Metabolic Conditioning – What is it?

Metabolic conditioning is a form of high intensity interval training that has grown in popularity in the fitness industry over recent years, but what is it?

The word ‘metabolic’ refers to the way in which the body breaks down food in order for it to be used as energy and for other processes vital for life.

Conditioning in this context refers to the process of developing elements of fitness through training.

The main aim of metabolic conditioning is, therefore, to make the body become more efficient in its metabolic processes, i.e. making it quicker and easier for the body to produce and use energy for training.

Basically, it means this style of training helps you to get fitter!

Get lean!

Tremblay, Simoneau, and Bouchard1 carried out a study which found that high-intensity training produced greater fat loss results compared with training at a moderate intensity.

Metabolic conditioning can help reduce body fat more effectively than long slow endurance training. Yayyy for fat loss!

How do I do metabolic conditioning?

Apart from involving high intensity bouts of exercise interspersed with rest periods, there isn’t really a set format as such for metabolic conditioning, however key aspects could include:

  • Utilising compound exercises – i.e. exercises that make use of more than one joint of the body – the burpee is a great example of a compound exercise!
  • Ensuring that work rate during periods of work means you are working at 8-10/10 using a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 = sitting at home doing nothing! and 10 is the toughest workout you’ve ever done in your life!

Typically metabolic conditioning workouts are short so that when you are working you can be working at the highest rate possible. A study by Seiler and Sylta2 showed that shorter workouts meant participants maxed out when completing bouts of high intensity work for a shorter time period.

Why is this important? Because the body adapts and responds to given stimuli. Hans Sayle produced a model, the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), to describe how the body responds to stresses. With relevant stresses and with adequate following rest, the body responds more effectively and positively to the training stimulus.

In short, how to do metabolic conditioning – train short, sweet & intense!


But how do I do it?

One easy method is using Tabata as a format. The clock timers in the gym have a setting you can use for Tabata intervals – just grab the remote from reception and press ‘F5’ and then ‘OK’ to start your Tabata workout.

Tabata is 8 rounds of 20 seconds work 10 seconds rest – for this to be at its most effective you must work to your maximum capacity for every 20 seconds of working time. This is just 4 minutes of work!! ..but carried out at the right intensity it can provide awesome results!

The proof is in the pudding… or rather in the training and it is backed up by research, which is where this method came from and how it was named. It was named after one of the researchers, Izumi Tabata3. In summary, the research demonstrated that 6 weeks of moderate-intensity endurance training did not affect anaerobic capacity (a key element of fitness development), whereas 6 weeks of high-intensity intermittent training performed at the right intensity (i.e. not just going through the motions during the 20 seconds of working time!) could improve both anaerobic capacity and aerobic simultaneously. i.e. Tabata is a great metabolic conditioning format for giving you a great all-round level of aerobic and anaerobic fitness!

Tabata Example

Try this one! Get yourself warmed up and make sure you stretch afterwards. Warning if you are returning to exercise after injury, illness, pregnancy or time off (including if you’ve not exercised before or since childhood!), please be cautious and seek advice before engaging in such high-intensity training.

Tabata Big Slam & Burpee

  • 20s – Big Slams
  • 10s – Rest
  • 20s – Burpee
  • 10s – Rest

Repeat x 4

  1. Tremblay, Simoneau, and Bouchard (1994) Impact of Exercise Intensity on Body Fatness and Skeletal Muscle Metabolism. Metabbolism, Volume 43(7), 814-818.
  2. Seiler and Sylta (2017) How Does Interval-Training Prescription Affect Physiological and Perceptual Responses? International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, Volume 12, 80-86.

Tabata, Nishimura, Kouzaki, Hirai, Ogita, Miyachi, Yamamoto (1996) Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and ·VO2max. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Volume 28(10), 1327-1330