You Don't Need Another Metcon

On Site Coaching in Paoli - OPEX Upper Main Line

You Don’t Need Another High Intensity Met-Con


Met-Con; meaning metabolic conditioning, often performed at high intensity. I frequently see posts on social media looking to pick the brains of fitness athletes and coaches. I recently came across a post that made me think about the structure of my training and what I believe to be the most effective for the majority of the population within the beginner to what I will call advanced general fitness. The premise of the post, and I see this topic quite often, primarily concerned training volume and intensity. The question was something along the lines of, “What is better, less volume and higher intensity (Ex: 1 well executed conditioning piece per day), or higher volume with “high” intensity (Ex: multiple conditioning pieces per day, which generally leads to a loss of quality across sessions) The question could potentially be restructured to is more always better?  


I assume that the multiple metcon option looks like 2-3+ high intensity sessions, with the aim of some of those sessions to be to improve a weakness (strength, skill, etc.). 


Given this assumption, here’s my opinion:


I would 100% start with the first option; the second one isn’t “wrong”, and with some proper tweaks it can actually be very beneficial given all things equal relative to recovery and health for the individual client. But, lets evaluate the question. While there isn’t always one singular way to achieve optimal results for the client, the answer remains, the volume and intensity needs to be structured to the individual and ultimately “earned” though the clients ability to demonstrate proficiency in pacing, building strength, and creating a sound foundation first. More isn’t better, only Better is better. 


This isn’t because doing multiple high intensity sessions is too dangerous or too hard or causes burnout in every single case(all topics for a different conversation), but because it’s likely not the most effective use of your training time if your goal is to constantly improve over the long term and/or be competitive in fitness sports. Here’s a quick list of some common weaknesses and how I would approach improving them (for this, I assume one truly high intensity conditioning piece is already being done 2-5 times per week; The question is, do you need more):


  • Conditioning - Likely, a client may need to improve their aerobic base, which will mean longer, moderate pace, sustainable workouts. These feel like a lower intensity, and can be included as often as everyday, although twice a week is probably adequate to see improvements (especially if you’re training has many other aspects to it). If it’s the shorter workouts that give you trouble, the aerobic base will still help, but developing your strength will also be important as the output time requirement becomes shorter and shorter (think row/bike/run sprints). Neither approach is another high intensity metcon.
  • Strength - Dedicated lifting sessions with some sort of basic progression is the best answer. Going for 1 Rep Maximums all the time is probably not going to work well for very long. Doing more work with sub-maximal loads, honing movement patterns, doing hypertrophy, then base strength, then peaking, then de-loading has proven to be very effective over the course of history within effective training principles. Again, Better is Better. Put the work in and go through these phases over the course of months. For athletes with time constraints, this only needs to take 30-60min, 3-4/wk. This is also not another high intensity metcon.
  • Weightlifting Skills - Looking specifically at Olympic lifts. For the snatch and clean & jerk, if it’s your technique that is holding you back (which I find to be most common with coaching clients), then you’ll need to spend a lot of time working exposure with perfect technique, across tons of reps - with an EMPTY bar. Focusing on the positions first, then adding speed. After those two are in place, adding load should be the last step. Light weight is the best way to work on technique and speed. “Light” is going to be relative to the individual, but it’s a weight that they can move FAST and CORRECTLY. Perfection is the name of the game. Going heavy and letting the technique fall by the wayside, and diving under 1RMs all the time, will not be the most effective use of your training time. Still, not another high intensity metcon.
  • Gymnastic Skills - Most issues here are either very similar to the strength point or to the weightlifting point: either absolute strength needs to be developed, which can be done with the same approach as for squats/deadlifts/presses but will probably include other movements (push ups, pull ups, dips, etc.), OR you have the strength, and just need to develop the technique, which will include perfect practice using assistance as needed to make sure you’re in the right positions. Make sure you know which one of these issues is giving you trouble, and remember that you cannot neglect strength work - it’s crucial.(Think Push Ups before HSPU) Guess what, not another high intensity metcon.


Hopefully these concepts can help you to upgrade your current prescription and allow you to create some structure in how to attack weaknesses and develop more balance within fitness.  Remember, building the foundation is imperative, and for many, more complex lifts and high skill gymnastics may actually not be necessary to develop the fitness levels they need relative to their function with life.  If your goal is to do a HSPU, I would question the why behind that first, to be sure it is something that is truly required within your fitness goals, otherwise, there are plenty of options which are less complex that help develop strength and balance that provide a similar response for overall longevity and fitness. Consider working with a coach to iron out some of these goals, and to look more deeply into the factors of your lifestyle so that you can align what you really want for fitness long term.


To provide some additional perspective, here’s how I structure my training given the factors of my lifestyle, priorities and goals: 


Start with the first option. One metcon a day (most days), with structural/accessory work either before or after or at a different time (4-5 days/week). This includes powerlifting movements, weightlifting movements, strict gymnastics work, and functional bodybuilding style workouts, all of which is periodized throughout the year for hypertrophy, base strength, peaking, and deload phases to coincide with my competition schedule. If I’m going to do two metcons on a particular day (1-3 days/week depending on how I feel) then I’ll probably make sure at least one of them is aerobic/low-moderate intensity. If you have more time available and your body is able to handle your current training volume, then start to incorporate aspects of the second option if you wish - and if it’s appropriate to your goals. For me, as I get closer to my competitive season, I will SLOWLY include more high intensity sessions, but the base of my conditioning will still be moderate intensity (think ~85% efforts) -it’s simply more sustainable for me. There are prolonged periods throughout the year where I take deloads to allow my body to recover, particularly after a competition season ends - but I also have become very good over time with listening to my body and taking these periods of rest as needed, and I find that the outcome is paramount to my ability to sustain, and progress over the course of each year toward my goals for longevity within fitness. 


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Tyler Fischer, OPEX UML Asst. Coach & CCP On-Journey

5x CrossFit Games Regional Team Competitor 

3x CrossFit Games Team Competitor 


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