If we’re being honest, I don’t love exercise. I’m not even sure I like it that much. If I could get the same benefits from lying on the couch and being fed grapes, I would probably go with that.
I was the girl who got out of PE with forged notes. I used to ask if I could run on the track, and then hide out behind a hut. I would opt to do Mr Motivator videos and then paint my nails as soon as the teacher left the room.
But in the years since, every time I’ve developed a consistent exercise habit, I’ve loved how I felt afterwards. In fact, about 10 years ago I was bitten by the running bug to the point where I actively looked forward to runs.
Motherhood severely interfered with the consistency of my running habit, but at the moment I do try and run every weekend. (The word ‘try’ is very important in this sentence!)
I really enjoyed Pilates and PiYo (a fusion of Pilates and yoga done fast to music) when I used to go regularly. I’ve done (and loved) a studio yoga class, and quite a few more online yoga classes.
I’ve also cried during Zumba. If you require me to follow what you’re doing whilst you’re *facing* me… you’ve already lost me. Similar story with Body Pump. Don’t even talk to me about aerobics.
The bottom line is, though, I want the benefits. I want my body to look more like it did before I had children. I want to be able to keep up with said children. I want the mental health benefits, I want to slash my risk of illness, and I want to age better.
And I have discovered a type of exercise which can be done quickly – you can get benefits from doing 10-20 minutes, a few times a week.
It’s tough, it’s intense, and then… it’s over. It’s called metabolic conditioning, and you probably think it’s not for you… but read on to discover why it might be.
Why would you want to learn from a beginner?
When I blog about eating real food, stress or sleep, I have hard-earned knowledge to share. I’ve done lots of research, I’ve tried things, I’ve figured stuff out.
When it comes to fitness, what I can offer is quite different. I don’t have the depth of knowledge and experience here. But I can offer a window into the *start* of my fitness journey.
This is the part we often don’t see on social media. People only ever trot out their before pictures after they’ve made a transformation.
Well, I am a walking, talking before picture. When I put on my workout gear, you can see my little belly rolls.
And for a long time, I shied away from weights because I just didn’t think they were for people like me. But they absolutely can be, and they might be right for you too.
I will signpost you to where you can get accurate information. My post is really intended as inspiration for those of you who might be intimidated by training with weights. Because truly, if I can do this, you can do this.
So, what the heck is metabolic conditioning?
Metabolic conditioning (or metcon) is a method of training that involves a very high work rate, using exercises designed to burn more calories during your workout and maximise calories burned after your workout.
Metcon routines are intended to increase your body’s storage and delivery of energy. This includes high-intensity circuit-type workouts and compound exercises. Some exercises use your own body weight, others use added weights.
You’re probably familiar with HIIT (high-intensity interval training). HIIT is a form of metabolic conditioning, but not all metabolic conditioning is HIIT. This article explains the difference. If you’ve heard of CrossFit, this is also a form of metcon.
So, metcon is the umbrella term for a range of specific fast-paced training methods.
Metcon is not a type of workout that will build muscle in the way heavy lifting would – but you will develop some muscle strength AND burn some fat.
A few examples of exercises would be… weighted row push-ups, burpees, sit-ups, squats, barbell lifts, lunges. You lift your body weight, you lift added weights, and you also get seriously out of breath.
The programme I follow (more on this below) is rest-based training, meaning you take as long as you need in-between sets to rest. Personally, I wait until my breathing is back to normal.
The beauty of this type of workout is you can get results without spending hours. In fact, you can get better results by doing less. Discovering this was a real revelation.
How can you get better results by doing LESS?
When you think about exercise, do you mentally count up the calories burned? If so, you need to put that to one side and think about it differently.
Exercise is a stressor that is applied to the body, and it forces your body to make adaptations. It’s less about the calories burned, and more about the way it changes your body.
So, it’s actually not about doing as much exercise as possible, for as long as possible. This approach can wear you out and crank up your stress hormones, and can be counterproductive to your goals.
Instead, it’s about applying enough of this stressor (exercise) to your body to create changes, but then allowing your body to rest and heal.
Intensity wins over duration every time, for a few reasons.
- By working out for less time, you can manage a much higher intensity
- These workouts increase your basal metabolic rate, meaning you use more calories after the workout
- Short, intense workouts won’t make you hungrier in the way long-duration cardio can
It’s not just about calories burned during and after a workout though, or even how hungry you are and how many calories you take in later.
Exercise also leads to a whole cascade of positive health changes. Everything functions better, your hormones are more balanced, and among other benefits, your body is more able to let go of excess weight.
Why it’s also important to keep active
Another important part of the puzzle, when it comes to fitness, is that you do need more cardio than just a few minutes a week. You need to move, to be active, to get your heart beating in some way – ideally every day. But this does not have to be structured exercise.
I think the beauty of focussing on short, intense workouts with weights is you can balance this out with a more relaxed approach the rest of the time.
Walking counts, and going for a quick run is great. A bike ride, swimming, jumping on a trampoline, skipping, playing frisbee. And I think it’s much better to mix it up and do what you enjoy, rather than creating a schedule of things you dread doing.
My plan for 2019 is 3 x 10-20 minute metcon workouts a week, a weekly 2-3 mile run, walking the kids to school as much as possible, and then whatever the hell gets me off the sofa and feels fun.
Plus eating the best food I can manage, getting enough sleep and keeping stress in check (to keep my hormones regulated – stress and lack of sleep are notorious for causing weight gain).
How to get started with metabolic conditioning
I learned about metcon from Jill Coleman, and I bought her programme Physique Finishers. If you’re interested, I would highly recommend taking a look at Jill’s website and following her on Instagram. She really knows her stuff.
The programme I’m doing is not aimed at beginners, but there is a lot of flexibility. You can use lighter weights, you can do fewer reps, you can rest in-between for as long as you need, and you can decide how many times a week to work out.
Jill explains everything very clearly using instructional videos and PDFs, and she does give alternatives for beginners. For example, I currently do push-ups with my knees on the floor.
Physique Finishers is not always available, but it’s currently available for $79. I basically always go for the free options, so I surprised myself by buying this (I bought it on sale for a bit less, a few months ago). But I have lifetime access, there’s no ongoing cost, and I can do it in my living room.
You can also find free workouts from Jill Coleman (Google or search YouTube). And of course, there are hundreds of great people you can follow for workouts. Just search YouTube for ‘metabolic conditioning workouts’.
I am personally sticking to one programme because I’m easily distracted, and I can end up paying more attention to finding new people to follow and buying equipment than actually doing the work. (Yes, I am prone to Shiny Object Syndrome!) So, I need to put my blinkers on, commit to one thing and do it.
Equipment you will need
- Exercise mat
- Leggings and a top (running or yoga clothes are fine)
- Comfortable sports bra
When I first started out with a free Jill Coleman challenge, I contacted her to ask what weights to buy as a beginner. Her recommendation was 8lb (or 3-4kg) dumbbells and I bought this pair of 4kg neoprene dumbbells.
I use a neoprene yoga mat. I have worked out in both my running clothes and yoga clothes, with bare feet. I don’t think it matters too much what you wear, as long as you’ve got a good range of movement. There is some jumping involved, so a sports bra is helpful.
I have read that 3x a week is a good place to start, and that feels about right to me. You won’t want to work out for two consecutive days, as you WILL be sore.
I would also recommend working out during the day, not the evening. When I have done this type of workout quite late in the evening, I found I was unable to sleep.