Metabolic conditioning or “metcon” refers to conditioning exercises intended to increase the storage and delivery of energy for any activity. The first thing that comes to mind for most people when training to improve endurance is conditioning the cardiovascular system to improve transport of blood to the working muscles. Concurrently, metabolic conditioning is conditioning the muscles to better use the fuel delivered to them by improving the efficiency of the different metabolic pathways. While it was once believed that only aerobic conditioning served to increase cardiovascular health, studies have now shown that anaerobic conditioning may also condition the heart to a same level as aerobic training alone. Dr. Izumi Tabata successfully produced excellent improvements in anaerobic and aerobic conditioning in a group of accomplished athletes using interval training. It is of note that Tabata’s four minute high intensity group experienced better V02 max improvement than the control group, which followed a 60 minute moderate intensity regimen.
The premise behind this type of conditioning is to condition the phosphagen and glycolytic pathways adequately (with enough volume to create significant improvement); it is much easier to accumulate volume in “aerobic” training (oxydative) because it requires less energy. Using the phosphagen pathway for example: when performing exercise at an intensity that requires energy to be supplied through the phosphagen pathway, the intensity is so high that the work can only be sustained for 10-30 seconds. In order to continue training at this intensity (to “metabolically condition” the body to work in this pathway), one must follow this by resting from 30-90 seconds before repeating the process. This is why high-intensity interval training is the principle method of metabolic conditioning.