7 Rules for Effective “Metcon” Workouts, Part 3

Part 1 and Part 2 of this post outlined seven rules for metcon workouts to help you burn fat, increase work capacity and improve both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Pick simple exercises
  2. Use full body movements
  3. Utilize high-intensity, short-duration workouts
  4. Limit eccentric loading
  5. Pick a goal and stick to it
  6. Don’t neglect strength training
  7. Clean up your diet first

Stay true to these rules and your conditioning workouts will be more focused with rhyme AND reason. There’s no justification for making workouts hard just for the sake of being hard. You have to train hard but for the right reasons. If fatigue is your only measure of a successful workout, how can keep track of progress? How do you know you’re getting closer to your goal?

As promised, here are three metcons you can try right away. Each one is for a specific fitness goal, with specific thought and rationale for each exercise, sets and reps and rest periods. And all of them have a natural progression to them. You improve with each workout to make gradual steps toward your goal. Give them a try.

1. SLED SPRINTS

Main goal: Anaerobic endurance

Target audience: Strength/power athletes

Intensity: Maximal

Work:Rest Ratio: 1:3 or longer

Equipment: plate-loaded sled (Prowler, Dog Sled, etc.), weight plates

  1. Load up a Prowler or similar sled with enough weight to equal 50 percent of your body weight. So if you weigh 180 pounds, use 90 pounds total (a 45-pound plate on each side of the Prowler).
  2. Sprint as fast as you can for 30-40 yards or as far as you can go in 10-12 seconds.
  3. Rest at least 3 times as long as you sprinted.
  4. Repeat for 10-20 sprints.

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Yep. It’s that simple. Sprint as hard as you can for a short distance. Stop, rest, do it again. If you don’t have a sled, do plate pushes. You won’t be able to go as heavy, but if you really care, you’ll join a gym with a Prowler or buy your own. These are great because it taxes the entire lower body and anyone can learn to push a sled in less than 10 seconds. Sled sprints are excellent for powerlifters, football players, baseball players and any athlete who needs to maintain a very high power output for multiple efforts separated by long rest periods.

Sprints utilize primarily the ATP-PC energy system, which uses creatine phosphate to provide ATP (the body’s most basic form of energy) for short, powerful bursts of activity. It’s great for lifting and sprinting, but is mostly tapped in about 10 seconds. You can recover most of your ATP-PC stores in about 3 minutes of rest, so a 10-second sprint followed by a 30-second rest gives you incomplete ATP-PC recovery. So after a couple sprints, you’re getting some lactic acid buildup, which is good. Frequent exposure to lactic acid enhances the body’s ability to buffer it (remove it from the working muscle and “recycle” it for more energy), all while enhancing the body’s ability to resynthesize ATP-PC stores.

2. KETTLEBELL SWINGS (FOR REPS OR TIME)

Main goal: Anaerobic endurance, fat loss

Target audience: Strength athletes, non-power team sport athletes (soccer, hockey, etc.)

Intensity: Near-maximal

Work:Rest Ratio: 10:1 or greater

Equipment: Kettlebell

  1. Grab a kettlebell. Beginners should start with about 20 percent of their bodyweight (35 pounds for a 180 pound person) and can go as high as 50 percent if you’re advanced.
  2. Get a stopwatch.
  3. Start swingin’.
  4. If you’re going for time, do as many reps as you can in 10 minutes. Rest whenever you need to. Record how many reps you do. Next time out, do more reps. Once you improve the number of reps you can do by 20 percent (e.g. 200 reps to 240 reps), go up in weight.
  5. If you’re going for reps, start out with 100. Do 100 reps as fast as you can, resting whenever necessary. Record how fast you get there. Next time out, go faster. Every third session, add 10-20 reps or go up in weight.

Kettlebell swings are another great conditioning tool that require minimal equipment and space. It’s a simple, full-body movement that’s easy to learn if done correctly. I understand that there are entire books, courses and certifications dedicated to kettlebell sports (and the swing especially), but for our purposes, we keep it simple. Stand up tall, feet just outside your hips. Keep your knees “soft” (bent ever so slightly), push your hips back like you’re trying to butt-bump the wall behind you, then “snap” your hips forward to fire the KB in front of you. That’s the first rep. Now, repeat the movement and keep the momentum going by “attacking the zipper” with the KB. That’s exactly what it sounds like – throw the KB at your crotch on the downswing. This will keep your back safe by not allowing the KB to travel too far backward between your legs. It should look like this:

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KB swings groove the hip hinge pattern, which is an essential movement for athletic performance. Every sprint, jump, swing and tackle utilizes some form of powerful hip extension, and everyone should have that movement ingrained into their brain. The longer work periods here make it applicable to team sports where you’re on the move constantly, but the weight of the KB and powerful nature of the movement means you can’t cruise through with minimal effort.

3. FARMER’S WALK/BODYWEIGHT TEMPOS

Main goal: Aerobic conditioning, fat loss

Target audience: Anyone and everyone

Intensity: Sub-maximal

Work:Rest Ratio: N/A

Equipment: Farmer’s walk handles OR trap bar OR heavy dumbbells, stopwatch

  1. Map out anywhere between 30 and 60 yards.
  2. Grab farmer’s walk handles, a trap bar or heavy dumbbells so combined they equal about your body weight.
  3. Walk the mapped-out distance as fast as you can and record the time. This is your baseline.
  4. Rest for a few minutes, then farmer’s walk the same distance at 60-70% of your best pace. For example, if your best time was 15 seconds, pace your working reps so they take 24 seconds.
  5. In between farmer’s walks, do 10 reps of any body weight exercise you want. Push-ups, crunches, air squats. Hell, you can even do mobility exercises like t-spine rotations or rollovers-into-v-sits. Doesn’t really matter as long as it’s low intensity.
  6. Repeat until you can’t perform the farmer’s walk at the prescribed tempo.

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Who says aerobic training needs to be running or biking? As long as it’s submaximal and sustained for a long time, it’s aerobic. Everybody needs a sound aerobic base, even if you’re a power athlete, because the recovery of your other energy systems is primarily based on aerobic capacity. And here you also work your grip strength, core strength, traps and entire lower body. You target the aerobic system by using submaximal intensity and not going as fast as you possibly can during the farmer’s walk. The body weight movements between reps keeps your heart rate elevated and enhances the aerobic effect.

This almost breaks the rule of only using high-intensity exercise, but farmer’s walks are so much more involved than your usual aerobic exercise that you can hardly call this “low intensity”. It’s only not intense in the sense that you’re not going balls-out hard and fast the whole time.

Start with tempos at 60 percent of your best time. Each time you go out, do more reps than before. Eventually, you can up the tempo to 65-70 percent or you can add weight to the farmer’s walk handles. It’s a hell of a lot more fun than traditional boring cardio.

GO GET YOUR CONDITIONING ON

Some people might read this and scream at their screen. “Sprints?! That’s not a metcon! It’s just sprints!” Well guess what? Everything we do is conditioning! That’s why the term “metcon” and all the other semantics are just silly. Metcon is short for “metabolic conditioning”, remember? And we’re just targeting different metabolic systems with different methods to ensure we have a well-rounded base of fitness.

Strength training targets a very small portion of our three energy systems. Same with running. You have to branch out to maximize fitness. I know it’s a scary thought, but we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable and step outside the little fitness prisons we lock ourselves in when we say “I’m a lifter” or “I’m a runner”.

Give these three workouts a try, either at the end of a lifting session or as a stand-alone workout. Keep improving every workout and let me know how you like them.

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2 comments on “7 Rules for Effective “Metcon” Workouts, Part 3
  1. Daniel says:

    Tony,

    In the last paragraph you mentioned “three energy systems.” I am assuming one of them is the cardiovascular system. What are the other two and have you written any articles on building a routine on balancing all three?

    BTW, this article was a great read and I definitely see my self to include all my training errors in it. It has really caused me to re-evaluate HOW I train.

    Regards,
    ~Dan

    • tonybonvechio says:

      Your 3 energy systems are:
      – ATP-PC
      – Glycolytic
      – Oxidative

      Read anything by Joel Jamieson. He explains it way better than I ever could.

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