What Is Metabolic Conditioning?

metabolic conditioning

Are you wondering… what is metabolic conditioning? You may be learning about it from your trainer, hear the term tossed around at the gym, or maybe you have no idea what it is and have never heard about it before. Either way, we are here to give you the 411 about metabolic conditioning and the benefits!


What is it?

Metabolic conditioning, or metcon for short, is structured exercise and rest patterns designed to bring about a particular bodily response. The plan caters to your specific health goals, such as adding muscle mass, getting a lean physique, or increasing running distance. 

First, let’s have a closer look at metabolism and how it’s achieved in the body. Metabolism is the chemical reaction that happens in the cells of the body, transforming food into energy. You might not have known that there are three primary metabolic pathways, each with its specific purpose. The body is a marvellous thing, isn’t it?!


How does it work?

The Immediate Pathway – Phosphagen

This pathway is the quickest and most powerful way to get energy. The body uses it mainly when performing less than 10 seconds exercises, such as Olympic weightlifting or the 100-metre dash (three cheers for Andre De Grasse!). Because of the short burst of power, recovery can take three to five minutes. It’s called the phosphagen pathway because it uses creatine phosphate to make energy.


The Intermediate Pathway – Glycolytic

This pathway provides the energy for exercise that lasts between one to four minutes. Think of the shorter duration activities such as the Olympic women’s 200-metre freestyle swim (hip-hip-hooray for Penny Oleksiak!) or short-distance rowing. It takes about one to three minutes to recover and is called the glycolytic system because it uses glucose (carbohydrates) for energy production. 

Both the phosphagen and glycolytic pathways initially do not use oxygen and thus are known as anaerobic systems. 


The Long-Duration Pathway – Aerobic or Oxidative

 The body uses this pathway for endurance events, such as the Olympic 20-kilometre race walk or the cycling road race (high five to Michael Woods!). This pathway can supply energy for hours of light to moderate-intensity exercise. Because it uses an abundant supply of fat and carbs for fuel, it recovers in only a few seconds. 


It’s important to note that your body is not running on only one of these pathways at a time; they work simultaneously. As you work out, each system contributes, and it’s the work to rest ratios that will primarily use one of the systems. 

Pro-tip – If you want to improve the efficiency of the first two pathways, combine shorter periods of work with more extended periods of rest. To enhance the efficiency of the aerobic pathway, put together longer periods of work with shorter rest periods. 


Benefits of MetCon

Enhance performance

By designing your circuit with the appropriate rest times incorporated, you’ll maximize your workouts’ efficiency and see improved results. 

If you want to improve your bursts of power, use a workout to rest ratio of 1:10. For example, do box jumps, or any plyometric exercise, for 10 seconds and then rest for one and a half to two minutes. You will gear your workout around the areas you want to improve upon instead of going about it all willy-nilly. You’ve got a plan to improve your health in specific areas. 

To improve the intermediate pathway, use a workout to rest ratio of 1:2 (so resting in between exercises for twice as long as you perform the individual movement) and for improving the aerobic pathway, use a workout to rest ratio of 4:1, so shorter rest breaks in between moves. Take the appropriate amount of rest for you to bring your heart rate down. 

Specific, intentionally crafted plans breed results! If you’re tailoring your exercise schedule to the areas you want to improve, you’re going to see the exact results you’re seeking. What helps you stay on track and maintain motivation more than seeing a plan that is working.

Save time

Being more innovative with your workouts saves time. Include exercises that use multiple muscle groups (hello kettlebells) and maximize work-to-rest ratios’ efficiency. Use the space you’ve created in your day to get to all those things you have wished you had more time to do. Win-win!


You’ve got this! As with all fitness regimes, make sure you are paying attention to form (using your breath can help) and that it is safe for you to perform intense, demanding exercises. Start slowly with one metabolic conditioning workout a week to prevent injury and keep you going for the long haul. Gradually increase to three per week. Take your rest, with stretches and mobilizing in between training days.


Want to get prepped with the supplements you’ll need before hitting the gym? Visit us in store, have a chat with one of our experts, and learn about our favourite supplements! We can also be reached on Facebook and Instagram. Now it’s your turn to tell us, how do you keep your exercise routine going? Be sure to tag us! We are #ReflexNation.

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