What is "metabolic conditioning"?
You want to perform better? Get more out of your lifting efforts and look great naked? Be a predator instead of prey? Include metabolic conditioning work into your weekly routine.
What is metabolic/metabolism?
In order to understand the concept of metabolic conditioning and how to properly apply it according to your individual goals it is crucial to understand the way the body utilizes energy during training. Our metabolism is the way we break down food into energy. When it comes to training there are three major pathways that are worth discussing:
1. The Race Car - Phosphagen
Your creatine phosphate pathway is your fastest and most powerful way of providing energy. Just like the speed-up of a race car, this energy system is mostly utilized when expressing power and strength (think of squats, olympic lifting or sprints) over a time frame of less than 10 seconds. This system takes around 3-5 minutes to recover, which is why you see lifters usually doing long rest times between heavy sets.
2. The Automobile - Glycolytic
When doing activities ranging from 1-5 minutes, your body mostly uses the glycolytic energy system. So think sets of 6-15 reps or mid-distance running/swimming (400-800 m) and we're talking about glycogen. It usually takes between 1-3 minutes to fully recover this system between sets.
3. The Bicycle - Aerobic
The slowest yet most durable energy system relies on using fat for fuel and is mostly used for working in the easy or moderate intensity range (steady state cardio, cycling etc.). It can recover within seconds
An important side note: none of the systems are used exclusively during your training. Moreover they are utilized in an interplay fashion with certain emphasis on one depending on the activity style. Overall each is contributing to a certain extend and none is paused at any time.
So what is metabolic conditioning?
Metabolic conditioning aims to maximize the efficiency of a certain energy system. There is no such thing as "the" metabolic conditioning. It totally depends on your sport and individual goals as conditioning work for power is vastly different from conditioning for endurance.
Finding your best metabolic conditioning approach
Depending on the energy system you want to improve, your conditioning work should utilize certain work:rest-ratios. If you are training for strength and power, aim for a metabolic conditioning circuit that utilizes a work:rest- ratio of 1:10 (10 seconds work, 1,5 - 2 minutes rest). If your training is more like a bodybuilding type training you may want to improve your glycolytic system. In that case aim for a 1:2 ratio (20 seconds of work, 40 seconds rest.
Sample circuit for strength and power focus:
A Sled Rope Pulls 10 s (1,5 - 2 minutes rest)
B Rope Pull Ups 10 s (1,5 - 2 minutes rest)
C Prowler Push heavy 10 s (1,5 - 2 minutes rest)
D1 Plate Holds 10 s
D2 Battle Ropes 10 s (1,5 - 2 minutes rest)
Repeat the circuit 5 times. Aim for a frequency of 1x-2x/week either as a finisher for your workout or as part of an active recovery session.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my conditioning series. Next time I will discuss the difference and superiority to cardio as well as the timing and the way to include metabolic work into your program.