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Metabolic Conditioning: Definition, Types of Workouts, and Benefits

What is Metabolic Conditioning?

Metabolic conditioning, or MetCon, is a training style that uses the body’s immediate and intermediate energy pathways––those using creatine phosphate and glucose to produce ATP (energy molecules) more quickly. A MetCon workout will generally consist of moderate to high-intensity activities, sometimes with short breaks in between.

What Does a Metabolic Conditioning Workout Look Like?

A MetCon workout typically combines cardio and strength activities at moderate to high intensity. The goal for the trainee is to sustain a certain level of intensity for a specific time. 

For example, suppose a metabolic conditioning workout includes elements of AMRAP (e.g., doing as many reps as possible for a movement for a given period). In that case, those rounds can be as short as 30 seconds. 

In contrast, trainees can do less challenging activities, such as bodyweight lunges, for a minute or more.

Once they are done with a certain movement, trainees jump to another activity with little to no rest in between. By jumping between several activities within a single round, the athlete can train a larger percentage of their muscles and give their cardiovascular system a good workout.

It’s worth noting that trainees must be careful with more technical exercises like burpees, especially when doing AMRAPs. Doing reps too quickly can compromise technique and increase the injury risk.

So, a better alternative, especially for less experienced trainees, could be to stick to simpler exercises that revolve around a single movement pattern—squats, push-ups, or sit-ups, for example.

In addition to AMRAP, every minute-on-the-minute (EMOM) is a popular approach to MetCon training. Here, the goal is to do a set number of reps at the start of a minute and take the rest of the time to recover before repeating.

For example, if it takes you 20 seconds to do ten bodyweight squats, you use the remaining 40 seconds to recover before the next minute starts. You can then do the same exercise or jump to another activity.

Metabolic Conditioning vs. HIIT vs. Tabata

As discussed, MetCon training varies in intensity, duration, and the movements used. It seems identical to HIIT and Tabata, but there are some differences.

HIIT is an approach where trainees push themselves as hard as possible for short periods and take a break after each bout. For example, an athlete would run fast for 30 seconds, walk for 90 seconds to recover, and repeat the cycle 5-10 times.

Tabata also shares similarities but has some strict rules. Each round includes 20 seconds of all-out effort, followed by 10 seconds of recovery, and is repeated eight times, totaling four minutes.

So, HIIT and Tabata are forms of MetCon, but not all metabolic conditioning training is HIIT or Tabata.


1. What is metabolic conditioning used for?

MetCon is a time-efficient way for the average person to improve their strength, explosiveness, endurance, and balance. It also improves health markers and is a fun way to train the cardiovascular system.

2. Is metabolic conditioning the same as cardio?

While MetCon training improves cardiovascular capacity, it differs from traditional cardio because it’s more intense and structured differently. The workouts typically consist of multiple activities instead of one done for an extended period (e.g., jogging).

Related Terms in Training Modalities Category