Metabolic Conditioning for Goals

The term metabolic conditioning has been used frequently in the fitness industry and can be difficult to understand. It is not just a series of random exercises combined in a circuit. Rather, metabolic conditioning refers to work and rest periods that are strategically planned to condition the muscles to better use the fuel delivered to them by improving the efficiency of the different energy systems of the body. The desired reaction is usually reached by manipulating the work and rest periods during a workout in order to achieve a certain goal, such as a muscular physique, endurance sports, or power.  For example, someone wanting to lose weight and gain lean muscle will have a different work to rest ratio than someone training to run a marathon.

Metabolism is the process whereby we break down food for energy using three different pathways. First, there is the immediate system or creatine phosphate pathway which is the fastest and most powerful method for obtaining energy. This is mainly used when performing powerful exercises that are less than 10 seconds, such as sprinting or Olympic power lifting. Recovery time for this system is three to five minutes. Secondly, there is the intermediate system or glycolytic pathway which provides energy for activities lasting more than four minutes (weightlifting or mid-distance runs). This system takes one to three minutes of recovery. Finally, there is the long duration or aerobic system which provides energy for hours of moderate intensity work and allows for recovery in seconds. During the course of a workout, each system is contributing. However, your goal during a metabolic conditioning circuit is to develop the efficiency of one of the three energy systems to improve your performance and physique.

When developing your ideal metabolic conditioning workout, you must first determine your goal. If you are training for a long distance triathlon, you would target the aerobic system by performing a long circuit with minimal rest periods . However, if your goal is to compete in power lifting, you will want to focus on the immediate pathway by doing short powerful intervals with longer rest periods. Regardless of your goal, you will want to have the intensity of the work duration high enough to achieve results.

Below are two examples of workouts that would focus on specific goals using the various metabolic pathways:

Example 1: Sports Performance: Intermediate system or Glycolytic Pathway. Work ratio 1:2  Be sure to make each work period intense enough to require the full 40 seconds of rest. Perform the circuit 2-3 times

  • Kettlebell Swings 20 seconds.

Rest 40 seconds

  • Kettlebell Cleans 20 seconds

Rest 40 seconds

  • Kettlebell Push-Press 20 seconds

Rest 40 seconds

  • Full Kettlebell Turkish OR Half Turkish Get ups 20 seconds

Repeat for a total of 2 to 3xs


Example 2: Endurance Performance: Aerobic System. Tabata Intervals of 20 seconds work followed by 10 seconds rest.  Repeat each interval-rest sequence 8xs.

  • Kettlebell Alternating Swings: 20 seconds work and 10 seconds rest. Repeat a total of 8xs
  • TRX Chest Press: 20 seconds on. 10 seconds rest. 8xs
  • Kettlebell Clean & Press: 20 seconds on. 10 seconds rest. 4xs each side
  • TRX Rows: 20 seconds on. 10 seconds rest. 8xs


Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Figure 4. 23(3):800-806, May 2009. Long-Term Athletic Development- Part 1: A Pathway for All Youth

Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: May 2015 – Volume 29 – Issue 5 – p 1439–1450. Long-Term Athletic Development- Part 1: A Pathway for All Youth

Len Kravitz, Ph.D, Nick Beltz, M.S., Jonathan N. Mike, M.S. (2014). University Of New Mexico: Anaerobic Metabolic Conditioning. 

Jeremy Duvall. Men’s Fitness: Metabolic Conditioning: The Key to Better Performance. 

Justin Grinnell,. Muscle & Fitness: 5 Keys to Metabolic Conditioning. 


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