The right kind of cardio can take your results from ‘bleh’ to brilliant, but that means ditching the old-school approach of endlessly grinding away on the stationary bike or ‘dreadmill’.
Cardio for fat loss has evolved. Today, the most effective approach takes you through a wide range of heart-rate zones to burn more calories per minute, and ensures that more energy comes from stored body fat.
You see, the problem with lower intensity steady-state cardio is that once you’ve finished your workout your body recovers quickly.
This means you’ve done little to elevate your metabolism and create the right hormonal environment to burn more fat.
So what should you do, then? Well, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great option. This entails using the same pieces of cardio equipment you normally would, but alternating between intervals of intense almost all-out effort with active recovery intervals in between.
Enter the metcon
But if the idea of traditional cardio doesn’t appeal to you, there’s another option. Metabolic conditioning, or ‘metcon’ training is a form of exercise that has grown in popularity due to its effectiveness and its challenging nature.
All you really need to know is that metcons for fat loss work, and they build muscle in the process – it’s a win-win!
It works for weight loss and fat loss because you burn more calories per minute during your training session compared to steady state cardio, and often more than HIIT cardio as well!
Secondly, your metabolism stays elevated long after you’ve stopped training. This increase in metabolism after training is often termed the ‘afterburn’ effect. It happens because your body needs to fuel the recovery process and when your session has been more demanding, your recovery needs are that much greater.
As a result, following bouts of high-intensity metcon training, your body uses a significant amount of energy to return to a state of balance, called homeostasis.
This ‘afterburn’ effect can elevate your metabolism by between 10-25% for up to 48 hours, with some studies showing an increase in metabolic rate for up to 72 hours.
This equates to hundreds of extra calories burnt every day, which, over the course of a few weeks, becomes significant.
The metcon basics
To benefit from metcon training it’s essential that you understand the basic principles that need to be followed to get the most from your sessions by creating the biggest ‘afterburn’ effect possible.
#1: Use compound exercises – they’re the most demanding
Big compound exercises like a dumbbell squat press require more energy to perform and recover from because multiple joints and muscle groups are involved. Other full-body dynamic exercises that boost the burn include jumping, sprinting and sled pushes.
#2: Keep the intensity high
Keep the intensity of your session high to elevate your effort levels. Metcon training at the appropriate level should leave you breathless. Find the balance between lifting as much weight as you can for as many reps as possible, and resting as little as possible between sets.
#3: Progressive overload
Your workouts should get progressively harder over time. By pushing yourself harder and harder at each subsequent session, you’re guaranteed to see results.
You can make progress in your metcon sessions by increasing the weight you use, performing more work in the same amount of time (density or volume), decreasing your rest periods, or increasing the duration of your workout.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.