Wednesday 27 March 2019

Ratcheting up the intensity - metabolic conditioning

With the conclusion of my recent strength-endurance phase a fortnight ago I decided to embark on a phase of metcon (metabolic conditioning) to improve my cardio-respiratory system and ramp up my metabolism into a calorie burning furnace. Two weeks of such a routine has now passed and I thought I'd share some thoughts:on it so far.

Table of contents

Calorie afterburn

There are a multitude of ways to increase the metabolic demands of your exercise routines, from circuit training, HIIT, Tabata, CrossFit etc. The general basis of all of these different forms is high intensity primarily with multi-joint compound movements.

High intensity training, especially performed in a HIIT interval manner, helps create the famed calorie afterburn that lasts for hours after you've finished your workout. It is this that helps burn more calories during the day when you may not be working out or doing anything strenuous. It also burns fat that you already carry and helps improve your cardio-respiratory sysytem.

Sounds great! Only thing is it can be absolute hell to achieve!

(Back to top)

Seeing Dr. Tabata

I already have a high-intensity Tabata inspired method for interval training, which I know works and leaves you gasping for breath and sweating buckets. However whilst I am implementing it into my current metcon routine, I've decided to incorporate other elements to really push myself.

Firstly I've added in Tabata to my routine properly performing sets for a specific amount of time with minimal rest, for example the standard 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest and repeat for 8 cycles. This in most aspects made the exercises a lot harder as you surpass the fixed number of reps you tend to stick around and come back around to that exercise quite quickly at an aerobic disadvantage. For other exercises that involve a longer joint motion such as GHD hamstring extensions your reps may be less than you're used to.

Tabata example by Mat Fraser, 3 time consecutive winner of the Reebok CrossFit Games

My initial Tabata setups consisted of four exercises done in a circuit three times, meaning a total of 12 cycles rather than the standard 8. Boy that four extra cycles were really challenging and hit my systems hard. But it was worth it. Coupled with the fact I followed this up with two more Tabata's and I was bushed.

The effect of this high-intensity style within the space of a couple of weeks really had a noticeable impact on my muscles ability to utilise my energy systems and increase their endurance. The first time I did the Tabata I was able to do three sets of full ROM dips of 13, 13, and 9 reps, at which point they were that knackered I ended the set with 1 second to go. 10 days later I was able to do 17, 14 and 10 with 2 seconds left! A big increase.

Tabata really is a good protocol when done with full body movements at a significant intensity.

(Back to top)

Playing with CrossFit

Whilst not a fan of CrossFit in general for various reasons, I have warmed up to it after watching a few documentaries on the Reebok CrossFit Games. As such I decided to give it a chance and to incorporate elements of it into my metcon as after all CrossFit is the king extreme of high intensity.

First of all I decided to give a shot at something called 10-to-1 for time, which in this case was 10 reps of squat dumbbell thrusters followed immediately by 10 kettlebell swings and then immediately repeat doing 9 reps of both and then 8 etc. until you get to 1 rep of each. This is done as quick as possible. I did this in between a couple of Tabata's.

By the end of the 10-to-1 my legs were burning and I was sweating lots. It was grueling to finish and whilst I can see how it has its advantages especially for endurance the ugly side of CrossFit became apparent as well.

Squat thrusters with dumbbells tutorial by CrossFit

I pride myself on execution of form and the problem of doing such a routine and for time is that gradually your form despite your best attempts starts to wane and falter. As such by the end of the 10-to-1 for time I could feel it in my lower back. Thankfully it subsided and I didn't feel it later on that day. I do intend to try it again.

Another day I decided to make my workout CrossFit inspired by doing a Tabata followed by a 1km run and then perform two more Tabata's. I was so wrecked after the second Tabata due to the run I decided to not even do the third one as I would be totally over-doing it. Lying on the floor for 5 minutes afterwards sweating buckets, gasping for air and licking dry lips from the induced exhaustion sums up the CrossFit experience.

I will do more CrossFit inspired routines during this phase however only for the occasional shock to the system as doing it every session would lead to over-training and regression.

(Back to top)

Wrap up

So there you have it my initial impressions of Tabata and CrossFit - hard hitting and truly worthy of their status as metabolic conditioning kingpins. My hunger levels have also shot up in conjunction with carb cycling and consuming more protein to avoid muscle loss, my weight has dropped by around a kilo without any noticeable muscle loss and feeling fitter!

Within 2 or 3 more weeks I will post another update on the effects of my metabolic conditioning. Until then if you have any questions feel free to comment below or send me some feedback!

Lyle Richardson,
Gym Pal - Your Friend In Fitness


  1. Hi! Thank you for sharing those videos and you encouraged me to try those exercises, and maybe instead of dumbbell I will used the probar for the routines. Thanks again and keep us posted.

    1. Hi! Thanks for the feedback, glad to have been of help! Let me know how you get on with those exercises. Kind regards