As a busy woman; wife, mother, nutritionist, runner, I can completely relate to squeezing in a workout when there isn’t much time. I’m known for my stone face at the gym; if I only have 30-40 minutes to run or lift weights than I’m probably not going to be talking too much! But in my everlasting desire to maximize time and results, I stumbled upon a system that, to my delight, I’m already applying: Metabolic Conditioning.
What is Metabolic Conditioning?
Metabolic conditioning is used to build muscle, burn fat and maintain a fast running metabolism long after you’ve left the gym. It doesn’t mean you’ll be building a “body builders” muscle mass (one look at me and you know I’m no competitive lifter) but it does mean you can shrink your waist, build strong legs, arms and back and define your abs all without long bouts of cardiovascular exercise.
Metabolic conditioning looks to maximize your workout time and decrease your rest periods, increasing your overall body endurance by increasing muscle. Increased muscle takes on more oxygen so your body can do longer aerobic workouts without the muscle wasting experience of long cardiovascular excursions like running. Metabolic conditioning or metabolic training is a system that you might be using too. CrossFit, P90X or HIIT programs are great examples of how it works.
Metabolic conditioning can take on three different forms based on the 3 different pathways our bodies use to create energy.
- · The phosogen pathway used for exercise that lasts less than 10 seconds
- · The glycolytic pathway used for exercise that lasts for a few minutes
- · The oxidative pathway used for exercise that lasts for more than several minutes.
It’s amazing that our bodies have 3 different energy systems to keep us moving! And once you know which one you need it’s easier to get the results, i.e. muscle vs endurance, you’re looking for.
The Phosphagen Pathway is independent of oxygen which means it creates energy very quickly, quick fast movements like jumping, but cannot sustain these movements for a long time. The energy to lift weights comes from what’s already stored in our bodies, creatine phosphate, also known as phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine is made of amino acids, protein builders, and is stored in skeletal muscle. When you need to move a muscle quickly, a jump or a weight lifted, a phosphate molecule is donated to create energy or ATP. (2)
In the Glycolytic Pathway energy is produced by using either blood sugar or carbohydrates stored in muscles. This way of producing energy can last for up to 2 minutes but its not plentiful amount and needs to be replenished with rest and oxygen.(2)
The final pathway is the Oxidative Pathway, one that works by creating energy from oxygen consumed. This form of energy production is long lasting (minutes to hours) and needs carbohydrates in the form of blood sugar or fat from the stores in the body. This is why you lose weight from long periods of cardiovascular exercise. One problem with this weight loss is it’s not discerning; meaning it will take energy stored from fat or muscle. So if you’re looking to create muscle AND reduce fat, long workouts alone are going to decrease your strength, your muscle.(2)
You never see weight lifters running on the treadmill, but they could. They’re creating size and muscle mass from weights alone, but they have the capability of endurance running. The power from muscles and the oxygen stored in the muscles will propel quickly and easily. This is why long distance runners would benefit from weight sessions, because muscle can help sustain the body during aerobic exercise.
3 Different forms of Metabolic Conditioning
What’s great about metabolic conditioning is you can use it a number of different ways, always taxing your muscles and getting visible results.
- · If you wanted to use the Phosphagen Pathway system, the one that provides quick stored energy, you would need to exercise hard for a short amount time and rest. Use this when you want to increase your power (muscle). (1)
Example: Pushups for 30 seconds Rest for 30 seconds Repeat 8 times
- · If you wanted to use the Glycolytic Pathway system, the one that uses easily accessible energy in the form of blood sugar or stored carbs, you would exercise for a medium amount of time with a rest period that replenished your body’s fuel. Use this when you want to increase your overall performance. (1)
Example: Squats for 30 seconds, Lunges for 30 seconds Rest for 2 minutes Repeat 4 times
- · If you wanted to use the Oxidative Pathway system, the one that relies on oxygen for continued performance, you would exercise for a longer period of time with short rest time. Use this when you want to increase your endurance.(1)
Example: Upper body workout-30 seconds of Biceps curls, 30 seconds of Triceps extensions, 30 seconds of Standing Overhead Press, 30 seconds of Lateral Raises Rest for 1 minute Repeat 3 times
I find myself using the Glycolytic Pathway the most. I tend to use heavy weights with shorter repetitions (10 reps max) and use antagonistic muscles for one set, i.e. biceps and triceps then rest, or quads and hamstrings then rest. I’m always looking to increase my endurance, my next half marathon or new challenge is continuously around the corner, and it’s great to know that I’m doing the work it takes to build muscle and reduce injury. Now with the full knowledge of metabolic conditioning I can work on more powerful muscles with the minimal time I get at the gym. See you there, just don’t expect me stop and chat!
1. Glassman, Greg. The CrossFit Journal Article. 2003 Metabolic Conditioning.
2. Karp, Jason PhD. IDEA Fitness Journal. 2009 The Three Metabolic Energy Systems.