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What is Metabolic Conditioning?

RRRrrrrrwww!! I'm back from a weekend of flu virus hell!

I got terribly sick on Thursday last week and haven't been able to get up and type a blog post. Today I finally was able to get up but I'm not yet 100%. I'm definitely not ready for a metabolic conditioning workout! I cleaned the whole house today, that was my workout. Things pile up when we get the flu!

Roberta's sauna

The only way I got my heart rate up a little was cleaning the house and sitting in the sauna. Now that that is all complete, I can sit here and write this blog post. I enjoyed doing all these tasks because it was fresh in my mind what it's like to be confined to bed. Being able to get up and do things is a blessing and a gift.

Years ago Randy and I built this little sauna room together and I did all that tile work myself. I've forgotten how, but I'll be digging out my tools soon and learning it once again.

Anyway, while I was sick Netty messaged me a note and asked me to write this post. I hope it answers your questions Netty, let me know! I really appreciated your note. It helped me feel better and let me know I was needed and loved.

What is Metabolic Conditioning?

It is high intensity training where you make use of your immediate and intermediate energy pathways, or in other words anaerobic exercise. Keep reading to find out what these energy pathways are, and how our body uses them.

What Are the Benefits of Metabolic Conditioning?

  • ‌It improves the efficiency of the energy pathways in the body so that you can do a lot more in less time.

  • ‌It helps you burn more calories, resulting in faster weight loss. The calories continue to burn even after your workout.

  • ‌It increases your aerobic capacity (how much oxygen you use during physical activity).

  • It increases lean muscle mass and reduces body fat.

What are the energy pathways in our body?

Characteristics of the Three Energy Systems
Image from "Nutrition for Sport and Exercise" by Marie Dunford and J. Andrew Doyle with my added notes in blue, as well as text and dimmer switch added to the professors power point slide.

There are three energy systems that the body utilizes. They are like the three dimmer switches in the picture; each system is constantly producing ATP. The intensity of exercise determines which energy system produces the most ATP. ATP is the energy your body uses. The body uses the macros you consume (carbs, proteins, and fats) and these energy systems to create ATP (the energy used by your body do work).

These three energy systems are sometimes referred to as the immediate, intermediate, and long-term energy pathways.

Let's view the same concept in another picture:

ATP used by the body's three energy systems
Image from "Practical Guide to Exercise Physiology" by Bob Murray and W. Larry Kenney, with my notes in red text.

This picture shows the same three energy systems. The first runner in the red circle is sprinting and mostly using the Creatine Phosphate system (aka Phosphocreatine, or PCr). The second runner is running a 1500 meter and mostly using the anaerobic glycolysis system. These are both anaerobic exercises of high intensity or metabolic conditioning. Both of these will cause fatigue in the muscles and they will become depleted during the exercise session and it will take time to recover. The athlete will feel the fatigue progressively more intensely during the exercise session until the end and afterwards until the energy system has time to recover.

Studies show that taking a creatine supplement can help many athletes recover more quickly as well as improve performance.

The third runner in blue is running a marathon and mostly using the aerobic system, oxidative phosphorylation. This is the same energy system your body mostly uses when you sleep.

Interestingly, when you do metabolic conditioning, or anaerobic exercise, your body grows more mitochondria cells, and the cells you currently have grow bigger. This in turn gives you more energy and aerobic capacity as listed in the benefits above. Notice that the aerobic energy system is "oxidative" meaning oxygen is needed during the metabolic process.

I've always loved this concept, that if we work intensely (anaerobically) we grow more mitochondria which increases our aerobic capacity. How cool is that? It also helps your body recover from illness as your body needs this energy (ATP) for the immune system when it works harder to fight.

It costs you nothing except your time and energy; you reap the rewards like Angie often writes about in the private forum about the endorphins she gets with her metabolic workouts. Nice work Angie!

By the way, Angie and several others are watching the body weight scale going down these past few weeks and writing about the process daily in the forum. I'm super proud of those ladies. They are leading by example, putting in the work, and following the game plan every day. The are helping each other out and cheering each other on.

I believe a huge reason why they are all succeeding is because they put themselves out there and hold each other accountable. They are helping me in that way too. We are feeding each other's energy (like the mitochondria and energy systems) and helping each other grow. That's how synergy works.

Alright, back to Metabolic Conditioning. Now that we have a better understanding of what it is and how it relates to the energy systems, what can we do with it?

mid life female doing assault bike hitt
Sometimes I use the Assault Fitness bike for HIIT or Metabolic Conditioning

HIIT workouts are metabolic conditioning. It's really anything that gets your HR up high enough, catch your breath, and do over and over in intervals.

The key to making HIIT work is the intensity. You can’t coast through the intensity intervals. It's close to max effort which the body can't sustain for more than 30 seconds to 3 minutes depending on how close to 100% of your max ability.

You can do sprints with running, biking, swimming, and rowing (that's HIIT). You can do EMOM (every minute on the minute), Tabata, boxing, burpees, pushups, battle ropes, anything that gets your heart rate in the higher range of your max ability.

You only need to do HIIT or metabolic conditioning a couple times a week, probably 3 days at the most.

I used to do just "sprints" back in the day, that's all it is. Now I can do swimming sprints if I want, or the assault bike like in the picture.

If you give it the right intensity you can't go longer than 20-30 minutes no matter how fit you are. As you get stronger, your ability to do more work at a faster rate goes up, and you can work up to 20-30 minutes. After 20-30 minutes of anaerobic intensity those energy systems will be depleted and you'll have that lactic acid feeling. At first you might only be able to do 10 minutes, but you can work your way up to 20-30 minutes and it feels great (just ask Angie!)

Metabolic conditioning workouts

Here are some more metabolic workouts within the specific energy systems: (below are from that link)

Phosphagen System

An effective workout for this system is short, very fast sprints on the treadmill or bike lasting 5–15 seconds with 3–5 minutes of rest between each. The long rest periods allow for complete replenishment of creatine phosphate in the muscles so it can be reused for the next interval.

  • 2 sets of 8 x 5 seconds at close to top speed with 3:00 passive rest and 5:00 rest between sets

  • 5 x 10 seconds at close to top speed with 3:00–4:00 passive rest


This system can be trained using fast intervals lasting 30 seconds to 2 minutes with an active-recovery period twice as long as the work period (1:2 work-to-rest ratio).

  • 8–10 x 30 seconds fast with 1:00 active recovery

  • 4 x 1:30 fast with 3:00 active recovery

Aerobic System

While the phosphagen system and glycolysis are best trained with intervals, because those metabolic systems are emphasized only during high-intensity activities, the aerobic system can be trained with both continuous exercise and intervals.

  • 60 minutes at 70%–75% maximum heart rate

  • 15- to 20-minute tempo workout at lactate threshold intensity (about 80%–85% maximum heart rate)

  • 5 x 3:00 at 95%–100% maximum heart rate with 3:00 active recovery

Nibbles fitness kitten with weight logo

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