Metcon Training Part 2: Up The Ante

A practical guide to applying metcon training to your weekly routine.

As outlined in part 1 of this series on metcon training, it’s a highly effective form of high-intensity exercise that any serious gym-goer or athlete should incorporate into their weekly training schedule to build more muscle, improve fitness levels, burn more calories and incinerate fat.

Getting started

If you have a sufficient base-level of fitness and can competently complete the exercises and lifts required with good form then you can plan your first metabolic training session.

You can alternate targeted muscle groups so that you’re not always engaging in exercises that require your legs. You can alternate between push/pull (antagonist) exercises, upper and lower body exercises, or weight lifting exercises and anaerobic work like resisted sprints. Just make sure that at least one major muscle group (legs, back or chest) are dominant movers for each exercise.

The basics:
  • Perform repetitions at a moderately fast tempo, particularly on the concentric portion of the movement.
  • Aim to perform concentric lifts as explosively as possible without sacrificing on form.
  • Don’t rest for more than 15 seconds between sets or circuit stations.
  • Complete all the sets or stations, take a longer recovery break and do it again for a total of 3-5 times.
Metcon workout examples

There are a variety of different ways to set up a met con session. Here are descriptions of the most effective modes.


A complex is basically two or more exercises using the same implement and load (i.e. barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell etc.) performed back to back without resting between exercises. You choose your number of repetitions, sets, and load, and then go from exercise to exercise without resting. You would then rest between each complex. Complexes are very advanced, especially when using a barbell, so save these until you have mastered compound barbell training.

Barbell Complex
  • Front squat
  • Push press
  • Good mornings
  • Bent over barbell row
  • Walking lunges (finisher)
Dumbbell Complex
  • Suitcase squat
  • Renegade row
  • Alternating reverse lunges
  • Bent over dumbbell row
  • Romanian deadlift
  • Farmer’s carry (finisher)
Tabata training

Tabata training is a popular time-based metcon training protocol that uses 20 seconds of high intensity work, followed by 10 seconds of rest for four minutes. Choose a dynamic full body exercise and work at a maximum intensity for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and repeat until you have completed eight rounds.

Metcon Tabata
  • Burpees
  • Skipping
  • Squat jumps
  • Push-ups
  • 12” hurdle jumps
Metcon circuits

Circuit-style met con training involves setting up a series of exercises in a circuit. You then perform each exercise for a specific number of reps or amount of time, and rest for a specific amount of time between exercises and circuits. The difference compared to complexes is that you are not limited to one piece of equipment. Circuits are awesome as you can select exercises that are best suited to your current abilities. When performing circuits you should mix full body, lower-body dominant, upper-body dominant, core and dynamic movement exercises, performing each at maximum intensity.

  • Dumbbell thruster
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Lunge/split squat jumps
  • Pull ups
  • Twisting planks
  • Battling ropes (finisher)

Metcon circuits work really well when they are time based. A excellent starting point would be 30/30/90 circuits – work for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, then move on to the next exercise. Once the circuit is complete you rest for 90 seconds before starting again.

Metcon ladders

You can also use select 2-3 of the exercises mentioned in this article to perform a metcon ladder – start with 10 reps for the first set of each exercise (performed back to back), then work your way down all the way to one rep in the last set (if you can manage it). That equates to a total of 55 reps per exercise.

Metabolic density training

Metabolic density training is basically a hybrid of metcon training and strength training. With density training the goal is more strength based, yet the outcome is quite similar from a metabolic point of view. Density training is also performed in a circuit, but with a twist:

  1. Pick three compound strength exercises, like a squat, pull up and dumbbell press.
  2. Next, select a load that you could normally do 10–12 reps with.
  3. Perform as many sets of eight reps of each exercise in a circuit fashion, for 12 minutes.

Count how many rounds of each exercise you managed, and try to improve from one workout to the next. It is easy to track progress with density training and, because you’re working to achieve more sets of each exercise (more density), the intensity is high.

Plan your own session

If you want to take a DIY approach, ensure that the exercises you select include traditional compound weight training exercises such s squats and deadlifts, and complex compound movements that combine exercises such as lunges with bicep curls, or squats with overhead presses., in addition to other short duration, high-intensity work like sled pushes, resisted sprinting or battling ropes.

These exercises require a maximum amount of energy to perform and recover from due to their multi-joint nature and the number of muscles that are involved. This exercise selection also means that you’ll be doing a combination of anaerobic and aerobic work, which targets multiple energy systems in one session, and boosts your metabolism even further.

In addition to the muscles targeted, the weight lifted or resistance you work against should also be heavy enough, or the intensity of the exercise high enough to elicit the ideal physiological response. The key to optimising results is to train at maximal or near-maximal levels of effort during each