Strength & Cardio Synergy: The Power of Metabolic Conditioning Workouts

Cathe Friedrich in her LITE Metabolic Conditioning workout


If you’re looking for a time-efficient approach to training and one that’s effective, metabolic conditioning is your answer. It’s an approach where strength training and cardio join forces to create a workout that’s more effective than the sum of its parts. Metabolic conditioning pairs strength training and cardio in a way that elevates your metabolic rate and sculpts a leaner physique fast.

What makes metabolic conditioning a winner? It challenges your muscles, heart and lungs, and your cellular energy systems in one workout and does it in a way that boosts your fitness level quickly and efficiently. When you perform this type of workout, your body upgrades its ability to produce and use energy for greater efficiency and faster results.

Structuring a Metabolic Conditioning Workout

To get the benefits of a metabolic conditioning workout (metcon), you choose a combination of strength and cardio exercises and structure them in a way that keeps your heart rate up. To get the most benefits, most of the strength exercises you do (around 70%) should be compound, or multi-joint, exercises, as they work multiple muscle groups at the same time. These exercises offer more metabolic benefits than single-joint exercise. Examples of compound exercises include:

  • Bench press
  • Deadlifts
  • Squats
  • Pushups
  • Pullups
  • Overhead press
  • Dips

The other 30% of the strength exercises you choose, can be single-joint exercises, like:

  • Biceps curls
  • Leg extensions
  • Leg curls
  • Calf raises
  • Lateral raises

Focusing on compound exercises alone helps elevate your heart rate, but real synergy comes from combining compound strength exercises with cardio. Rather than strength training first and then doing cardio, you include cardio exercises in your strength routine. For example, you might do a set of deadlifts and then a heart-boosting movement like jumping jacks, burpees, or mountain climbers.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a popular format for metcon training. As you know, this combines short bursts of all-out effort with periods of rest or low-intensity work. It’s one of the most effective ways to burn calories, build endurance, and upgrade your cardiovascular health. It’s one approach to metabolic conditioning.

Other common metcon structures include:

Circuits: A circuit workout involves performing a series of exercises in succession, with little to no rest between exercises. After completing all the exercises in the circuit, you rest for a brief period before repeating the circuit for a specified number of rounds.

AMRAPs (As Many Reps as Possible): In an AMRAP workout, your goal is to complete as many repetitions or rounds of a given set of exercises as you can within a set time. For example, you might perform as many rounds as possible of ten push-ups, fifteen squats, and twenty sit-ups in 20 minutes.

EMOMs (Every Minute on the Minute): In an EMOM workout, you do specific number of reps of an exercise or a set of exercises at the start of each minute. If you complete the reps before the minute is up, you rest for the remainder of the minute. This structure encourages you to work efficiently and maintain a consistent pace throughout the workout.

These metcon structures are designed to keep the intensity high, heart rate elevated, and challenge multiple energy systems in the body. By incorporating a variety of exercises and manipulating work-to-rest ratios, these workouts can help improve overall fitness and provide a significant calorie-burning effect both during and after the workout (the afterburn effect).

Why Are Metcon Workouts So Effective?

The combination of strength training and cardio gives your muscles and heart a two-punch combo of mechanical and metabolic stress that promotes muscle growth and fat loss. Strength training subjects your muscle fibers to mechanical stress that acts as a stimulus for muscle growth. Plus, the high-intensity nature of the cardio triggers metabolic stress that forces your muscles to adapt and become more efficient. In addition, the improved cardiovascular fitness you’ll gain from metcon will help you perform better in all aspects of life, from chasing your kids around the park to crushing your next 5K.

Another reason to love metabolic conditioning is the effect it has on metabolism. When you structure your workouts metcon style, you get a greater afterburn effect. The scientific term for the afterburn is post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). It corresponds to the increased rate at which your cells take up oxygen following strenuous activity. In other words, your body must tap into more oxygen and burn more energy to recover from intense exercise. So, your metabolic rate stays high for hours after a metcon workout.

The magnitude of the afterburn effect depends on factors such as the intensity and duration of the metcon workout, as well as individual fitness level. High-intensity metcon workouts that engage large muscle groups and keep the heart rate elevated for an extended period tend to produce the greatest afterburn effect. The degree of afterburn varies with the length and intensity of a workout, and how trained you are.

Boost the Burn

But that’s not all. You’ll also get the added benefits of boosting muscle endurance and strength. Not to mention, you’re boosting cardiovascular fitness (due to the elevated heart rate) and insulin sensitivity. Plus, metcon training will “shake up” your routine and help you break through training plateaus.

According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the afterburn effect could contribute an additional 6-15% of the total energy expenditure of the workout. For example, if you burned 500 calories during a metcon session, the afterburn effect could potentially add an extra 30-75 calories to your total calorie burn.

Make It Your Own

You can customize a metcon workout to meet your goals and level of training. If you haven’t been training for long, start with shorter intervals and longer rest periods. You can always increase the intensity of your training as you build strength and endurance. On the other hand, if you’ve been training a while or are an experienced athlete looking to take your performance to the next level, you can push harder and give yourself a challenge.

Of course, no workout program is complete without proper nutrition and recovery. To fuel your metcon workouts and support your fitness goals, focus on eating a balanced diet rich in lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. And don’t skimp on the rest days – your body needs time to repair and rebuild after the intense demands of metcon training.

Also, build up a baseline level of fitness before adding metcon workouts to your routine. Ensure you’re comfortable with doing all the exercises with good form before increasing the intensity. Be sure to warm-up and stretch beforehand too.


Ready to get started? Metabolic conditioning is an efficient approach to fitness and one that taps into the synergy of strength training and cardio. When you launch into a metcon workout you challenge multiple energy systems. You also get a significant afterburn, making this type of workout a calorie scorcher. Build up a baseline level of fitness first and be sure to focus on your form. Don’t forget about the basics either – proper nutrition and rest. Metcon is a challenging but effective way to train. Enjoy!


  • Lockett E. What Is Metabolic Conditioning? Healthline. Published August 14, 2019. Accessed June 22, 2024. https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/metabolic-conditioning
  • ACE Fitness. “7 Things to Know about Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC).” Acefitness.org, August 28, 2014. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/pros/expert-articles/5008/7-things-to-know-about-excess-post-exercise-oxygen-consumption-epoc/.
  • Atakan MM, Li Y, Koşar ŞN, Turnagöl HH, Yan X. Evidence-Based Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training on Exercise Capacity and Health: A Review with Historical Perspective. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jul 5;18(13):7201. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18137201. PMID: 34281138; PMCID: PMC8294064.
  • “Metabolic Pathways & Metabolic Conditioning – Cleveland Clinic Health ….” 14 Oct. 2022, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/metabolic-pathways-metabolic-conditioning.

Related Articles By Cathe:

What Are Metabolic Conditioning Workouts and What Benefits Do They Offer?

3 Types of Metabolic Conditioning Workouts and the Benefits of Each

Understanding Your ATP Energy Cycle

High-Intensity Interval Training: How Long Should Your Active Intervals and Recovery Periods Be?

Types of Metabolic Resistance Training

Fitness Training: the Three Energy Systems and How to Target Them

Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs:

HiiT and Interval Workout DVDs

Low Impact Cardio DVDs

Boot Camp DVDs

Circuit DVDs

Kickbox DVDs

Step DVDs

Cycle Workout DVDs

High Step DVDs

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