There are three pathways that fuel the body during exercise: the immediate, intermediate, and long-term energy pathways.

In the immediate and intermediate pathways, creatinine phosphate and carbohydrates are used for energy. In the long-term pathway, both carbohydrates and fats provide your body with energy.

Metabolic conditioning, or metcon (or sometimes spelled MetCon), is based on exercise programs that make use of the immediate and intermediate energy pathways.

Metabolic conditioning exercises must be done in a specific time and intensity to use these pathways. With metcon, the body can more efficiently burn fuel by using moderate-intensity to high-intensity interval sessions.

There are several popular exercise programs that are built around metabolic conditioning, such as CrossFit, Insanity, and P90X. In this article, we’ll explore some of the pros and cons of metabolic conditioning, how to do it, and some examples of metcon exercises.

In metabolic conditioning programs, the intensity and time you spend doing the exercises matters more than the type of exercises performed.

A metabolic conditioning program should contain moderate-intensity activity, high-intensity activity, or both. Given these requirements, there are a wide variety of different exercises that can be used for a metcon program. These may include:

  • upper-body exercises
  • lower-body exercises
  • full-body exercises
  • cardio exercises

For programs like CrossFit or Insanity, there may be certain moves or routines that are used more frequently. Taking a CrossFit class, for example, may involve a specific set of moderate- or high-intensity interval exercises that the instructor has found effective.

However, most of these programs still allow some freedom to decide what exercises you’d like to use. The benefit of a metabolic conditioning program is that it can be tailored to each person.

There are many exercises you can do for metabolic conditioning, but here are a few examples:


In this video, the instructor provides a full-body gym circuit. These exercises are designed to build muscle and burn fat quickly and efficiently.

For beginners

This beginner workout circuit can be completed in as little as 12 minutes. These easy-to-follow exercises can help to tone and strengthen your lower body, upper body, and core.

In CrossFit

CrossFit has become an incredibly popular workout in recent years. In this video, the instructor explains some basic CrossFit movements with a sample workout.

Note: Some CrossFit exercises may be more difficult for beginners to perform. Always be sure to practice proper form to avoid injuries.

Although metabolic conditioning and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are often used interchangeably, they aren’t exactly the same.

Metabolic conditioning describes exercises that vary from moderate to high intensity. Metcon exercise routines are intended to be completed in roughly 20 minutes and specifically use certain energy pathways. The goal of metabolic conditioning is to improve both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.

HIIT exercises are intended to be performed at greater than 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, followed by an active recovery period. The exercises are always vigorous and the intervals times are specific, often 20 to 30 seconds.

HIIT exercises are a form of metabolic conditioning — but not all metabolic conditioning is HIIT.


Metabolic conditioning is a great way to improve overall physical health. There are many pros to a metcon program, including:

  • Spending less time at the gym. Most programs are intended to be completed within 20 minutes. This means that you can get an effective workout in without spending hours at the gym.
  • Burning calories more effectively. Metabolic conditioning exercises are designed to be performed at a moderate to high intensity. A higher heart rate during these exercises allows the body to more effectively burn calories.
  • Improving lean muscle mass. Research has shown that both moderate- and high-intensity interval training can reduce body fat percentage. In addition, regular weight training exercises can help to build more muscle.
  • Improving metabolism. Muscle burns more calories than fat, which is one of the many benefits of a regular weight-training routine. Using metabolic conditioning to tone your body can help improve your metabolism.


While there aren’t many cons to starting a metabolic conditioning program, they may include:

  • More prone to injuries. Starting a new workout program is not without risks. One 2015 study found that most fitness injuries that land people in the emergency room are due to overexertion, which can happen with a lack of education or preparation.
  • May require gym equipment. Gym memberships, and even at-home gym equipment, can be expensive. Although neither a gym nor professional equipment is required, they can be helpful in creating a more varied routine.
  • Contraindicated in certain conditions. Exercise is generally regarded as safe for most of the population. However, it’s always important to check with your doctor before starting a new fitness program.

If you are interested in doing metabolic conditioning but don’t know where to start, a personal trainer can help.

Find An ACE Pro is a great tool from ACE Fitness that allows you to search for certified trainers in your area. A personal trainer can help you learn how to perform basic metcon exercises safely and effectively.

If you’re interested in joining a program such as CrossFit, many cities have gyms that specialize in CrossFit (called “boxes”). The official CrossFit Map contains the locations of CrossFit Affiliate gyms across the country.

Metabolic conditioning is designed to include moderate- and high-intensity workouts that improve the energy systems of the body. There are many types of programs that are metcon, including the popular CrossFit workout.

A metabolic conditioning program can help to save time, burn more calories, and improve your overall health. If you’re new to metabolic conditioning, a personal trainer can help build an effective routine for you.

And as always, be sure to consult your physician before beginning a new workout program.