After a year of reestablishing a training habit and focusing on gaining strength, I was eager to see more results. That meant visible abs for my anniversary vacation. My Future app virtual trainer had the perfect program to make it happen: metabolic conditioning.
Of course, I would enjoy the beach and wear the swimsuit no matter what, but I wanted to look as strong as I felt. She was also willing to work for it. I knew that metabolic conditioning is no picnic from my previous experience taking MetCon classes at Equinox.
What metabolic conditioning is: You work faster with less rest and often with lots of supersets, which gets your heart rate up more, according to Kelly Bryant, CPT, performance coach at Future, who I’ve been training with for the past two years. It can include a variety of equipment (dumbbells, bars, kettlebells, or resistance bands) or bodyweight movements. However, this style does not maximize muscle growth.
This modality was perfect for my goal and my schedule. He had about three months to put the body back together before the anniversary. “Anytime we’re trying to increase fat loss a little bit, especially in the short term, I focus on ways we can maintain muscle mass while adding a little more calorie burn,” says Bryant. “When we have a short-term goal, it’s a great option for a quick bodily reward.”
My previous training has also set me up for success with a solid foundation. “Working strength first also helps with injury prevention when you start working faster on metcons,” Bryant says. “With metabolic conditioning you probably won’t gain as much muscle as with traditional strength training. You’ll increase your calorie burn, making it easier to create a caloric deficit and lose fat.” Other benefits are improved cardiovascular health, more effective training, and more calories burned in less time.
This is what happened when I added metabolic conditioning to my routine with the goal of recomposing the body and getting visible abs:
My Metabolic Conditioning Workout Routine
My new training cycle included metabolic conditioning (a variety of movements) along with more traditional strength training focused on hypertrophy (muscle building), a rowing machine workout, and a fun run/walk. I also kept two or three reformer Pilates classes a week just because it gives me joy. It sounds like a lot, but in total my workouts took me about three hours a week. It took me a day or two to recover.
- Dynamic warm-up (7 minutes)
- Metabolic Conditioning (60 seconds of each, 30 second rest between rounds, four rounds total)
- Bodyweight Step Up
- duck walk
- Core Finisher (30 seconds of each, 30 second rest between rounds, three rounds total)
- russian twist
- plank ride
- Cooldown (5 minutes)
To work: According to Bryant, my plan included three to four 25-minute cardio workouts a week, which is a good starting point for a dedicated workout. Alternative programs included two days of metcon and two days of cardio (if you’re a cardio junkie who needs more muscle) or two days of strength (if you’re a lifter who needs cardio).
The Future app took all the guesswork out of my schedule. All I had to do was open the app and hit play on the day’s workout. A full week of routines and movements awaited me, with demonstrations of exercises and the equipment to be used.
The Metabolic Conditioning Journey
To begin with, my motivation and enthusiasm level were through the roof. I had a new goal and the optimistic attitude that it was so achievable. However, the first few weeks the movements disappointed me a bit. I felt silly doing lateral jumps and duck walks around the room or jumping between different bodyweight exercises. Surely there were more efficient ways to move. I was honest with Bryant, but I promised him that he would do my best. I trusted the process and his plan. However, I loved the style of supersets, which consisted of going from one movement to another with minimal rest.
Halfway there, I got on the fight bus. He hadn’t missed any training, but the results were still not showing. Also, I had a cold that wouldn’t go away. Still, I didn’t give up, I did like Nemo and kept moving. My energy levels were low, but I did what I could. I completed the metabolic conditioning exercises at a slightly lower intensity and added more Pilates to wind down at night and walked to get my steps.
I also adjusted my diet and felt my muscles respond. At first, the movements were exhausting. Between intervals of split squats or burpees, I would fall to the floor gasping for air. As the weeks went by, I was able to push myself a little harder and not get carried away on my mat to recover. I kept moving throughout the interval and no longer needed a quick breather. I also slept better. When my head touched the pillow, I would instantly fall asleep and fall asleep.
In the last month, I have experienced breakthroughs and seen the results of my persistence. I admit that it was difficult to be patient and trust that the metabolic conditioning program would work. Actually, three months is a very short time to see noticeable results from a consistent training routine, and I accomplished a lot despite obstacles like illness and a busy schedule.
Unlike previous training bouts (like training for a marathon or committing to a stricter fitness/nutrition plan), I didn’t feel exhausted or crave a new workout at the end. In fact, I wanted more of these types of workouts. I loved the variety, which literally kept me on my toes every session. I also loved the results, I saw and felt real changes without reorganizing my whole life around the workouts.
So when I had the option to set my next target, I doubled it to move the needle further with the body reward. I wanted to consolidate my gains and make more progress, like adding weight to my squats and deadlifts and chiseling off a few more abdominal muscles along the way.
If you commit to at least starting each workout, there’s a good chance you’ll finish it.
Even when I was feeling exhausted after a long day or the latest kindergarten illness was killing my motivation, I had to try every workout. The routine always started with a mobility warm-up, and I told myself I would do that at the very least. What happened next was up to me.
Most of the time I kept going because the training flew by. I was completely immersed in the metabolic conditioning movements and didn’t have a spare moment to think about taking a break. My motivation increased as the training progressed, and usually continued until it was over. I didn’t always break jump or speed records, but I often surprised myself with my performance. When my mind wanted me to skip the whole exercise, my body was totally up for it.
A high-impact sports bra prepares you for a full session.
I work from home most days of the week, so my preferred style is sportswear. (I have a rainbow of legging options, and the love for lycra is real!) It seems like I could get into a workout at any time of day, and I often do. But that comfortable look doesn’t always allow me to perform at my best, especially in plyometric movements or high-intensity metabolic conditioning.
I’ve noticed that I put extra effort and intensity into my workout if I switch to a high-impact sports bra and stop bouncing around. Seems like a super minor change, but it made a world of difference for me (my DDs needed support). It took me about 30 seconds to change clothes, and I know I worked harder and made my session count as a result. The increase in my heart rate was proof. Even the smallest cup sizes benefit from proper support.
Results and a noticeable transformation don’t really require marathon workouts every day.
But it does require a plan. I didn’t just do random routines or moves I saw on IG to reveal my abs. I followed a specific and strategic metabolic conditioning program from an experienced trainer tailored to my goal. Each metcon workout was intentional, targeting specific muscle groups while allowing others to recover. For example, on a day where my legs were toasty from a lower body workout, I was expecting an arms or abs workout.
Every minute really counted. As a busy mom, it’s what I value most. Doing 30-40 minutes of metcon was enough. The manageable length of the workout freed me up for other types of movement. I could chase my toddler around the park or take my dog for a long walk in the park. I also wasn’t totally exhausted and unable to get up from the couch.
Even if you’re not looking for a body recomposition, the effectiveness of metabolic conditioning workouts make them an incredible option for anyone. Who doesn’t want a few extra minutes of time in their day?
Jennifer Nied is the fitness editor at Women’s Health and has more than 10 years of experience in health and wellness journalism. She’s always out exploring—sweat-testing workouts and gear, hiking, snowboarding, running, and more—with her husband, daughter, and dog.