Metabolic conditioning

Common mistakes about metabolic conditioning

Metabolic conditioning is often misinterpreted as interval training, cardio or aerobic training. Unless the body is being pushed through multiple zones at one time, you’re not experiencing metabolic conditioning.  Heavy weights or whole body lifts may elevate your heart rate but unless your workout is less then 40 mins, it doesn’t qualify as metabolic.


How do I know if I’m training metabolically?

Metabolic conditioning is hard work, and you will certainly know when you’re doing it. Perhaps most of us don’t recognise the feeling. Have you ever chopped up logs with an axe? Carried a heavy sofa up a few flights of stairs? Spent all day digging holes? Or played any sport that involved exerting maximum effort pushed against an opponent like kickboxing, BJJ or rugby? Then this is what metabolic training feels like.

These activities are not aerobic or anaerobic, they are both. You will spend periods of time in both zones and periods of time above the lactic threshold, the point where muscles start to burn. It’s not just cardiovascular training or weight training but both. By constantly working the whole of the body, you are exerting every muscle you have available. Moving in every direction, with sets of heavy whole body exercises and sprinting that produce lactic burn, with very little rest between exercises, constitutes metabolic training.

The Benefits

Metabolic conditioning will build muscle and decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes; however the fundamental purpose is to burn the maximum number of calories possible. It’s also about generating a longer lasting effect that will burn fat for many hours after the workout and research has proven this. If your workout is done with sufficient intensity in line with a balanced diet you will see extremely quick results.


The Energy systems

The term metabolic conditioning encompasses the use of the three major energy systems in the body.

  1. The phosphagen system or creatine system (for explosive movements with a maximum of 10 seconds).
  2. The glycolytic system (middle distance or continued use of strength).
  3. The oxidative system (everyday regular movements).


Metabolic training also activates other mechanisms associated with continued burning of fat. EPOC or Oxygen debt refers to the increased oxygen consumption after a workout is complete and can result in significant fat calorie usage for 24 – 48 hours after training. Once your body has used up a significant amount of its glycogen store it will use fat as a buffer to replenish it. Your body begins to work overtime creating a higher basil/basic metabolic rate or BMR.


Doing it right.

So, if you want to know if you’ve completed a metabolic training session, ask yourself four specific questions.

  1. Are you breathless? You should be gasping for breath in a metabolic workout. If you can talk, you are not doing it right.
  2. Do you feel the burn? Have you stopped working out due to intense muscle burn directly related to lactic acid?
  3. Are you lifting heavy? If you’re not incorporating heavy weighted movements into the workout you’re missing out.  Heavy barbell squats, explosive power cleans, and maximal deadlifts are an important element.  If you don’t have weight, then you need to use body-weight exercises that come close to mimicking a similar effect (single leg squats, pull-ups, push-ups, explosive jumps).
  4. How hot are you? If you’re not sweating, your body is not getting hot enough and you are missing out on the heat effect.




Metabolic conditioning is one of the few ways to create EPOC and is an extremely effective way of training for many sports and fat loss. Not all calories are equal, your body is a mesh of chemical reactions affected differently by movement and food, calories are only a way to measure how fast your energy burns. Stay focused and metabolic conditioning will bring you the strongest results quickest.




Christian Thomson

Body Transformation Coach & mentor at body core 

Find out how I use physiological and neurological techniques to create pain free powerful bodies