firefighter fitness training

Metabolic Conditioning

Metabolic Conditioning – What is it and why does it work?

A major component of Never Do Nothing training involves what we refer to as metabolic conditioning (metcons). We place as much importance on this type of training as we do to Powerlifting. Why? Because it works!

Metabolic conditioning is basically the general term we use to define our high-intensity / interval training workouts – we often use the terms interchangeably but we’re effectively referring to the same fitness concept. Several other workouts and websites may have a slightly different definition, but our definition relates to the workouts that force you to go all out, for a relatively short period of time, and make you leave the gym with an incredible sense of happiness… knowing that you won’t be working out again for at least 24 hours!

The basic premise of high-intensity training is based on the fact that more work can be accomplished if it is broken up with quick rest breaks as opposed to proceeding with the work on a continuous basis (a popular method for this is tabata training). This is also true with quickly jumping from exercise to exercise where completely different body-parts are targeted (for example, going from Chin-Ups to Squats to Sit-ups!). Since your overall fitness is affected to a greater extent by the intensity of your workouts as opposed to their length, it makes perfect sense to take advantage of this concept by adapting your workout to this instead of hoping 60 minutes on the elliptical is going to whip you into shape – which it won’t, so don’t bother trying.

High-intensity training comes in many different formats. From the amount of intervals, their lengths, the number of rounds, the types of exercises, and even the equipment used – the variety of these workouts are nearly endless. While that in itself is great from a psychological point for view so your workouts are often very different from one day to the nest, the real advantage to high-intensity training comes from your body’s adaptations to it.

There are several key physiological adaptations which take place when performing high-intensity training which explain why it should be a basic building block of any successful workout program. By repeatedly exposing the body to fatigue during the workout, the body slowly but surely reacts by improving its resistance to fatigue through both aerobic and anaerobic adaptations.  The constant spiking of the heart rate stimulates an increase in stroke volume (referred to as the amount of blood the heart pumps with each beat). A greater amount of volume per beat means you can get more oxygen, more quickly to your muscles – in turn resulting in a greater Vo2 max (the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and use oxygen). Vo2 max is often used a measuring stick in regards to someone’s fitness level. Ongoing research has also started showing that high-intensity training is a much more effective way of increasing your Vo2 max than exercises of long-duration (long-distance running / cycling for example). Many long-distance runners such as marathoners are now starting to see the advantage of actually cutting back on long-distance running and replacing it with high-intensity training.

On the anaerobic side, short intense work intervals train the muscles’ energy systems by causing increases in the amount of adenosine triphosphate and creatine phosphate. This directly leads to increases in muscle strength and power. High-intensity training also results in an accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles and maintaining this during the workout. Lactic acid is the by-product of muscular metabolism. An accumulation forces the body to adapt to increased levels of lactic acid.  In response, the body then gets used to flushing greater amounts of lactic acid out of your system. This allows for an enhanced delay to the onset of fatigue – essentially allowing you to perform more work.  Lactic acid also irritates the muscles and can cause soreness (most notably felt getting out of bed the following day!) – The better your body is at processing it, the less sore you will be. I used to be much more sore doing simple bicep curls back in the day then I am now thrusting a total of 10,000lbs above my head (which is literally a workout we have…).

The other benefits to high-intensity training that are great but not really why we incorporate them into our workout program is that they save time – 15 minutes high-intensity training will do more for you than 60 minutes on a stationary bike – and metabolic conditioning has also been found to be more effective at the processing of fat at the cellular level (muscle burning it up as energy instead of placing it on your hips) than regular continuous training.

The combination of these physiological adaptations continuously increases your level of fitness, which in turn allows you to do more. It’s a positive feedback cycle that simply gets you into better and better shape! When combined with powerlifting, metabolic conditioning (along with strength-conditioning) is a huge part of why Never Do Nothing works as well as it does. An all-out metabolic conditioning session is as close to the intensity and physical demands that you could experience on the fire-ground – which is why our workout is meant to train you as a firefighter, and it does a great job at it!


Interval Training for the Fitness Professional, Strength and Conditioning Journal, Jason R. Karp, Volume 22, Number 4, April 2000

Higher Mitochondrial Fatty Acid Oxidation following Intermittent versus Continuous Endurance Exercise Training, Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, Chilibeck, PD, GJ Bell, RP Farrar, and TP Martin, Volume 76, 1998

Training the Aerobic Capacity of Distance Runners: A Break From Tradition, Strength and Conditioning Journal, Anthony Nicholas Turner, MSc, CSCS, Volume 33, Number 2, April 2011

High-Intensity Interval Training: Applications for General Fitness Training, Strength and Conditioning Journal, Paul Sorace, MS, ACSM, RCEP, CSCS, Volume 31, Number 6, December 2009


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