The Power of Metabolic Conditioning by Meg Sharp WFCC Director of Education

Metabolic Conditioning refers to any type of training where you push yourself to or just outside your comfort zone for a specific interval.  You rest just long enough – then go nuts again.  And while the activity in the video certainly could fall into that category – you don’t have to go to such extremes to reap the benefits of this type of training which include higher energy, improved recovery, better endurance, better sports performance and improved body composition.

Metabolic Conditioning is essentially a structured pattern of work to rest periods designed to train or strengthen a specific energy system:

  • The Phosphagen system harnesses ATP to fuel high intensity activities lasting between 10 and 30 seconds.  Around the 30 second mark the body will tap into the Glycolytic system as well.  Training this system will improve explosive power and ability to accelerate!
  • The Glycolytic system used carbohydrate to produce ATP and fuels activities lasting 30 seconds to 2 minutes, though after about 90 seconds your body will also on the Oxidative system.  Training this system improves performance in many sports including alpine skiing, basketball, hockey, tennis, ringette and soccer.
  • The Oxidative system is aerobic and uses oxygen to support energy production.  It uses carbohydrates, fats and proteins as energy sources and is harnessed during longer low and moderate intensity workouts.

There will always be some overlap in the systems that come into play.  Indeed training any the shorter energy systems will often translate into better performance in the slower ones.  Still the most effective training occurs when you determine which system you want to train and design your work:rest interval accordingly to the system.  The idea is to push as hard as you can for the work interval which is followed by an appropriate period of rest to ensure you can hit the same intensity for all subsequent intervals.

  • To train Explosive Power:  1:5 up to 1:20 work to rest.  That is at least 50 seconds of rest for any 10 second all out interval.  The higher the output, the longer the rest required.
  • To train more sustained Strength, Speed and Power: 1:2 to 1:4 work to rest.  So for every 60 seconds all out effort you require 90 to 120 seconds recovery.
  • To train for better Endurance: anywhere from 1:1 to 4:1 work to rest.  Again the ratio will determine how hard you can go for any given work interval.  Take care when you’re using longer ones that the intensity doesn’t suffer.

Workouts can involve simple intervals using a step, jump rope, treadmill or bike for example, but they more often consist of a circuit of full body exercises followed by specific periods of rest.

The challenge is many high intensity full body exercises involve high impact move sand/or they tend to be very front dominant.  Push Ups, Burpees, even squats can preferentially train the FRONT of the body.  Leaving the back exposed and weaker.  They also typically avoid one legged work – which is so important for balance and joint integrity.  Any all exercises can be effectively used in a Metabolic Circuit as long as we keep the heart rate high enough that the intensity is maintained.


In the Trainer Moves today we focus on metabolic conditioning for the endurance system.  Many runners and cyclists and group exercise enthusiasts are interested in increasing endurance for their activity as well as ensuring they have strength to balance over used musculo-skeletal movement patterns and avoid injuries.  The circuits incorporate some GREAT exercises than focus more on the posterior chain and we’ve strategically mixed in some higher intensity exercises to keep that heart rate high.  The work intervals run around the 4-minute mark with recovery around 60 seconds accordingly.

Inspiration of the Day:

“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.”  – Ashley Greene

Trainer Moves of the Day:



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