After a year of reestablishing a training habit and focusing on strength gains, I was eager to see more results. That meant visible abs for a milestone birthday holiday. My virtual trainer on the Future application had just the program to make it a reality: metabolic conditioning.
Of course I would enjoy the beach and rock the swimsuit no matter what, but I wanted to look as strong as I felt. I was willing to work for that too. I knew metabolic conditioning was no picnic from my previous experience taking MetCon classes at Equinox.
What is metabolic conditioning: You work faster with less rest and often a lot of supersetswhich further accelerates the heart rate, according to Kelly Bryant, CPT, performance coach at Future, with whom I have been training for two years. It can include a variety of equipment (dumbbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands) or bodyweight movements. This style will not be maximum muscle growthbut.
This modality was perfect for my goal and my schedule. I had about three months for body recomposition before the birthday. “Whenever we try to increase fat loss a little bit, especially in the short term, I focus on ways to maintain muscle mass while adding a little more calories burned,” says Bryant. “When we have a short-term goal, this is a great option for quick body recomposition.”
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My previous education also set me up for success with a solid foundation. “Working on strength first also helps prevent injury when you start working faster in the metcons,” says Bryant. “With metabolic conditioning, you probably won’t get as much muscle gain as you would with traditional strength training. You’ll increase calorie expenditure, which makes it easier to create a calorie deficit and fat loss.” Additional benefits include better cardiovascular health, a more efficient workout, and more calories burned in less time.
Here’s what happened when I added metabolic conditioning to my routine with a goal of body recomposition and visible abs:
My Metabolic Conditioning Workout Routine
My new training cycle included metabolic conditioning (a variety of movements) as well as more traditional movements. hypertrophy– targeted strength training (muscle strengthening), rowing trainingand a pleasure run walk. I also kept two to three Pilates reformer classes a week just because it brings me joy. It sounds like a lot, but all of my workouts took about three hours a week. I took a day or two of recovery.
Dynamic warm-up (7 mins)
Metabolic conditioning (60 seconds each, 30 seconds rest between rounds, four rounds total)
core finisher (30 seconds each, 30 seconds rest between rounds, three rounds total)
Chill (5 minutes)
Work it in: My plan included three to four 25-minute metcon workouts per week, which is a great starting point for dedicated training, according to Bryant. Alternate schedules included two days of metcon and two days of cardio (if you’re a cardio junkie who needs more muscle) or two days of strength (if you’re a weightlifter who needs cardio).
The Future app took all the guesswork out of my schedule. All I had to do was open the app and press play for today’s workout. A full week of routines and movements awaited me, with demonstrations of exercises and the equipment to use.
The Metabolic Conditioning Journey
My motivation and my level of motivation were at their highest to begin with. I had a new goal and an optimistic attitude that it was so attainable. However, my first few weeks the moves were a little disappointing. I felt silly doing side hops and duck walks in my living room or jumping between different body weight exercises. Surely there were more efficient ways to get around. I was honest with Bryant but promised to do my best. I trusted the process and his plan. I did, however, love the superset style of going from one movement to another with minimal rest.
Halfway through, I hitchhiked on the wrestling bus. I hadn’t missed a workout, but the results weren’t showing yet. I also had a cold that wouldn’t go away. Still, I didn’t give up and did like Nemo and just kept moving. My energy levels were low, but I did what I could. I completed the metabolic conditioning exercises at a slightly lower intensity and added more Pilates for evening relaxation and walked to do my steps.
I also dialed in my nutrition and felt my muscles react. At first, the movements were exhausting. Between intervals of jump squats or burpees, I dropped to the floor gasping for air. Over the weeks I was able to push myself a little harder and not be one with my mat to recover. I kept moving throughout the interval and no longer needed rapid breathing. I also slept better. When my head hit the pillow, I instantly fell asleep and stayed asleep.
The past month I have had breakthroughs and seen the results of my consistency. I admit it was hard to be patient and believe that the metabolic conditioning program would work. Three months is actually quite a short period of time to see noticeable results from a consistent workout routineand I have achieved a lot despite obstacles like disease and a busy schedule.
Unlike previous training periods (like training for a marathon or committing to a stricter fitness/nutrition plan), I didn’t feel exhausted or crave another workout at the end. I actually wanted more of this type of training. I loved the variety, which literally kept me on my toes every session. I also loved the results, I saw and felt real changes without reorganizing my whole life around workouts.
So when I had the chance to set my next goal, I doubled down on the same to move the needle further with body recomposition. I wanted to consolidate my gains and make more progress like adding weight to my squat and deadlift and chisel out some extra abdominal muscles along the way.
If you commit to starting at least every workout, you have a high chance of completing it.
Even when I felt exhausted after a long day or the latest illness from daycare zapped my motivation, I had to try every workout. The routine always started with a mobility warm-up, and I figured I’d do that at a minimum. What happened next was up for negotiation.
More often than not, I continued because the workout just flew away. I was completely immersed in the metabolic conditioning moves and had no time to think about taking a break. My motivation increased as the workout continued and I usually continued until it was over. I haven’t always achieved jump or speed records, but I have often surprised myself with my performance. When my mind wanted me to skip it all, my body was actually totally on board.
A high-impact sports bra sets you up for a full session.
I work from home most days of the week so my go-to style is everything Athletic wear. (I have a rainbow of legging options, and the lycra love is real!) I look like I could get into a workout any time of the day, and I do often. But those comfortable appearance doesn’t always let me perform at my peak, especially plyometric movements or high intensity metabolic conditioning.
I realized that I put more effort and intensity into my training if I switched to a high impact sports bra and stopped the rebound. This seems like a super minor change, but it made a huge difference for me (my DDs needed support). It took about 30 seconds to change clothes, and I know I worked harder and my session counts accordingly. My higher heart rate was proof of that. Even smaller cup sizes have proper support.
Results and a noticeable transformation don’t actually require marathon workouts every day.
This, however, requires a plan. I didn’t just do routines or random moves I saw on IG to dig up my abs. I followed a specific and strategic metabolic conditioning program from an experienced trainer tailored to my goal. Each metcon workout was intentional, targeting specific muscle groups while allowing others to recover. For example, one day when my legs were burned out after a lower body workout, I had an arm or abs workout waiting for me.
Every minute really counted. As a busy mom, I enjoyed this the most. Doing 30-40 minutes of metcon was enough. The manageable workout time freed up more of my days for other types of movement. I could chase my toddler around the playground or take my dog for a long walk in the park. I wasn’t totally wiped out and unable to move from the couch either.
Even if you’re not going for body recomposition, the effectiveness of metabolic conditioning workouts makes it a great option for everyone. Who doesn’t want a few extra minutes in their day?
Jennifer Nied is the fitness editor of women’s health and has over 10 years of experience in health and wellness journalism. She’s still exploring — sweat-testing workouts and gear, hiking, snowboarding, running and more — with her husband, daughter, and dog.