlebell, a barbell, and a slam ball, then:
- Do 3-5 rounds of 3-5 exercises back-to-back.
- Choose an appropriate number of reps for the amount of weight you're using.
- Do each exercise back-to-back, then rest for the same amount of time you worked. If you do 40 seconds of work, get 40 seconds of rest.
T Nation earns from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate. Read more about our policy.