MetCon for the Masses

By Jennifer Blake |

One of the best-kept fitness secrets is that you don’t have to spend hours a day, every day, in the gym to see results. To make the most of the time you have, many experts recommend metabolic conditioning — a workout protocol designed to maximize the potential of your body’s energy systems, resulting in a stronger, fitter, and faster you. And the workouts last no more than 30 minutes, tip to tail.

Metabolic conditioning, or metcon, aims to increase the efficiency of your three energy systems: adenosine triphosphate–creatine phosphate (ATP-CP), glycolytic, and oxidative. These systems work together to fuel activities of varied intensities or effort. (For more on these systems, see “All About Your Metabolic Energy Systems.”)

The magic of metcon lies in the timing of interval workouts that stimulate one energy system to work harder than the other two. The goal is to balance adequate rest periods with movements of varying intensities, so you’re ready to get moving again once the timer beeps. This work–rest structure requires a lot of effort in a short period of time.

Targeting each energy system in two or three discrete sessions spread throughout the week makes metabolic-conditioning workouts “physiologically smart,” explains Tineile Heiler, creator of Life Time’s Alpha Metcon program. This avoids the pitfall of workouts designed to make you feel like you’ve been run over by a steamroller — and potentially so exhausted or discouraged that you quit.

Perhaps the most attractive aspect of metabolic conditioning is approachability: Timed intervals allow you to move at your own speed. Whether you’re an exercise newbie or a seasoned athlete, you can go at a pace that feels challenging for you.

This Alpha Metcon workout consists of two or three timed-interval workouts per week, repeated over a period of eight weeks. Day 1 targets strength; day 2, endurance. Day 3, intended for more advanced exercisers, builds power.Spread the workouts throughout the week, and plan for each workout to last no more than 30 minutes from start to finish.If you’re uncertain about what weights to choose, follow workout designer Tineile ­Heiler’s advice to keep them challenging but not so heavy that they compromise form. “On the strength and power days, the time intervals are shorter, so your weights can be a bit heavier than on the endurance day, when the time interval is longer and you’ll need to pace yourself,” she says.And don’t let your workouts go unchecked: Track your weights, reps, and rounds in a workout journal.Begin with day 1 and day 2; as your fitness improves, add day 3 to the mix, attempt to lift heavier weights, or complete more reps and rounds.

Set your workout timer for 45 seconds of work, 45 seconds of rest. Complete as many good-form reps of the first exercise as possible within 45 seconds. Rest for 45 seconds before moving on to the next exercise (take extra rest time as needed). Perform three to five rounds of this strength routine.

Set your workout timer for two minutes of work, one minute of rest. Complete as many reps of each exercise with good form within two minutes for five to eight rounds of this endurance circuit. Rest for one minute between each work interval, taking extra rest as needed.

Set your workout timer for 20 seconds of work, 40 seconds of rest. In circuits A and B, complete as many explosive good-form reps as possible within 20 seconds for three to six rounds, for each of these power circuits. Rest for 40 seconds between each work interval, taking extra rest as needed.Wait until you’re completely recovered from circuit A before moving on to circuit B.

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