What Is Metcon? Metabolic Conditioning Explained

Man pushes weighted sled in gym
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What is metcon training?

Metabolic conditioning or “metcon” for short is a style of training made popular in recent years by the CrossFit community – although the style of training itself is nothing new. The term describes short bouts of higher-intensity training designed to increase metabolic demand and increase energy usage.

“Every CrossFitter swears by metcon for the performance benefits for competing and for the fat-loss physique benefits,” says PT Tom Wright.

How do metcon sessions work?

Typically metcon follows either a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) format with short periods of intense exercise followed by similar length at a lower intensity, or circuit training with various exercises performed back to back.

“The goal of a metcon session should be to achieve and sustain a high effort output over a short period of time, with as little rest as possible between work to make your body more energy-efficient, or fitter,” says Wright.

How does metcon burn body fat?

Many studies have shown HIIT to be superior to steady-state cardio for faster fat loss. Although more calories are burned in a longer, lower-intensity session, total fat loss tends to be greater when doing HIIT.

“Metcon is great for fat loss because of increased fat oxidation, reductions in appetite, and the increase in muscular adaptations and the subsequent increase in lean body mass,” says Wright. “In short, do metcon workouts and you’ll get lean.”

Are there any downsides?

One downside to the recent popularity of metcon training is that it’s often misused – or mis-labelled. Metcon should be used to take you to your training threshold, with short rest times in order to improve metabolic pathways.

“Longer CrossFit workouts like ‘Murph’ (one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 press-ups, 300 squats, one-mile run) aren’t metcon and tend to be overused, with trainees smashing themselves every session,” says Wright.

When should I do metcon?

Because of their short nature metcon routines can be used as workout “finishers”. If you’re trying to drop body fat while maintaining muscle, focus on resistance training without decreasing the volume of your workouts, and add five to ten minutes of metcon at the end.

“Doing this three times a week will increase your metabolic output,” says Wright. “That’ll help you to get leaner over a period of a few weeks as well as increasing your fitness.”

What moves should I do?

If you have spent a lot of your session working on pulling movements like deadlifts and barbell rows, for instance, then doing metcon with kettlebell swings and rower intervals would be a good choice because they recruit the same muscle groups but with a different stimulus.

“Alternatively you could use metcon to work on areas you didn’t hit in your main workout – adding some pushing, pulling or hingeing after squats, for instance,” says Wright.

3 Metcon Workouts To Finish Strong

Man about to slam medicine ball into gym floor

(Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Strongman-Style Metcon Workout

“You can go fairly heavy on this one,” says trainer Adam Wakefield. “It’ll build strength and endurance.” 5 rounds of…

1 Kettlebell clean and jerk

Reps 5 each side

Swing the kettlebell between your legs, hinging forwards at your hips, then snap your hips forwards and straighten your knees to power the kettlebell forwards and up. As the kettlebell passes hip height, pull it towards you and rotate your hand so your thumb points towards your collar bone. The kettlebell should finish in the rack position, resting on your forearm. Bend your knees slightly, then press the kettlebell overhead, using your legs to help power the movement. Bend your knees again to “catch” the kettlebell, then extend your legs again. This movement can also be done with two kettlebells at a time. 

2 Farmer’s walk

Distance 30m

Pick up heavy kettlebells or dumbbells, or use strongman handles if your gym has them. Keeping a straight back and looking forwards, walk 30 metres.

3 Sled push

Distance 30m

Hold the handles of a prowler sled as low as you can and adopt a split stance. Push through your front foot to begin moving the sled.

Bodyweight Metcon Workout

This circuit, created by trainer Will Purdue, is your bodyweight-only go-to. Do 40 seconds of each move, rest for 20 seconds, then move on to the next. No dip bar? Add a set of diamond press-ups.

1 Pull-up

Time 40sec Rest 20sec

Grasp a pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and lift your body until your chin is above the bar, focusing on using your back muscles to power the movement. Lower under control until your arms are fully extended.

2 Jump squat

Time 40sec Rest 20sec

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Brace your core and, keeping your back straight and looking forwards, bend your knees and push your hips back to lower until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Push through your heels and jump straight up, landing softly and continuing into the next rep. 

3 Wide-to-narrow alternating press-up

Time 40sec Rest 20sec

Begin with your hands underneath your shoulders, arms extended, and your body in a straight line from head to heels. Bend your elbows, keeping them tight to your body, to lower your chest to just above the floor. Push up through your hands explosively and at the top move each hand out a little. Complete another press-up, this time moving your hands back to shoulder-width apart. Keep alternating hand positions with each rep.

4 Burpee

Time 40sec Rest 20sec

From standing, bend your knees and hinge forwards at your hips to place your hands on the floor. Jump your feet back into a high plank position, then jump them forwards again to where your hands are and jump straight up into the air. Land softly and go straight into the next rep, continuing at pace.

5 Walking plank

Time 40sec Rest 20sec

Begin with your hands underneath your shoulders, arms extended, and your body in a straight line from head to heels. Place one forearm on the floor, with your elbow directly underneath your shoulder. Then repeat the movement with the other arm. Push back up to the starting position one arm at a time. Keep your body as still as possible throughout the movement, focusing on keeping your hips still.

6 Triceps dip

Time 40sec Rest 20sec

Hold yourself up on parallel bars with your arms extended. Bend at the elbows to lower until your elbows are at a 90° bend, then push back up using your triceps to power the movement. 

Full-Body Metcon Workout

“Do 30 seconds of each move, twice, for a four-minute thrash,” says Purdue. “This is a full-body finisher.”

1A Medicine ball slam

Sets 2 Time 30sec

Hold a medicine ball in both hands, raise it above your head and extend your ankles, knees and hips, then throw the medicine ball just in front of your feet. Squat down to pick it up and go straight into the next rep.

1B Burpee

Sets 2 Time 30sec

As above. 

1C Dumbbell thruster

Sets 2 Time 30sec

Hold dumbbells by your shoulders with your palms facing and elbows pointing forwards. Bend your knees and push your hips back to lower into a squat. Drive through your heels to stand and as you do so, press the dumbbells over your head. Lower the dumbbells under control to your shoulders and go straight into the next rep. 

1D Jump Squat

Sets 2 Time 30sec

As above.

Joe Warner
Former editor of Men’s Fitness UK

Joe Warner is a highly experienced journalist and editor who began working in fitness media in 2008. He has featured on the cover of Men’s Fitness UK twice and has co-authored Amazon best-sellers including 12-Week Body Plan. He was the editor of Men’s Fitness UK magazine between 2016 and 2019, when that title shared a website with Coach.

With contributions from