As much as I love heavy weight training and feel that it’s something that most people could benefit from, I do have an appreciation for the importance of cardio.
Now, when I say cardio, please understand that there is a lot more that falls under the broad umbrella of “cardio” than just slogging away on the elliptical or treadmill. As in all types of training, what type of cardio you do really depends on the goals that you have set for yourself. Want to run a marathon? Well, then, you probably should be running, with some speed work and long runs thrown in there. Want to climb Mt. Everest some day? Running stairs, hill training and hiking will probably do you some good. Want to be strong as hell but also lose some body fat? Strength training plus metabolic conditioning is the answer for you.
What is metabolic conditioning?
Metabolic conditioning, or metabolic “finishers” are fairly short bouts (10-20 min) of non traditional, high intensity cardio that is typically done at the end of a workout — and generally done with body weight or relatively light weight. However, when crunched for time, a quick and dirty MetCon session can leave you gassed after just 10 minutes of work, which is a lovely alternative for those of us who don’t have hours set aside for the gym every single day.
Who can benefit from metabolic finishers?
Basically, anyone looking to decrease their body fat or increase their cardiovascular conditioning (without logging endless cardio hours). Heck, even steady-state cardio-ers should give these a try — you may not see a ton of results riding the elliptical every day, but add a 10 minute finisher to that workout, and you may notice a difference quite soon. Strictly speaking for myself, I find long, steady state cardio to be absolute torture. I will run a mile or two at a time periodically, but beyond that, I really hate it. And that is an understatement. But adding in a 10 or 15 minute bout of “cardio” to the end of a workout? That I can do, and usually enjoy, especially when it involves fun things like burpees and squat jumps.
Yeah, I kind of have a weird thing for burpees. So sue me.
How often should people add these to their workouts?
As with many tweaks to a training program, it depends on the person and their goals. If you have been doing the same training routine for a while, no matter what it is, and haven’t seen the fat loss results that you want, try adding in 1-2 short finishers per week. I usually stick with two, but will do three on some weeks depending on how I feel. If after adding in one to two you are still not seeing results after a few weeks, add in one more.
Although just be aware that fat loss results do not happen over night, and they also depend a lot on dietary intake (maybe more so than exercise, but that’s a different blog post). Also keep in mind that you don’t want to burn yourself out. If you’re doing two heavy leg days plus three intense lower body finishers during the week, your legs may not be getting the recovery time that they need in order to get stronger.
What are some examples of finishers?
The possibilities are pretty much endless here, but here are a few examples of things I’ve been doing lately.
1. Plyo Pyramid Set
This mini circuit looks innocent enough, but it kicked my ass last time I did it with a 14 lb medicine ball. Following up a moderate weight squat day with this circuit left me sore for days, so don’t let it deceive you!
2. Battle Ropes Finisher
If you have access to battling ropes at your gym, give this a try! The whole thing will take you less than 10 minutes, but will leave you sweating and with arms shaking. Check out this post for descriptions/video of all of these moves.
3. 100 Kettlebell Swings for time. This one doesn’t get a fancy graphic because it’s pretty self explanatory, but these should be heavy KB swings, with as little rest as possible. My best time for 100 swings so far is 3:53, and I’m hoping to get it down to 3 minutes! Remember to pay attention to your form with KB swings, and please don’t do these if you are too fatigued to keep proper form. An injury is never worth a few more calories burned!
Readers: Do you ever do metabolic finishers at the end of your workout or do you tend to stick to more traditional cardio? What is your favorite exercise to include in a quick, high intensity circuit?