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In the health and fitness world, metabolic conditioning is a term used loosely and frequently. It is generally associated with Cross-Fit; intense workouts, derived from lifting heavy weights in great succession, racing against the clock, or against other athletes. Now in some cases this is true. I have also heard it used to describe a workout consisting of a series of time based work dictated by minimal rest. Another word I hear a lot is “Tabata.” Tabata consists of very quick bursts of work followed by very short amounts of rest, done cyclically, until exhaustion. Then, given a longer rest period to recover before beginning the next cycle. These are two very different workout styles, amongst many, within the metabolic conditioning realm. The truth is this current hip thing is really an old concept that has finally trickled down to the general public.

High intensity interval training, also known as (HIIT) is all the rage, but it is something all athletes have done, and probably done a lot of. It is generally best to balance the rush with the gush, and leave a little room to siphon off some of the workout steam generated -which is where athletes can really gather speed when not working on their aerobic capacity.

I would like to try to decipher this. A metabolic conditioning workout should be based on a desired outcome dictated by the level of fitness and ability of the individual doing such a workout this has been researched in depth by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning. The human body has several different methods of getting energy. In order to tap into those different energy systems, different ratios of work to rest must be implemented in order to cause adaptations in the body for a desired performance goal.

A desired goal to maximize efficiency of a particular energy system is usually the response one is looking for from the body; so the way the patterning of work and rest are structured makes that exercise “circuit” metabolic conditioning. For example, a person looking to “bulk up” should have a different amount of rest in relationship to work, than a person looking to become leaner or run farther. Structuring a workout where timing is disregarded and getting through it as quickly as possible is not nearly as effective for performance goals as a planned attack, with regimented work to rest ratios.

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Here are the basics of Exercise Metabolism:

Everything we eat must be broken down into smaller things in order for the body to use them. This means of creating energy is known as metabolizing, and in layman’s terms is known as the metabolic system. There are three pathways that are primary to making this happen and each has their own place and purpose. By tapping into them correctly for performance or physical goals should be the idea behind writing the training circuit.

The Immediate System: (ATP-CP)

Think of this as explosive energy your Olympic lifting, sprinting, and jumping. Any exercise that takes less than 10 seconds to accomplish is utilizing this system. What is important is how long the work to rest ratio is. The exercise is so physically taxing that it can take roughly three to five minutes to fully recover.

The Intermediate System: (Anaerobic system)

It is used for shorter duration high intensity work such as your middle distance running (400-800 m) or swimming (100-200m) and your middle range weight lifting. This could be any exercise that takes anywhere from one to four minutes to complete. Depending on the ability of the athlete recovery time can take anywhere from one to three minutes.

The Long-Duration System: (Aerobic system)

This is your marathon running or century bike riding or 1500m swimmers or triathletes. The work is low to moderate in intensity and can go on forever as long as the athlete does not run out of energy (fat). The recovery for this kind of work is a mere seconds.

Now with those hard guidelines for energy usage detailed in the human body there is always crossover and interplay. No one energy system operates all by itself within exercise. The ratios at which they are called upon generally work in one primary system or another.

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Developing the appropriate Met-Con Circuit:

The idea is to create efficiency for a specific energy system, one that will allow performance enhancement or physique. Also thanks to great amounts of research done by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, this system creates increased EPOC. So the metabolism runs higher after a Met-Con session for a few hours.

Now once you figure out what it is that you are training for then you can really tailor your training program. The key factor for making this all work is your rest periods. Not enough rest you risk taking your anaerobic training session and turning it into an aerobic one. Too much rest and you leave your ATP-AC phase and create an anaerobic or even an aerobic workout. In order to make this really effective use large non-isolated actions. Start with bodyweight activity and remember when lifting weights to use proper form at all times and self regulate. If it doesn’t seem safe don’t do it, or find a facility or trainer that can help you learn those actions correctly and safely. Getting hurt training will not only ruin race day, it will put a huge chink in the armor of invincibility you once had.  To remain competitive, it’s usually best to stay out of the ranks of the walking wounded. After all, health trumps strength any day! So stay healthy, and stay strong, with smart workouts!

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