6 Truths About metcons
I learned the hard way - so you don't have to.
Have you ever had a fitness belief that kept you stuck for way too long? I have – even as a coach with decades of experience. (Turns out we all have blind spots.)
Beliefs that keep us stuck usually have a common theme. They relate to deeply held fears or ways we’re conditioned to think.
In my case, this was very true. I got super lean and shredded at age 20 – and again, at age 22. But before, between, and after those periods, I got lost. My body fat percentage blew up – and I had no idea how to get it back in a sustainable way. Sure, I was training and eating the best I could. But I was stuck on the yo-yo diet roller coaster.
Then at 24, I found the body I wanted again. Only this time, it stuck around for 12 years straight (and counting).
What was different?
There were a number of things I was doing that kept me muscular and lean:
- consistent training
- nutritious eating
- high motivation and focus
But the one that stood out to me was what felt the most intense: a daily dose of METCONS.
CrossFitters, you know the drill. When you lift heavy weights and do cool looking gymnastics moves, you breathe so hard it feels like fire comes out of your lungs.
Like many, I made the classic mistake of correlation vs. causation. I assumed that my new found physique was solely the result of adding this new style of training.
Family First - Then Fitness
Over the years, as my responsibilities and family grew, I reached a turning point. My body needed a break from relentless intensity. I was ready to dial back, but I admit it – I was scared. I didn’t want to lose the physique I’d worked so hard to build. Maybe it sounds shallow. But it was a big part of my identity, and I didn’t know what would happen.
Training with progressive overload, built-in mobility, and thoughtful movement pairings helped my body recover from nagging injuries. And I kept a high level of strength and conditioning, all while leaving room for me to be a dad, husband, and business owner too.
To my surprise, my body didn’t turn into mush. I still looked jacked and felt even better day to day than I did in my competitive days. Was I able to still clean 365lbs and Snatch 285lbs? Nope. But I could still accomplish a lot of impressive physical feats. And I liked the person I saw staring back at me in the mirror.
A Humbling Experience...Trying to Keep Up
All was well – until I got over confident. I tried to keep up with Coach Adam.
On a train-cation with my buddies to Austin about a year ago, I got inspired to kick my training up a notch. Adam is Functional Bodybuilding’s in-house Physical Therapist – but he’s also a badass Olympic lifter and all around athlete. (Side note – he is also 28.)
When I got home, I opened the throttle. More bodybuilding! More Olympic lifting! And harder metcons than I had done in years. Two months in and I was a wreck. My body was NOT happy – and my shoulder sustained a pretty significant injury. So like it or not, the choice was made for me: NO MORE METCONS. The only thing that mattered was to heal.
I walked, got lots of blood flow, and slowly began to rebuild. Nice and slow bodybuilding has done me good. I just did a few Muscle Up drills for the first time in months!
But most importantly, I learned to let go of my old belief. I’m 8 months metcon-free. I haven’t done gymnastics or Olympic lifts – just lots of walking, plenty of CARBS, and bodybuilding with Persist PUMP LIFT.
And my body still looks good. Will I get back to fun Metcons and dynamic moves? You bet – but within reason. Now that I’m convinced the Metcon is not the key to six-pack abs, I feel free to do them just for fun.
If you’re having trouble letting heavy breathing go, I wrote down 6 Truths About Metcons that I learned the hard way – so you don’t have to.
6 Hard Truths About Metcons
1. HIGH-INTENSITY CARDIO IS LIKE A DRUG - IT'S HARD TO BREAK THE HABIT
When you push yourself hard doing High Intensity Cardio, or a CrossFit Metcon, there is an almost euphoric feeling when you are done. Not many people love the pain while they are in the midst of it, but we sure do love the feeling afterward. You may feel more confident and have a more positive outlook on the day. So much so that you come back the next day eager to put yourself through the torture of another grueling workout.
Many people got their first taste of this euphoric feeling from CrossFit. It delivered a high intensity impact in a more efficient way than anything they had ever tried before. While lifting weights or long slow cardio can elicit the same results, many people had never committed to those other modalities to actually reap the euphoric rewards.
Once they tasted it with CrossFit it became near impossible to give up. It usually took something catastrophic like an injury to make them stop.
2. WATCH OUT FOR CORRELATION VS. CAUSATION
I mentioned this in my personal story above. Image that you got in amazing physical shape for the first time in your life when you were doing High-Intensity Cardio. That must be the sole reason for you having a good physique!
In reality, it was simply the first time in your life you started to do moderate resistance training. It was also the first time in your life you started to push the level of intensity in your training close to failure. And finally, you may have been motivated by the community around you to adopt better lifestyle habits that had a dramatic impact on your physique as well.
3. REMOVING METCONS CAN MAKE YOUR TRAINING WAY MORE EFFICIENT
One of the selling points of CrossFit was that the metcon was 3-8mins of HIGH INTENSITY fitness that was all you needed to do in a given day. However, in practice, people spent 60 minutes in class doing a whole lot of unproductive filler work, just to make room for a 15-min metcon. This included long mobilization sessions to get ready for the high intensity work. There was time dedicated to learned skillful exercises that you could then use in your high intensity workouts. There was also the time it took to set up multi-station workouts in order to organize your space for optimal efficiency and intensity.
It was easy for me to head to the gym and spend 45mins preparing for a 3-minute high intensity CrossFit workout. Add to that a 10min cool down just to get my head back on straight before I could safely drive my car home, it was an hour long investment to get only a small amount of intense work done.
In the same time that it can take to set up, prepare, execute, and recover from a METCON, you can get a surprising amount of purposeful lifting work done in the gym. By removing Metcons altogether, can can redesign a very efficient hour of your time and build a ton of meaningful reps and subsequent muscle in the gym.
4. YOU CAN FEEL INTENSITY WITHOUT THE METCON
For years I’ve been attempting to recreate the feeling we can get from certain Metcons without having to utilize racing against a clock, fast-paced movement that lack control, and risky skilled exercises performed under heavy breathing fatigue from cardio. To my surprise, I’ve found a number of very effective ways to recreate the intensity. You might not enter the same type of pain cave, where the lights start to get dim on you, like they do in a benchmark CrossFit workout, but you can get damn close.
A thoughtfully programmed high rep bodybuilding set, or a timed Superset, Tri-set, or body part Giant Set, can all deliver a very similar feeling of INTENSITY that you experience from metcons.
5. WE ALL SECRETLY LOVE A PUMP
In my CrosssFit days, both as a coach and competitor, some of the most satisfying Metons were not the once that made me want to puke, but rather the ones that left me with an insane pump.
The crowd pleasers at my CrossFit box were always the metcons that had fairly light weight movements, were high repetition, and get you a good sweat but not the mind bending intensity of an all out 2-3min effort.
Part of the reason these workouts were such crowd pleasers was because client racked up hundreds of light to moderate-weight reps and in the process would get epic PUMPs in their muscles. A great PUMP is truly for everyone, not just Arnold.
So if we all secretly love a PUMP, then there are much more efficient ways to get one that don’t involve 20+ minutes of cardio and high rep wall balls and kipping pull ups. A proper functional bodybuilding PUMP is even better.
BONUS Hard Truth - the sneakiest of all:
Metcons can make you HOLD BACK in your training.
“NOT ME! I send it on all portions of my training.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but you are more than likely leaving something on the table when you do your strength training, accessory work, and skill work, each day you know you have a ball buster of a metcon to come at the end of the session.
Your strength, bodybuilding, and accessory work are arguably the most impacted parts of your training session that determines your long-term training success. Strength, muscle, and joint ability are much harder traits to build over time than High-Intensity Anaerobic conditioning. In other words, I could take someone off the street and get them into respectable anaerobic shape within 3-6 months, but it would take me 2-3 years to build up their strength and muscle mass to an equally respectable level.
So if you’re metcons are inadvertently taking the priority over everything else you are doing in your training, then that is a misallocation of your most precious resources in training, TIME and EFFORT.
THE GOOD NEWS - YOU CAN GET THAT INTENSITY FEELING, WITHOUT THE AFTER BURN
I’ve dedicated a lot of time finding the perfect formats to chase that Metcon feeling, without breaking my body down. Like this one:
Split Squat & Pull Up Death
Every 75sec x 12 (4 sets per exercises)
1st – Back Rack Split Squat Right @ 30X0 Tempo* x 8-10reps
2nd – Back Rack Split Squat Left @ 30X0 x 8-10reps
3rd – Strict Pull Ups @ 30X0 x 8-10reps
* 30X0: 3 seconds down, explode up, no pauses
COACH NOTE – I have a love-hate relationship with Split Squats and Pull Ups. This movement combination is brutal and if you follow these TEMPOS and timed intervals with precision, this combination has the power to leave your entire body feeling BEYOND WORKED.
The key is finding the right weight that allows you to perform your split squats with perfect tempo. This equates to approximately 40-45 seconds of work on each leg. The pull-ups can get tricky. It takes elite strength and muscle endurance to do 4 sets of Pull-ups at this tempo for the full 8-10reps. Consider doing your first set with bodyweight and then have an assistance method handy, like a band or assisted pull up machine handy, in order to complete the last sets when you are tired.
Look Good. Move Well.
Workouts for sculpted arms and a six pack are different than those for speed and power. Get my blend of both and a sample nutrition plan. Plus a Big Bicep Bonus for my favorite arm finishers!