Metabolic Training: The Benefits for a Runner

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A metabolic workout offers numerous benefits to all athletes, in particular to runners. In this busy and fast-paced world, the clock seems to tick away time all too quickly. Metabolic workouts are a way to see maximum gains with less time.

What Is Metabolic Conditioning?

Metabolic workout is also called metabolic conditioning. Metabolic conditioning refers to workouts that succeed in challenging the two major energy systems of the body as it pertains to exercise. First, it involves strength training.

Strength training will rely on ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is the bodies’ physiological need for fuel or food. The other side of this is moderate cardio exercise, which will target glycolysis to fuel the body over the long haul. Metabolic conditioning engages both of these systems for maximum efficiency.

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Also called HIIT training (High-Intensity Interval Training), people like it because it offers the best of both worlds. These types of training combine a cardiovascular workout with strength training in a way that the athlete gets the most bang for their buck. In a HIIT or MetCon workout, the athlete reaps the highest percentage of benefit from a shorter time commitment.

How does “MetCon” Work?

In a metabolic conditioning workout, you go from one exercise to the next with very little rest in-between. Typically, the part of the workout where you are engaged in the actual work lasts for anywhere between twenty seconds and two minutes.

Circuit Training As a Starting Point

If you are looking for a quick, easy way you can incorporate a MetCon workout in the comfort of your own home, creating a circuit is a good way to do this. You can create yourself a circuit of exercises to be completed, and a good beginner circuit would have ten to twelve stations.

Circuits can be comprised of 100% of bodyweight exercises such as burpees, lunges, pushups, squats, etc. For a beginner circuit, start with :45 seconds of work followed by :30 seconds of rest, then start at the next station.

It is a good rule of thumb to go through your circuit two or three times. Also, if you can successfully complete the :45/:30 workout through three times without a problem, try the same workout at :45 seconds of work by :15 seconds of rest.

Or, alternate exercises so that you are switching body parts and have your only rest be the time it takes you to move to the next station (or get to the next position).

Adding Weights to the Circuit

If you need more challenge, add weights to your circuit. You still don’t need a gym to do this. For under $100, you can purchase a few sets of hand weights, kettlebells, some resistance bands, and a yoga mat to build yourself a challenging circuit.

Changing the Metabolic Demand

By changing some small things up, you can also change the metabolic demand in your workout. You can add weight to some of the moves. If you are finding 10-pound hand weights to be too easy, move up to 15 pounds.

You can insert more cardio (such as adding a quarter-mile repeat or another type of sprint, or a two-minute quick ride on the bike) into the workout.

If you aren’t working out at a track or don’t have a treadmill at your disposal, you can add cardio without any equipment. Try adding 25 jumping jacks, done at a fast clip, or 15 burpees with a focus on speed.

MetCon for Weight Loss

For athletes using workouts for weight loss, MetCon is an excellent use of your time. Scientifically, you burn more calories in a workout that mixes up the intensity than one done at a set and stagnant pace or level of intensity.

What does that mean? That if you run for 3 miles, 4 days a week, your body eventually becomes acclimated to that and stops seeing the metabolic benefits from that exercise from a fat and calorie burning perspective. If, however, you run 3 steady miles one day, do fartleks another day, do that same 3 miles of speedwork on the track, then run a bit longer the fourth day, your body will see more benefit.

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Furthermore, adding a true HIIT or MetCon workout will have you seeing even more results. If you struggle with motivating yourself to create or follow through with a workout like this, it’s pretty easy to find something engaging. If you look into the classes offered by your local YMCA or another gym, you will find classes like Sprint cycling or Grit.

Some YMCAs also offer a class called 20/20/20 which starts with 20 minutes of low intensity as you warm up then moving to cardio drills, 20 minutes of strength-focused training then 20 minutes of core conditioning and stretching.

If you are looking for something you can do at home there are many online workouts. P90X is an example of an at-home workout. Some other examples are the Tone it Up Fitness App, Crush 60 and Daily Burn.

Is There a Difference Between HIIT and MetCon?

Some people use these terms interchangeably. It seems the real difference is the science behind the theories. In MetCon the athlete is engaging both systems, which results in experiencing maximum burn during the workout and after.

HIIT workouts are a form of MetCon, but not all MetCon workouts are HIIT. Confused? Most people are. The long and short of it is that most people use the terms interchangeably.

What If I’m Still Confused…

If you’re still confused and creating your own workouts, you’re in good company. If you write your own workouts there are many ways to get maximum benefits from it. Working circuits is an excellent way to get more bang for your buck. Another way to get a lot of benefit from a shorter workout is to change up your heart rate zones.

Think about it like varying your heart rate from zones 1 or 2 while warming up, to spending time in 3 & 4 during the majority of the workout, and visiting zone 5 periodically and briefly.

How Does This Help Me…The Runner?

There are many benefits to adding MetCon to your workout regime. First of all, MetCon will add lateral and dynamic movement. Running uses entirely forward linear motion. Also, adding weights to your workout regime will challenge multiple parts of your body in places and ways running will not challenge you. Adding the weights and movements engages body parts to maximize benefits.

Running is the constant pounding of the pavement and it stands to reason that replacing some of your running days with something else could result in benefits to your body from that standpoint alone.

MetCon training could maximize your running efficiency by increasing your cardiovascular base and overall strength. Most runners incorporate some junk miles into the workout. Personal trainers who embrace MetCon or HIIT training encourage you to drop two of those days of junk miles and replace them with something else. You guessed it: they want you to try this type of workout.

As you create your next workout plan, consider either taking a class or adding some circuit training that implements the concepts behind metabolic conditioning. Science shows that you won’t regret it, and you just may see a boost in your running performance!

Sources:
Juvenon: The Metabolic Exercise
Men’s Health
Understanding Metabolic Conditioning