Friday, December 19, 2008


Although you may not know it by name, METabolic CONditioning is not a new training method. You might have been introduced to it in Circuit Training, Boot Camps, Interval Training, or High Intensity Training.  The names might change, but the overall concepts remain the same. The term MetCon is defined differently by opposing experts. Some common ground has been found.
The PWO is a form of Metabolic Conditioning.  This MetCon model is described with:
  • metabolic = energy systems
  • conditioning = training or adaptation
The body uses different energy systems based on the duration and intensity of the work performed.  I will summarize here:  Anaerobic activity is short duration (from a second to under a few minutes) such as sprinting or jumping. The body does not have time to utilize oxygen to produce the energy required to perform the task (hence the AN- at the beginning of the word...for without or lacking).  Conversely, in aerobic activities such as running more than a few minutes or using an elliptical trainer, the body does have time to use inhaled oxygen to produce energy.

The Prison Workout model is a blend of these energy systems.   Some of the workouts are done so quickly at such a high intensity, they produce anaerobic benefits.  Others are done for 20 minutes, closer to the aerobic arena.  So...

Repeatedly-worked muscles can only "last" for so long without rest.  In the PWO, working muscle groups are switched every few seconds to prevent failure. When one fails, it stops working or performing.  By rotating through various movement patterns (such as pushups, pullups, and squats)  certain muscle groups get time to rest, BUT the heart and lungs continue to work!  The inclusion of multiple movements and muscle groups allows for an effective cardio workout blended with resistance training...using a variety of exercises at different ranges of motion.

As one of my training partners says, "It's the most bang for your buck!"  He means that the MetCon workouts are so short in time duration, yet tax his whole body and muscles so much.  He finds himself struggling for breathing air, but still able to do WORK. He's seen great strides made in his aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.

The Tabata Interval method is another form of MetCon. It alternates 20 seconds of work with 10 seconds of rest. (Please read the above linked article.)  Tabatas are becoming so popular that workout songs are being spliced with certain 20/10 beeps or sounds to keep the participants on-track with the program. Timers work well, but their chimes are frequently drowned out by loud music or background noises in the workout area. I use the GymBoss.  Tabatas ususally use bodyweight exercises, but also work for cardio machine WOs.

There is more to functional fitness than the MetCon system. Much more. It is virtually impossible to argue that MetCons can increase overall strength. Also, longer duration MetCon WOs (more than a few minutes) do not always allow for the peak output (intensity) necessary for power and explosion.  For some of these fitness components, certain dedicated and prolonged rest periods are absolutely necessary.

However, most of us had never worked out with such intensity as the Prison Workouts have demanded.  Too many of us had found a home with longer duration and lower intensity aerobic (AKA Feel Good Workouts), ignoring the other quick energy systems. 

There will be more posts on "rounding-out" your workout program to include those other aspects.  For now, MetCons are a terrific way to increase both anaerobic and aerobic capacities.  

No comments: