With gyms reopening and the promise of in-person classes beginning again from 17th May, fitness novices and avid gym goers alike are looking for something to kick off the cobwebs of months spent at home. Whether you've had a dedicated home 'gym' or barely managed a daily walk over the past 12 months, you've probably recently felt the impulse to find a workout that will jump-start your body and mind after such a weird, heavy time.
Prevalent in CrossFit and military training, metabolic training certainly sounds hardcore. But what is it? And how can I get into it if I’m a newbie? We spoke to Tony Chin, founder of CrossFit Shoreditch in London which runs a series of MetCon (metabolic conditioning) classes, and Oliver Black, a strength/riding instructor at Psycle, to find out what you can expect from metabolic training, how to get started and if it's suitable for everyone (spoiler alert: it is).
What is metabolic training?
First things first, what is metabolic training? "It's a high intensity conditioning workout, focusing on quick bursts of conditioning which forces the body to go into a high metabolic state and puts the muscle into overload," says Tony. "In doing so it increases your metabolism, which then can help to burn body fat up to 9/10 hours after you finish your workout."
While this may sound similar to HIIT (high intensity interval training), they are actually two distinct approaches. HIIT, Tony explains, is done in intervals where an exercise would be done, for example, for one minute followed by a two-minute rest, with the cycle repeating. Metabolic conditioning "will be done in a timescale instead, where you may be given for example four to maybe eight exercises, where you are going for reps or just trying to complete in a certain amount of time."
What are the benefits?
Working out in this way has plenty of benefits – by exercising in short bursts, you're not putting your body under too much stress for long periods of time. It doesn't have to be done in a gym or class setting either, Tony says. "It can be done anywhere so you haven't got to go to the gym to do this, you can do it at home. The workouts are varied – you can use bodyweight, weights or even cardio machines."
Is it for every fitness level?
You can find plenty of programmes online to get started at home. However, without the guidance of an instructor to help you adjust to your fitness level, it can be tricky, especially if you're a beginner. "Most people use YouTube to find their workouts or they've looked at influencers on Instagram and followed their programmes," says Tony, "but most of these programmes online can be too advanced for most people. They're unable to scale their programmes back and when they try and follow along, some people have a positive effect, others have a negative outlook on the workout itself."
Being a beginner doesn't mean that metabolic conditioning is inaccessible to you, though. Quite the opposite. You just shouldn't let the format intimidate you, says Oliver from Psycle. "Starting anything new can feel intimidating and it’s always important to be conservative when you try a new type of training for the first time." Instead of being put off, he advises going into a class setting and talking to the instructor about how best to get the benefits of this form of training. "Make sure you talk to the instructor to get advice on the exercises and the styles of training which are unfamiliar to you. Focus on your form and technique above everything, keeping your movements slower and more deliberate until you are familiar and start to feel more confident."
There is always room for modifying the movements, too. In a class setting you can scale down the intensity of an exercise without compromising on the exercise itself. A burpee, for example, can be done at a walking pace, a jumping pace to plank and back, or with a chest-to-floor push-up, depending on your fitness level.
How can I get started?
If you want to get started on metabolic training and reap the benefits to your fitness and metabolism, Tony recommends beginning with three workouts a week, with a maximum of 8-15 minutes per workout. Recovery, especially when you first start, is as important as the workouts themselves.
"Between workouts you should leave between 24 and 48 hours in the beginning, just totally let your body recover," he says. "Like with any training, once you start you will get muscle soreness and pushing yourself too much can have a negative effect. It can make you feel sore and unhappy that you're not progressing, and it can actually hold you back slightly."
CrossFit Shoreditch is currently running outdoor classes and will reopen its doors for all classes, including MetCon, from 17th May. Psycle's strength classes, which utilise metabolic training as part of their structure, will also be available in person from 17th May, and are currently available online.