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In the last two decades, the training secrets of professional athletes started to make their way to the fitness enthusiasts and recreational athletes alike. With the increasing amount of online articles, DVD exercises and fitness routines, the terms Metcon and HIIT have been used interchangeably to represent an intensive, body-drenching, heart-pumping workout that is highly effective for weight loss. Out of the two, Metcon is an older term and represents the abbreviation of metabolic conditioning.

But before scientists dipped their toes into researching Metcon and HIIT, the popular opinion was that longer, lower-intensity bouts of aerobic exercise increased cardio conditioning, while anaerobic bursts in weightlifting built muscle. 

Metabolic conditioning was first used in October 1975 by Arthur Jones, the inventor of the Nautilus exercise machine and the author of the "Ideal workout", published in June 1970 in Muscular Development, a bodybuilding magazine. This was the first time in the fitness industry that the two seemingly completely separate parts of training  ‒ cardiovascular conditioning and muscle strength ‒ became intertwined and represented as mutually beneficial.

Jones defines metabolic conditioning as "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." Before you go into a high-intensity panic mode at the thought of doing something at the maximum of your capabilities for 20 minutes straight, you should know that this doesn’t necessarily apply to your body as a whole; rather, the idea is to activate certain muscle groups one at a time, and switch between exercises where you go all-in with minimal (or non-existent) rest periods and give it your best.

The Main Difference

In short, all HIIT is Metcon, but not all Metcon is HIIT.

With the aforementioned definition of Metcon, you may as well be confused, because a lot of people who don’t actually know the difference use the same definition to explain HIIT. The important thing to understand is that HIIT and Metcom do overlap in quite a few aspects, but they are not the same. 

Metcon is performed in one of two ways: either it’s done as a circuit training, in which the athlete performs exercises back to back at 100% of their ability, with minimal rest or the athlete performs a set of exercises with high and low-intensity (rest, or an active rest, as trainers call it) activity, at 80% or more of their ability. The second way of performing Metcon is high-intensity interval training. 

A Short History of HIIT

Because it’s a form of Metcon, HIIT has been around for more than 40 years as well. However, it experienced a surge in popularity following a 1996 study by doctor Izumi Tabata. Tabata trained Olympic Speed Skaters and found that as little as 15 minutes on a cycle ergometer, during which the athletes performed 8 intervals of 20-second high-intensity work and 10-second low-intensity cycling, led to increased Vo2Max and anaerobic capacity levels. 

These findings made the Tabata regimen famous worldwide, and the 20 seconds ON 10 seconds OFF format became the norm for any HIIT training out there. If you’d like to learn more about the Tabata regimen, you can read up on this article

Of course, the Tabata regimen isn’t the only form of HIIT. Besides the most famous one, there are also the Peter Coe, Zuniga, Vollaard and the Gibala regimen. Professor Martin Gibala at McMaster University in Canada had published a study in 2010 that gained traction – and for good reason! A group of students did a 3-minute warm-up, then did a 60-second period of intense (at 95% Vo2Max) exercise followed by 75-second rest. They repeated this set in 8-12 cycles. And the results? Well, they were impressive, to say the least. The study showed that performing the Gibala regimen 3 times per week garnered the same results as if the subjects performed a moderate intensity, longer cardio workouts 5 times per week. 

Importance & Benefits

One of the main reasons why people choose to incorporate Metcon into their exercise routine is because it’s quick, effective and has numerous long-term benefits. 

Not only does it increase both the aerobic and anaerobic capacity, but it also comes with a perk of EPOC. EPOC stands for excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption. Essentially, because our bodies become oxygen-depleted during the high-intensity part of the exercise, our bodies are left with the need to intake as much oxygen as they can to refeed the muscles after the exercise To do this, we have to burn more energy, which in turn leads to increased calorie burning. EPOC can last for anywhere between 2 and 24 hours, which explains why even one-third of a duration of the ’regular’ workout can create the same or even better results if done at a high intensity.

By combining Metcon (both HIIT and other forms) with pilates, yoga, weight lifting, running and swimming, you’ll create an all-round workout regimen that will be capable of breaking plateaus, providing fun, lots of excitement and of course – great results.