What does metabolic conditioning mean? Is it necessary? Does high intensity training provide it?
When most people think of training to improve endurance, they think of conditioning the cardiovascular system to improve transport of blood to the working muscles. Metabolic conditioning is the other side of the coin – conditioning the muscles to better use what’s being delivered to them by improving the efficiency of the different metabolic pathways involved.
When strength training is performed with a high level of intensity and short rest intervals between exercises, the cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning benefits equal or exceed what can be achieved with more traditional “cardio” activities. This was proven during Nautilus research at West Point Military Academy back in the mid 1970’s. In an article about the study in the Athletic Journal, Vol. 56, Sept. 1975, Dr. James Patterson said the following,
“Contrary to most commonly held beliefs on the subject of strength training, the training also significantly improved the cardiovascular condition of the subjects. By maintaining the intensity of the workouts at a high level and by limiting the amount of rest between exercises, the training resulted in improvement on each of 60 separate measures of cardiovascular fitness. Contrary to widespread opinion, not only will a properly conducted program of strength training produce increases in muscular strength but will also significantly improve an individual’s level of cardiovascular condition. The data suggests that some of these cardiovascular benefits apparently cannot be achieved by any other type of training.”
More recently, a six-month study conducted at Philipps University in Marburg Germany in 2003 demonstrated similar results. (Maisch B, Baum E, Grimm W. Die Auswirkungen dynamischen Krafttrainings nach dem Nautilus-Prinzip auf kardiozirkulatorische Parameter und Ausdauerleistungsfähigkeit (The effects of resistance training according to the Nautilus principles on cardiocirculatory parameters and endurance). Angenommen vom Fachbereich Humanmedizin der Philipps-Universität Marburg am 11. Dezember 2003). The following is a quote about the study from a Feb 2005 article in Internal Medicine News,
“A 6-month structured Nautilus weightlifting program resulted in improvements in cardiocirculatory fitness to a degree traditionally considered obtainable only through endurance exercises such as running, bicycling, and swimming, said Dr. Baum, a family physician at Philipps University, Marburg, Germany.
“This opens up new possibilities for cardiopulmonary-oriented exercise besides the traditional stamina sports,” she noted. New exercise options are desirable because some patients just don’t care for endurance exercise, which doesn’t do much to improve muscular strength and stabilization.”
While they use the terms cardiovascular and cardiocirculatory in reference to the results, a large part of the improvements occurred in the skeletal muscles.
While some more bodybuilding-oriented methods of high intensity training do not emphasize metabolic conditioning, some degree is unavoidable with any kind of demanding exercise. For examples of high intensity training routines emphasizing metabolic conditioning along with whole-body strength, check out the 3×3 article.