For many of us, January is the time when gym time ramps up to bring your body fat percentage back down to pre-chocolate-orange-for-breakfast-days. And while you might be tempted to take short-cuts – exercising on a juice detox is never advisable – you needn’t. To lose belly fat fast you need to meet metabolic conditioning or metcon, for short – although, not to be confused with the Nike training shoe that shares the same name.
“The idea behind metcon is to maximise your afterburn effect,’” says Aaron Vine of The Watson Gym. “This refers to the number of calories you’ll continue to burn after your workout, often talked about as EPOC. It’s based on structuring periods of intense activity and rest in a pattern that you can repeat.”
Think cardio-blasting circuits where you find yourself doing burpees for 40 seconds then enjoying a 20-second rest – before doing it all over again. You sweat, you get out of breath, you turn red and you ache – all important signs that your body is torching through calories and continuing to do so as it tries to reset. Which are, when it comes to how to burn fat, the signals you want.
The beauty of metcon is its simplicity. Pick a few exercises from this list and do one minute of each (40s work, 20s rest):
- Mountain climbers
- Box jump
Vine suggests picking them at random – like names from a hat – to guarantee continuous variety and to prevent workout boredom. Or, even better, tailor the moves to your own specific body goals. For example, linking up glute exercises for a butt blast; or, for solid abs, exercises like those in the best fat burning abs workout.
And because you’ll be pushing your body to the max during each work period – find out how to tell you’re in the fat burning zone without a high tech monitor – you don’t need to spend so long in the gym. “It’s possible to get as tough a workout – and get the same afterburn effect – in 10-15 minutes,” Vine says. Which means? No more excuses that you’re too busy to work it or have no idea how to burn fat.
What is Crossfit Metcon?
The term metcon was relatively unheard of until Crossfit became as popular as wearing Lycra all weekend. Since then, metcon is often referenced in conversation to describe the all-out nausea-inducing WODs that happen in Crossfit boxes up and down the country.
In essence, a Crossfit metcon is the same as any other type of metcon as the principle – moving from exercise to exercise with minimal rest, yet maintaining form – remains the same.
Metabolic conditioning – where to begin
Ready to train? First up, you need to work out what motivates you – is it to complete a set number of reps, or is it to see how many reps you can complete in a given time. “This is the secret to upping the fat-burning benefits,” says Vine. “Start by doing as many burpees as you can in 60 seconds. Note down how many you achieve. Then see how long takes you to do that same amount of burpees. If it only takes you 30 seconds, you can see you’re more driven by working to number. If it takes you longer, it’s time. Use that when designing your fat-burning workout.”
Okay, so you’ve got your motivator. Now to put it into action and lose fat fast. There are three key energy pathways to consider when it comes to working out:
Creatine phosphate pathway aka the power stage
Think of this as what Olympic lifters do – super heavy but fewer reps. It normally takes sub 10 seconds but requires up to five minutes to recover from the effort.
Glycolytic pathway aka the fat-burning stage
Your standard circuit – 1-3 minutes action; 1-3 minutes rest.
Aerobic pathway aka the endurance stage
This is more steady-state cardio so something like a 5km run.
You can either use exercises and training techniques from one or all three stages – depending on what body gains you’re looking to achieve. Vine recommends combing all three for overall fitness – something like a heavy deadlift followed by a one-minute plank and then a one-mile run, and repeat.
But, when it comes to how to burn fat, the obvious answer is to keep in the fat-burning stage. Then tailor the moves you pick according to whether it’s an all-over – or body part specific – area you want to blast.
Before you start a metcon workout
You should always start your workout with a warm-up and a cool down. “The best warm-up for a metcon is to do each move individually at half pace, then do five reps of each as you build up the sequence,” says Vine. “This ensures you’re comfortable with the form and weights you’ve picked before you up the tempo.”
During metabolic conditioning
To hit the right energy pathway you need to consider intensity – if you don’t push yourself, you won’t be in the right zone: “To hit the fat-burning zone with cardio-based moves you need to work at around 60-70% of your maximum heart rate,” says Vine. “Pick as many as you like, depending on the length of time you have to spare.”
Think: jumping lunges, squat jumps, mountain climbers, burpees – try the extreme power burpee for even more fat-burning effect
Planning a 5-minute workout? Not so quick. According to Athletic Journal magazine, a true metcon workout needs to last 20 minutes. But why? Arthur Jones, who is believed to have coined the term ‘metcon’ in 1975, stated that metabolic conditioning is “the ability to work at a high level of intensity for a prolonged period of time. The ability to work at a level very close to 100 percent of intensity for a period of at least 20 minutes, instead of one minute previously considered possible.”
After a real challenge? Try this metcon workout sequence. FYI: it’s not as simple as it looks.
Do 21 reps of each; then 15 reps; then 9 reps. Rest between sets.
- Squat and press
- Pull up
After a metcon workout
Time for more? “Everyone can benefit from working their core, which is why I like to finish with an ab-based exercise,” says Vine. “A standard sit-up is a great all-rounder or tailor them to support your other training or personal training goals.”
Think: sit-ups, Russian twists, leg lifts, planks
Also try these 4 foam roller exercises for a fat burning post-workout finisher.
How to maximise the fat burn of your metcon workout
Vine’s tips for how to burn fat with metcon.
1. Do the exercise you’re least used to first and work backwards from there. So, if you’ve chosen to do overhead presses, do these first before your body starts to tire, then move down to the floor for your core work.
2. Make every move as full as you can so you get more bang for your buck. It’s easy to cheat with metcon so, in terms of how to lose fat fast, you need to quality control it. With sit-ups, for example, that could be touching the floor above your head at the start of the movement and then touching your feet at the end.
3. Power up with your weight, then slow the movement down as you lower. This is not only safer but will increase the fat-burning benefits. For more on why to slow down your workout for maximum fat burn this week, read this.
4. Have some sugar before you start training – a biscuit, for example, will provide an instant energy source for your body so you won’t hit that dreaded wall.
5. Fuel up throughout your metcon with an amino acid drink. Sip it between rounds for a physical and mental boost that will improve performance.
6. Avoid unnecessary rests by choosing moves that either require no weights or use the same pieces of equipment. Think moves that are all dumbbell-based, or use only kettlebells or body weight, for example. The point is to keep your heart rate as elevated as possible – switching kit wastes time.
7. How to burn fat long-term? Combine metcon with weight training – especially if you’ve not included a strength exercise in your circuit. I recommend doing one day of metcon and four days of weight training per week to ensure maximum fat burning, without sacrificing muscle.
8. Get your friends together and make it social. You can call out every ten reps for added competition and fat-burning benefits.
Dreading the burn and need some gym motivation? Here’s what PTs do when they don’t want to work out.
OK, but what is the Nike Metcon 4?
The Metcon 4 Women’s Training Shoe is the fourth installment in Nike’s metcon story. Designed to support your training – wear in everything from weightlifting to circuit training to treadmill classes – they’re strong footwear for hard workouts. But what does this actually mean? Your foot will move from side-to-side less and you’ll feel more stable.
Nike Metcon 4, £144.95, nike.com
Want more inspiration? Discover how to 24/7 your fat burn and for 7 full body fat burning moves by Ellie Goulding’s PT. Also, the best weightlifting shoes for women.