After a year of reestablishing a workout habit and focusing on strength gains, I was eager to see more results. That meant visible abs for a milestone anniversary vacation. My virtual trainer on the Future app had just the program to make it a reality: metabolic conditioning.

Of course, I would enjoy the beach and rock the swimsuit no matter what, but I wanted to look as strong as I felt. I was willing to work for it too. I knew metabolic conditioning is no picnic from my prior experience taking MetCon classes at Equinox.

What metabolic conditioning is: You work faster with less rest and often a lot of supersets, which gets the heart rate up more, according to Kelly Bryant, CPT, performance coach at Future, who I've been training with the last two years. It can include a variety of equipment (dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands) or bodyweight moves. This style won't max out muscle growth, though.

This modality was perfect for my goal and timeframe. I had about three months for body recomposition before the anniversary. "Any time we're trying to boost fat loss a bit, especially in the short-term, I focus on ways that we can maintain muscle mass while adding just a little bit more calorie burn," says Bryant. "When we have a short-term goal, it's a great option for quick body recomp."

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My previous training also set me up for success with a solid baseline. "Working on strength first also helps with injury prevention when you start working faster in metcons," says Bryant. "With metabolic conditioning you're likely not going to get quite as much muscle gain as you would with traditional strength training. You will increase calorie burn, making it easier to create a calorie deficit and lose fat." Additional benefits include improved cardiovascular health, training more efficiently, and a higher calorie burn in a shorter amount of time.

Here's what happened when I added metabolic conditioning to my routine with a goal of body recomposition and visible abs:

My Metabolic Conditioning Workout Routine

My new training cycle included metabolic conditioning (a variety of moves) alongside more traditional hypertrophy-focused (muscle building) strength training, a rowing machine workout, and a fun run/walk. I also kept up two to three Pilates reformer classes a week just because it brings me joy. That sounds like a lot, but all in my workouts took about three hours a week. I took one or two recovery days.

Example workout:

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Dynamic Warm-Up (7 minutes)

Metabolic Conditioning (60 seconds of each, 30 seconds rest between rounds, four total rounds)

Core Finisher (30 seconds of each, 30 seconds rest between rounds, three total rounds)

Cooldown (5 minutes)

Work it in: My plan included three to four 25-minute metcon workouts a week, which is a great starting point for dedicated training, according to Bryant. Alternative schedules included two days of metcon and two days of cardio (if you're a cardio junkie who needs more muscle) or two days of strength (if you're a lifter who needs cardio).

The Future app took all the guesswork out of my schedule. All I had to do was open the app and hit play on the workout of the day. A full week of all routines and moves was waiting for me complete with exercise demonstrations and what equipment to use.

The Metabolic Conditioning Journey

My motivation and stoke level were sky high to start. I had a new goal and optimistic attitude that it was so achievable. However, my first few weeks the moves were a bit of a letdown. I felt silly doing side hops and duck walks across my living room or bopping between different bodyweight exercises. Surely there were more efficient ways to move. I was honest with Bryant but promised to give it my best shot. I trusted the process and her plan. I loved the superset style of going from move to move with minimal rest, though.

metabolic conditioning workout review
Jennifer Nied

At the mid-way point, I hitched a ride on the struggle bus. I hadn't missed a workout, but the results weren't showing up yet. I also had a cold that wouldn't go away. Still, I didn't give up and made like Nemo and just kept moving. My energy levels were low, but I did what I could. I completed the metabolic conditioning exercises at a slightly lower intensity and added more Pilates for evening wind-down and walked to get my steps in.

I also dialed in my nutrition and felt my muscles responding. Initially the moves were exhausting. Between intervals of jump split squats or burpees, I plopped on the floor breathless. As the weeks went by, I could push myself a bit harder and not become one with my rug to recover. I kept moving throughout the interval and no longer needed a quick breather. I also slept better. When my head hit the pillow, I instantly fell asleep and stayed asleep.

The final month, I experienced breakthroughs and saw results from my consistency. I'll admit it was difficult to be patient and trust that the metabolic conditioning program would work. Three months is actually a pretty short amount of time to see noticeable results from a consistent workout routine, and I achieved a lot in spite of obstacles like sickness and a busy schedule.

metabolic conditioning workout review
Jennifer Nied

Unlike previous training periods (like training for a marathon or committing to a stricter fitness/nutrition plan), I didn't feel burned out or crave a new workout at the end. I actually wanted more of this type of training. I loved the variety, which literally kept me on my toes each session. I also loved the results, I saw and felt real changes without reorganizing my whole life around workouts.

So, when I had the option to set my next goal, I doubled-down on the same one to move the needle farther with body recomp. I wanted to solidify my gains and make more progress, like adding weight to my squat and deadlift and chiseling a few more abdominal muscles along the way.

metabolic conditioning workout review
Jennifer Nied

My Takeaways

If you commit to at least starting every workout, you're pretty likely to finish it.

metabolic conditioning workout review
Jennifer Nied

Even when I felt exhausted after a long day or the latest daycare illness was zapping my motivation, I had to try every workout. The routine always began with a mobility warmup, and I told myself I would do that at minimum. What happened next was up for negotiation.

More often than not I kept going because the workout simply flew by. I was completely immersed in the metabolic conditioning moves and didn't have a free moment to think about hitting pause. My motivation increased as the workout went on, and I usually continued until it was complete. I didn't always hit record high jumps or speed, but I often surprised myself with my performance. When my mind wanted me to skip the whole thing, my body was actually totally up for it.

A high-impact sports bra primes you for an all-out session.

metabolic conditioning workout review
Jennifer Nied

I work from home most days of the week, so my go-to style is all activewear. (I have a rainbow of leggings options, and the lycra love is real!) I look like I could jump into a workout any minute of the day, and I often do. But those comfortable looks don't always let me perform at my peak, especially plyometric moves or the high intensity of metabolic conditioning.

I realized that I put extra effort and intensity into my workout if I switch to a high impact sports bra and stopped the bounce. It seems like a super minor change, but it made a huge difference for me (my DDs needed support). It took about 30 seconds to change clothes, and I know I worked harder and made my session count as a result. My higher heart rate was proof. Even smaller cup sizes benefits from proper support.

Results and a noticeable transformation don't actually require marathon workouts every day.

metabolic conditioning workout review
Jennifer Nied

It does require a plan, though. I didn't just do random routines or moves I saw on IG to unearth my abs. I followed a specific and strategic metabolic conditioning program from an experienced trainer tailored to my goal. Each metcon workout was intentional, targeting specific muscle groups while allowing others to recover. For example, on a day when my legs were toast from a lower-body workout, I had an arms or abs workout waiting for me.

Every minute really counted. As a busy mom I appreciated that the most. Doing 30 to 40 minutes of metcon was plenty. The manageable workout duration freed up more of my days for other types of movement. I could chase my toddler around the playground or take my dog for a long walk in the park. I wasn't totally wiped out and unable to move off the couch, either.

Even if you're not going for body recomposition, the efficiency of metabolic conditioning workouts make them an awesome option for anyone. Who doesn't want a few extra minutes of time in your day?

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Jennifer Nied

Jennifer Nied is the fitness editor at Women’s Health and has more than 10 years of experience in health and wellness journalism. She’s always out exploring—sweat-testing workouts and gear, hiking, snowboarding, running, and more—with her husband, daughter, and dog.