What is a Metcon Workout & 5 Conditioning Workouts For Beginners

Metcon workouts form the foundation of many CrossFit and GPP fitness programs.

There are immense benefits to building your training around this style of workout. They are fantastic for improving cardio and strength, and some studies show that high-intensity training can lead to better weight loss results.

All that said, it's not always clear what a metcon workout is. 

In this article, we'll clarify the definition of a metcon, explain the benefits, and give you 5 metcon workouts you can use to build strength as a beginner.

What Is a Metcon Workout?

A metcon workout is short for "metabolic conditioning" workout.

Metcon workouts are meant to elevate the heart rate and improve aerobic fitness. In the meantime, they also tend to improve other areas of your fitness, like strength, muscular endurance, and gymnastic abilities. 

In many ways, it's the opposite of a steady-state cardio WOD.

Metcons cover a wider variety of workout types. But generally speaking, they are fast-paced sessions performed "for time," "on the minute," or "as many rounds as possible." (See the five examples below to get a better idea of what a Metcon is.)

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The purpose of Metcons are for CrossFitters to get good at moving quickly and steadily through a series of movements. These types of training sessions form the foundation of CrossFit.

Some get confused about whether an HIIT workout and a metcon are the same thing. The answer is 'kind of.'

A HIIT workout could be classified as a metcon workout as it elevates the heart rate and increases work capacity. However, HIIT workouts only refer to workouts performed with set work and rest intervals. For example, Tabata (20 on, 10 off x 8 rounds). 

Metcons, on the other hand, are much more broadly defined.

What Happens in a CrossFit Metcon Workout Session?

The exercises in a metcon typically dictate how the workout goes. 

For example, heavy barbell exercises like (the deadlift) may slow you down or force you to really dial in technique so you don't miss a rep. Running and rowing, on the other hand, are much more mental. You can push through them without worrying about getting injured.

But the overall goal is to do as much solid work in as short a period of time as possible.

For example, most of the CrossFit girls workouts are metcon workouts. "Cindy" is a good example.

AMRAP 20:

5 pull-ups

10 pushups 

15 squats

In Cindy, you complete as many sets as possible in 20 minutes. Limiting breaks and completing as many rounds as possible with good form is the goal.

squats

Metcon workouts hit all areas of your fitness. They also have a potent fat burning effect, which could keep your metabolism elevated for up to 14 hours after exercise

How To Do a CrossFit Metcon WOD

When planning to do a metcon-style workout, be sure to:

  • Not eat right before (try to stop eating between 60 and 90 minutes before so you don't get sick or feel heavy).
  • Drink plenty of water the day of. You might have time for a sip of water or two during if you need it, but typically you wait until after your done so as not to waste time. Hydrate before and after!
  • Do a solid 5 to 15-minute warmup. If you can, practice the exercises you'll be performing in the metcon.
  • Mentally prepare yourself. Some metcon workouts are very hard, and that includes the short ones. Workouts like Fran are notorious for making people sick in just 3 to 4 minutes. Hero workouts are also considered metcons even though they can last 40+ minutes.

The good news is, anyone can do a metcon. Instead of taking away the high-intensity component, beginners can simply scale exercises to make the workout doable for them.

Things To Consider About Metcon Workouts?

There are many perks to incorporating metcon workouts in your CrossFit or fitness training. But there are some reasons you might not use them, too.

The benefits of metcon workouts include:

  • Increased cardiovascular fitness
  • Increased work capacity
  • Increase in other areas of your fitness (strength, endurance, balance, coordination, speed)
  • Translates over to other workouts

The biggest downside, if you want to call it that, is that they are taxing on the body. Doing too many in a week or even in a day can put you in a hole and affect your training. It's less of a negative and more just something to be aware of.

did you know - metcon workouts

Metcon workouts also typically aren't ideal when:

  • You're taking an active recovery day. Or you're purposely dialing back intensity to 50 to 60 percent.
  • You're doing a lot of strength training. Metcons can be taxing on your nervous system and muscles and make it hard to hit above 90 percent on your lifts.
  • You haven't been eating or drinking. Doing a metcon workout fasted or on a major calorie deficit typically isn't a good idea.

It's standard for most CrossFit gyms and programming websites to schedule at least 4 metcons per week. They typically make up a large portion of most athlete's training.

What Equipment Is Needed for Metcon Workouts?

Gymnastic Rings

The equipment you need for metcons differs, although there are common objects you'll find in many workouts. If we have already done a review of the best of these equipment, then they are linked in the list itself. They include:

Bodyweight exercises like lunges, sit-ups, burpees, and sprinting are also common in metcon WODs.

If you're doing these types of workouts by yourself, you'll want to invest in a CrossFit type timer. Have some water and a towel nearby just in case.

A fitness tracker is also great for metcon training. The Myzone tracker in particular is effective, as it was designed very much with CrossFit metcons in mind. You score extra points when your heart rate enters the highest two zones during sessions.

Read Also: CrossFit Girls - A 2021 Comprehensive guide on Benchmark WODs

5 Example Metcon Conditioning Workouts for beginners

Here are 5 beginner metcon conditioning workouts examples you can do as a beginner. Read the description below before you start!

1. 20-minute AMRAP

Kettlebell workout

Complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes:

Run 400m

50 single unders

21 kettlebell swings (53/35lbs)

How to perform this metcon workout: 

Cycle through the run, jump ropes, and kettlebell swings as many times as you can in the amount of time, which is minutes. Pace yourself on the run, as it will be the longest part of the workout. The limiting factor for most people will be the swings, so break up into sets as needed.

2. 12 Min EMOM

Burpees

Every minute on the minute for 12 minutes, do:

6 dumbbell thrusters (50/35lbs)

6 burpees

How to perform this metcon workout: 

At the top of each minute, do the 12 reps as fast as you can. The remaining time in the round is for recovery. Take deep breaths and stay focused during this time. 

If this is too hard, scale the thruster weight. You should be able to finish the 12 reps before the 40-second mark. If this is too easy, increase the reps to 7 or 8 of each per minute.

3. Wallball/assault bike ladder

 Air Bike workout

24-21-18-15-12-9

Wall ball shots (20/14lbs)

Assault bike calories

How to perform this metcon workout: 

Ascending ladder workouts are great for work capacity. You'll do 192 "reps" in this metcon workout. Pace yourself in the early rounds, especially on the wallball shots. Keep in mind you hit the halfway point of the workout at the beginning of the round of 18!

4. Beginner Helen

Running

3 rounds for time:

400m run/row

21 kettlebell swings

12 pull-ups/assisted pull-ups/ring rows

How to perform this metcon workout:

Set a timer. Run or row your first 400m, then go immediately into swings/pull-ups. This workout is meant to be a sprint from start to finish. If you can't do more than 3 kipping pull-ups, sub ring rows or an assisted variation. 

5. Beginner challenge metcon workout

Plyo Box

5 rounds for time:

20 box jumps, 24/20in plyo box

20 burpees

20 Overhead squats (with an empty bar or PVC pipe)

How to perform this Metcon workout: 

  • Pace yourself! Treat the first round (or 2) like a warmup. You've got 300 repetitions to complete.
  • Step down from the box jumps. Save your legs for the burpees and squats.
  • Make sure to practice overhead squats. If you've never done these and don't have access to a coach, sub regular air squats.

Final Thoughts

Metcon workouts form the foundation of many CrossFit programs. They're an amazing tool for developing overall fitness, strengthening your lower and upper body, and training different energy systems. 

If you aspire to be good at the sport of CrossFit, they should be a major component of your exercise routine if you want to get good at CrossFit.

For more WOD guides, check out more CrossFit training advice!

Ben Kissam

Ben Kissam

I help college athletes maximize their 4-year sports window and succeed after graduation.

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