Metabolic Conditioning - The Key To Your Fat Loss Success

What Is It?

Metabolic Conditioning primarily aims to burn the maximum amount of calories possible during a session, by enhancing the storage and delivery of energy for a prescribed exercise selection. This type of conditioning will optimise the amount of fat burnt during a workout as well as keeping your metabolism elevated long after you’ve stopped exercising.

This is primarily due to a phenomenon known as EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) – also labelled the ‘after-burn’. And while this newfound terminology may best be found on the front of a Men’s Health magazine cover, the science behind it is well backed.

A high EPOC level is associated with an elevated metabolism and increased secretion of growth hormone and noradrenalin. These hormones will help break down stores of fat and increase their use as a fuel source, equating to that lean physique you’ve been searching for.

It’s the key to your fat loss success.

What Is It Not?

Metabolic Conditioning is not interval training, nor is it just plain aerobic exercise. There’s no rest (or at least very minimal) in between exercises, there’s no isolating any particular area of the body and it’s certainly not boring.

You shouldn’t walk away thinking ‘I enjoyed that’, nor should you think ‘I could do another set of those’.

What Does It Involve?

Metabolic Conditioning usually involves utilising weighted exercises that challenge the power and explosiveness of the whole body, pushing you well beyond your comfort zone. Performing these short bursts of high intensity exercise will preserve muscle as well as elevating metabolism long after exercise has finished.

Embracing the power of urgency, through performing as much work as possible within a determined time, is vital. Although it’s uncomfortable and hard, it will help lose body fat, build endurance and develop a muscular, leaner physique.

The Rules

Keep Intensity High – Breezing through a metabolic conditioning circuit will get you nowhere. Use a challenging load that you can move fast, which will force you to work hard every time you move the weight. The higher the intensity, the greater the metabolic impact.

Maintain Proper Technique – Just because you’re working at a high intensity and trying to be more ‘metabolic’ doesn’t mean you should shirk away from utilising correct technique. Use a full range of motion and always make sure you’re in control of the weight and not just flinging it around – quality over quantity.

Work The Entire Body – This type of conditioning must involve the upper body, lower body and core. The more muscles you work, the more calories you burn. The more calories you burn, the more productive your workouts will be and the faster you’ll be able to burn body fat.

Get Breathless and Reach Failure – You have to be out of breath at the end of the workout. If you can hold a conversation about what you’re currently watching on Netflix, you’re not doing metabolic conditioning. Reaching metabolic failure is also a must – the need to stop because of an intense burn in the muscles, and not necessarily just because the weight is too heavy.

Avoid Adaptation – You don’t want to adapt to conditioning. If you get good at it, it has essentially stopped working, leaving you having to complete a lot of work just to maintain previous improvements. 

Metabolic Conditioning Example 1 – The Complex

A complex involves cycling through a series of exercises without putting the bar down, transitioning smoothly from movement to movement and performing all the assigned reps on one exercise before moving to the next. Alwyn Cosgrove says it right: ‘A circuit using one piece of equipment, one load and one space’.

The Rules

Choose A Number of Exercises – Complexes can range anywhere from 4-10 exercises; be smart with your skill and fitness level. In the video below I demonstrate with 5 exercises – the hang clean, push press, front squat, Romanian deadlift and bent over row.

Choose an Exercise Order – Aim to place higher skill, harder exercises at the beginning of the complex and low skill, easier exercises at the end. Try and avoid placing exercises that use the same muscle groups after each other and make sure each exercise can transition smoothly to the next.

Choose a Rep Range and Rest Period – Select a number of reps you’ll be completing for all exercises. In the video below I use 8. Some exercises will be harder to complete more repetitions on (an overhead press for example) so don’t be afraid to lower the amount of reps for some exercises. Select an appropriate time to rest (anywhere between 90-120 seconds is a good place to start).

The System – Perform the allotted number of repetitions on each exercise, swiftly moving onto the next without resting. Complete all exercises as fast as possible, before resting for the prearranged rest period and going into the next set.

Examples –

Push Press x 8, Back Squat x 8, Step Ups x 8/s, Romanian Deadlift x 8

Reverse Lunge x 6/s, Good Morning x 6, Push Press x 6, Front Squat x 6

Metabolic Conditioning Example 2 – The Metabolic Chain

The metabolic chain workout is a long chain of exercises performed back to back in one seamless, compact movement. In order to prioritise muscle growth and progressive resistance, each exercise in the chain has a single repetition added after each round.

The Rules

Choose A Number of Exercises – In the video below I use four exercises - the shoulder press, bent over row, goblet squat and dumbbell snatch. You can select any exercise you want but they must be able to be performed in a continuous manner.

Choose a Time Slot – Choose a time slot, usually 5, 8 or 10 minutes that you will be working continuously for. You will be working for the whole of this time, regardless of how many chains you complete. You are able to rest whenever and for however long you want, but adhere to the motto ‘push until you can’t, rest until you can’, before starting where you left off.

The System – Start by performing one repetition of every exercise, then perform two reps, then perform three, all the way up until you get to 5 on each exercise. Once you’ve completed five reps on every exercise this is classified as one chain. Then start again from one repetition and see how many chains you can achieve in your allotted time.

Examples –

Press Up x 1-5, Front Squat x 1-5, Shoulder Press x 1-5, Romanian Deadlift x 1-5

Step Up x 5-1, Bent Over Row x 5-1, Reverse Lunge x 5-1, Shoulder Press x 5-

Metabolic Conditioning Example 3 – The Countdown

The countdown workout involves just two exercises and takes very minimal time to complete. The basic premise is to select a repetition target and alternate between the two exercises, eliminating one repetition from each exercise until you get down to just one.

The Rules

Choose 2 Exercises – In the video below I use the squat thruster and med ball slam. Again you can select any two exercises you want.

Choose a repetition range – The more repetitions you choose, the harder it is! Start anywhere between 5 to 8 reps and see if you can slowly add a rep each week.

The System – Start by performing 8 repetitions (for example) of exercise A, then without resting, perform 8 repetitions of exercise B. Then perform 7 on each, 6 on each, 5 on each, all the way down until you complete just one rep on each exercise.

Examples -

Kettlebell Swing x 10-1, Incline Press Up x 10-1

Squat x 10-1, Inverted Row x 10-1

Concluding Thoughts

Metabolic Conditioning is tough. There’s no easy way out and you should be working at a high enough intensity that you are seriously considering why an earth you’re doing it.

For all its challenges and demands, however, it’s one of the best fat loss tools you can utilise, especially when trying to break through plateaus and boredom in the gym.

The three examples I’ve outlined above just about scrape the surface. This type of conditioning is not limited to these models, and equipment ranging from kettlebells to battle ropes, or exercise selection, rep ranges, rest periods and intensity can all be manipulated to enhance the fat burning effect of metabolic conditioning.