Metabolic conditioning: This 5-move Metcon workout builds strength, muscle and endurance

Three people jumping on to boxes next to eachother with a grey backdrop.
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MetCon — short for metabolic conditioning — is a calorie-crushing exercise style found in training like CrossFit or Hyrox workouts. MetCon workouts usually incorporate strength exercises, high-intensity moves that improve power and aerobic fitness, and high repetitions to test endurance. 

The idea is to improve overall fitness and how your body uses energy by shifting between higher and lower intensities. For example, you could expect a MetCon workout to include a circuit including a calorie machine like an assault bike, burpees, and compound strength movements like weighted squats or pull-ups, alongside core exercises or plyometrics (think squat jumps). 

I recommend having a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells to hand to perform the workout below, but if you prefer to work with your bodyweight, MetCon training can be executed as a bodyweight workout, too.  

What is MetCon: How does it work?

A quality MetCon workout should help you build leaner muscle and strength while boosting your metabolism. While you might not blitz hundreds of calories during the workout (calorie burn is subject to many factors like exercise intensity, sex, hormones, and sleep), you could expect to burn calories long after you’ve put your weights down.

EPOC — Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption — is the process of burning calories after you’ve finished exercising as your body tries to regain homeostasis (balance). As you return to your resting state, your body will consume more oxygen to get you there, helping to supercharge your metabolism and tear through calories faster, accelerating overall calorie burn. 

By adding strength training to a MetCon, you could build a leaner body — alongside a balanced diet and managing your stress levels and sleep quality. Training consistently like this several times a week could help your metabolism function better as your fitness improves.

How to build a MetCon workout 

MetCon training should combine a few basic principles to be considered an out-and-out MetCon workout. Although we provide an efficient and effective WOD (workout of the day) below for inspiration, you could also build your own by following these tips.  

Heart rate

Your workout should switch between high-intensity training and steady-state periods, also switching upper and lower body and core exercises that will force your body to work harder. The fat-burning heart rate zone is around 70%, meaning you should feel puffed as you move in this zone, putting your endurance to the test. If you like to track your metrics, add one of the best fitness trackers to keep on top of heart rate. 


Play around with your variables. I recommend a MetCon circuit or grouping exercises together into a mini-circuit. For example, this five-move barbell complex workout forms part of a MetCon workout. 

Remember to include cardio stations like a set time or calorie score on calorie machines such as a rower or ski erg, then add a combination of the upper body, lower body, bodyweight, and core moves to increase variety and work major muscle groups. 


Any equipment goes during MetCon workouts, so be creative. You could add dumbbells. kettlebells, resistance bands, calorie machines, or even your body weight. Although equipment adds more challenges for muscles, bodyweight training is a great way to build strength and stamina. Check out this calisthenics workout to learn more, and consider adding push-pull movements (think pull-ups and push-ups) included in this 300-rep bodyweight workout.   


MetCon workouts usually follow a looser format than 40 seconds on and 20 seconds off, or similar. I recommend programming for as many rounds as possible (known as an AMRAP), meaning you’ll perform rounds of exercises as many times as you can for time. 

Another timing technique is an EMOM (every minute on the minute), performing a set number of reps within the minute before moving to the next — this 15-minute workout is a great example. You could also work for a set number of rounds or hit a set number of reps or calories in the fastest time possible. Whichever you choose, work at a consistent pace, and don’t burn out too early.  

A MetCon workout to try 

Start with two reps per exercise and add two each round. So, by the fifth round, you’ll be hitting 10 reps per exercise. Set a timer for 15 minutes and see how many rounds you can complete. For the farmer’s walk, switch out reps for lengths of a room or gym, and rows should be set to calories. Rest briefly between rounds — not between exercises. 

1. Farmer’s walk 

Find out what happened when I did the farmer’s walk every day for a week to pick up some tips and check the video below to perfect your form. Opt for a challenging weight to torch your shoulders and core muscles. 

2. Thrusters

Dumbbells or barbells are perfect for this full-body exercise. Not sure which one to pick? Barbells vs dumbbells answers the debate.  

3. Box jumps

You could use any elevated surface to perform box jumps, just ensure the height is challenging enough and try to land in a squat position with both feet planted before stepping down.  

4. Rowing machine

Work for two calories, increasing each round. Set the resistance on a challenging setting and keep strokes long and consistent.  

5. Overhead reverse lunges

You could use barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells — whichever feels comfortable to clean and press into an overhead position. I recommend reverse lunges as this puts less strain on the knees.  

Remember, the goal is to work every major muscle group using high-volume reps at various intensities to build muscular endurance, burn calories, and increase muscle. Research shows that even 15 to 20-minute workouts are enough to improve fitness levels.  

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III qualified fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.