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Here at TeamTNA, we love lifting heavy, building muscle, and getting strong. Bar-bending deadlifts and skin-splitting pumps are what we live for! But we also understand that, for health and body composition reasons, cardio is important too. After all, the most important muscle in the human body is the heart.

Cardiovascular fitness is inextricably linked to cardiovascular health. Even the most hardcore lifter should do at least a little cardio to ward off heart disease and manage their weight. Plus, increased cardiovascular fitness can help you recover faster between sets of compound exercises like squats, lunges, and power cleans.

It’s a shame, then, that a lot of cardio or metabolic conditioning (met-con) exercises and workouts are not really suitable for big guys. Plyometric circuits, running, sprints, and even jump rope can be hard on your joints when you weigh 200lbs or more.

It doesn’t matter if you are a big guy because you’re overweight or because you’re more muscular than average; all that pounding can hurt your ankles, knees, hips, and lower back.

In this article, we’re going to reveal our favorite metcon exercises and workouts so you can get fit, lose fat, and improve your cardiovascular health.

After all, we want you to be STRONG and live LONG!

What is Metcon?  

Before we reveal our favorite metcon exercises and workouts, it’s worth spending a little time explaining what metcon actually is and how it affects your body.

In simple terms, metcon exercises and workouts increase your heart and breathing rate. This is usually the result of using lots of muscles at the same time for an extended period. Often, metcon exercises involve your legs, but there are upper body and full-body metcon exercises too.

Muscular System

All of these muscles working together demand lots of oxygenated blood, and it’s that increase which drives your heart and breathing rate up. The harder you work, the more oxygen your muscles need, and faster your heart and breathing rate will be.

If you train very intensely, your muscles may demand more oxygen than your heart and lungs can supply. This is called anaerobic training. This type of workout is done in short bursts or intervals, such as 30 seconds on and 60 seconds rest, repeated several times.

Other types of metcon are performed at a lower level of intensity. This is a form of aerobic training, meaning your muscles receive a steady supply of oxygen.

Both types of metcon training have value, and you should probably do both. That said, a lot of lifters prefer the start/stop high-intensity method as it more closely resembles their usual workouts. Try both approaches and see which one you like best.

Regular metcon workouts will also increase capillary density (threadlike veins in your muscles and lungs), so you can deliver more oxygen to and remove more waste from your muscles. As well as affecting your heart and lungs, metcon training increases the elasticity of your blood vessels, reducing resting blood pressure.

Lungs

Doing metcon exercises and workouts will increase your muscular endurance, too, as most are done for high reps with low resistance. Endurance is your ability to keep working for long periods of time. It’s a useful fitness component that could allow you to recover faster between sets, pump out a few more reps, and even do more training per workout.

Finally, metcon training is also an excellent way to burn calories and fat. It can help you reduce your body fat percentage, which is good for your appearance and health. You COULD just diet the fat away, but that invariably means long periods of hunger. Metcon workouts give you a little extra dietary latitude and mean you can lose fat without following a starvation diet.

How Often Should You Do Metcon Training?

For most lifters, metcon training is supplemental to their strength or bodybuilding workouts. It’s obviously valuable and beneficial, but it’s not a priority. You should get good results from two to four workouts lasting 20-30 minutes per week.

You COULD do more than this, but that could detract from your strength training workouts.

You can do your metcon training on non-lifting days or even after your strength training workouts. However, make sure you still allow adequate time for rest and recovery so that your metcon training does not interfere with your main workouts.

If you’re new to metcon training, resist the temptation to do too much too soon. Instead, increase workout frequency and duration gradually over several weeks. For example:

  • Week 1 – 2 workouts, 20 minutes each
  • Week 2 – 2 workouts, 25 minutes each
  • Week 3 – 2 workouts, 30 minutes each
  • Week 4 – 3 workouts, 20 minutes each
  • Week 5 – 3 workouts, 25 minutes each
  • Week 6 – 3 workouts, 30 minutes each

Effective Metcon Exercises and Workouts:

Every lifter should do regular metcon training. After all, there is no point having huge biceps or an impressive bench press if you are so unfit or overweight that your health is at risk. But we also believe that metcon workouts should be FUN!

Here are our 10 favorite metcon exercises and workouts for big guys.

1. Sledgehammer Training

Sledgehammer Training
Sledgehammer Training

Sledgehammer training is very low-tech, but it’s one of the most fun and effective metcon exercises we know! The premise is simple; get an old SUV tire and hit it with a heavy sledgehammer. This exercise works your upper body and core and can help you develop a stronger grip too.

There are lots of ways to do sledgehammer training, including:

  • Tabata intervals – work for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat eight times
  • 30/30 intervals – work for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, and repeat 10-20 times
  • 3-minute rounds – work for three minutes, rest for one minute, and repeat 3-5 times
  • 20-1 rep descending pyramid – do 20, 19, 18, 17, etc. reps as fast as possible
  • 100 hits as fast as you can
  • 500 hits as fast as you can

You can equip yourself with an old SUV tire for free; just ask your local tire dealer. You can buy a sledgehammer for a few dollars from any hardware store. It’s also worth wearing work gloves to avoid blisters.

While it’s perfectly normal to favor one side when swinging your sledgehammer, you should try to alternate sides, either rep by rep or set by set. This will prevent training one side of your body more than the other.

2. Punchbag Training

Whaling on a punchbag is one of the most alpha-male workouts a big guy can do. It’s an excellent metcon workout that works your upper body and core. If you’ve never boxed or done MMA, you’ll be surprised just how intense punchbag training can be. Set off too fast or punch too hard, and you’ll soon be out of breath.

Punchbag Training

For this workout, you need a punchbag, and there are several different types to choose from. Options include hanging bags and freestanding bags. Hanging bags tend to be heavier and longer-lasting, but they need to be hung from wall brackets or ceiling hooks, which is not always practical.

Freestanding bags are easier to install and set up but aren’t usually as heavy. However, some are shaped like human torsos, making them a whole lot of fun to train with.

You should also wear bag gloves, and hand wraps, too, especially if you are a particularly heavy hitter and using a heavy bag.

Good punchbag workouts include:

  • Tabata intervals – work for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat eight times
  • 30/30 intervals – work for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, and repeat 10-20 times
  • 3-minute rounds – work for three minutes, rest for one minute, and repeat 3-5 times
  • 5-minute rounds – work for five minutes, rest for one minute, and repeat

Whichever option you choose, make sure you mix up your punches and try to use your left and right hands equally. You could also kick your bag to involve your legs too. Move your feet and circle your bag to increase workout intensity. Imagine you are in the mix with Eddie Hall or Hafthor Bjornson, two extreme strongman heavyweights who are currently training for a boxing match.

3. Kettlebell Swings


Most lifters are familiar with kettlebell swings. Heavy, low-rep sets of swings are an excellent posterior chain power exercise and a useful
alternative for the more complex Olympic lifts
.

However, higher rep, lower weight swings are a very effective metcon exercise. How many reps should you do? 20-30 is an excellent place to start. Rest a minute and then repeat. You’ll soon be huffing and puffing like an old steam train!

4. Metcon Complexes

Complexes are sequences of exercises done in quick succession using the same piece of training equipment, such as a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebell. There are also bodyweight complexes you can do too.

For example, do five reps of each of the following exercises, moving quickly from one to the next. Rest 1-2 minutes between laps and do 3-5 laps in total.

  1. Barbell deadlift
  2. Barbell hang clean
  3. Barbell front squat
  4. Barbell shoulder press
  5. Barbell back squat
  6. Barbell good mornings

The main advantage of complexes is that they can be modified to suit almost any level of fitness. All you need to do is adjust the weight and the reps according to your needs. Also, because you should be familiar with these types of exercises, you should have no problem getting started with metcon complexes – although they’ll probably be a shock to your cardiovascular system as they can be VERY intense!

Read more about this hugely effective training method in our in-depth guide.

5. Rowing

Crossfit Rowing

Rowing is one of the best cardio machine workouts for big guy metcon training. It’s a full-body exercise, and your strength and size should mean that, even if you are a novice at this exercise, you should have no problem picking it up and performing well.

That said, you must row with good technique, or you risk injuring your back, so don’t go too fast too soon, and make sure you avoid these common rowing mistakes, so your rowing workouts are as safe and effective as possible.  

Once you’ve mastered the basics of rowing, try any of these tried-and-tested metcon rowing workouts:

1- The Viking Rowing Workout

The Viking rowing workout involves four sets of rowing, each of which should be done at top speed.

  1. 250 meters
  2. 500 meters
  3. 750 meters
  4. 1000 meters

Your rest period between each set should be the same as the length of time it took you to complete the previous set. For example, if you rowed 250 meters in 50 seconds, you get to rest 50 seconds before you row 500 meters. As the intervals get longer, so too do the rest periods.

2- Broken 5000-meter Rowing Workout

Rowing 5000 meters in one go is a tough task for even established rowers. This workout breaks the distance down into more manageable chunks.

Complete the following sequence, increasing your speed from one interval to the next.

  • Row 2000 meters (slow and easy)
  • Rest two minutes
  • Row 1500 meters (medium speed)
  • Rest 1 ½ minute
  • Row 1000 meters (fast peed)
  • Rest one minute
  • Row 500 meters (flat out)
  • Finished!
3- 2000/5000/10000-meter Time Trial

Our final rowing workouts are very straightforward but no less effective. Simply program your rowing machine for 2000, 5000, or 10,000 meters and then row that distance as fast as you can.

Don’t set off too fast. Instead, set a modest pace and then maintain it for the entire distance. It’s better to set off a little too slow and then be able to speed up at the end than to go too fast and be unable to finish your workout. Try to improve on your time from one workout to the next.

Check out the video below to make sure you are rowing with proper technique.

6. Circuit Training

Cross Training

Circuit training is a tried-and-tested metcon method that was developed by R.E. Morgan and G.T. Anderson in 1953 at the University of Leeds in England (1). The aim of circuit training is to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance at the same time. It’s the perfect metcon workout for big guys.

There are published circuit workouts you can follow, but it’s very easy to make your own. Just make a list of 6-12 exercises using whatever equipment you have available. Try to order your exercises so that you move from one muscle group to the next and avoid overloading any one body part.

Once you’ve got your exercises, you can do each one for time, e.g., 30 seconds, or for reps, e.g., 20. Move quickly from one exercise to the next and then rest 1-2 minutes after the last one. Do 2-5 laps for a short but intense metcon workout.

Not sure where to start? No problem! Here’s an example using a range of training equipment. Do each exercise for 30 seconds to total five minutes per lap:

  1. Box jumps
  2. Push-ups
  3. High pulls
  4. Planks
  5. Lunges
  6. Dumbbell shoulder press
  7. Lat pulldowns
  8. Cable crunches
  9. Power cleans
  10. Battle ropes

7. 3×3 Mini-circuits

3 x 3 mini-circuits are a variation of regular circuit training, but you limit yourself to just three exercises – a compound leg exercise, a compound upper body pushing exercise, and a compound upper body pulling exercise. You do three NON-STOP laps of the three-exercise circuit, which is where this method gets its name.

This creates a very short metcon workout that works virtually every muscle in your body that will also drive your heart rate sky-high.

For example:

  1. Barbell back squats
  2. Bench press
  3. Bent over rows

Or:

  1. Leg press
  2. Dips
  3. Pull-ups

Or:

  1. Trap bar deadlifts
  2. Overhead press
  3. Inverted rows

For best results, this workout should be done with moderate weights and medium to high reps. It’s normal for the reps to decrease from one lap to the next, e.g., 20, 15, 12, but there is nothing wrong with maintaining the same rep count for all the exercises – if you can!

8. Swimming and Deep Water Running

Arnold Schwarzenegger And Reg Arnold

We’ve bundled swimming and deep water running together because both methods support almost all of your body weight, making them ideal for big guys who want to avoid impact and joint stress.

Deep water running involves trying to run in chest-deep water. Water is much denser and provides more resistance than air, so you’ll need to use a lot of energy to push through it. However, despite all this extra effort, you won’t have to deal with the impact associated with running on land.

Alternatively, you can “run” in deeper water where your feet don’t actually touch the bottom. Why the inverted commas? That’s because, for this exercise, you are basically swimming in an upright position.

This is a common training method for injured runners, allowing them to maintain or even increase fitness during recovery. If you are a big, lean guy, you may find that you sink when you try deep-water running. You can remedy this problem by wearing a life preserver or a water running belt made specifically for this purpose.

Swimming is both an exceptional form of metcon exercise for big guys and also a life skill.  After all, being able to swim could literally save your life. You can swim long distances at a slow pace or shorter distances more quickly as preferred.

If swimming has a downside, it is that you need to be technically proficient to enjoy its many benefits. If you can’t swim very well, you’ll tire yourself out so quickly that this metcon method won’t produce much of a workout.

If you aren’t a strong swimmer, it’s time to learn and practice! But, in the meantime, you can get great results from deep water running.

9. Walking and hiking

Running is a very natural activity, but it can lead to injuries, especially if you are a big guy. Running-specific strength training can help, but, ultimately, all that impact adds up and can take a toll on your joints.

You can achieve similar benefits and results by replacing jogging and running with walking and hiking.

Hiking


To walk or hike for fitness, you can’t just stroll and chat. Instead, you need to stride out, use your arms, and move with purpose. Walking quickly will soon elevate your heart and breathing rate to give you get a great, low-impact workout.

Make walking and hiking more challenging and effective by heading for the hills or wearing a weighted vest or backpack. You should have no problem cranking your heart and breathing rate up to the max with either of these options.

Walking and hiking are low-impact activities, but they aren’t entirely impact-free. Protect your feet and your joints by wearing supportive, shock-absorbing shoes or boots. And while you CAN walk on a treadmill for your metcon workouts, you’ll probably find that walking outdoors in nature is much more enjoyable and rewarding. That said, if the weather is terrible, a brisk, steep walk on a treadmill is better than nothing.

10. Cycling

Our last metcon method for big guys is cycling, a favorite of the one and only Austrian Oak – Arnold Schwarzenegger. The “Governator” still cycles regularly for fitness, despite having had a couple of heart surgeries and being over 70.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Cycling

While there is nothing inherently wrong with riding a stationary bike, you’ll probably enjoy cycling more if you ride outdoors on a road bike, mountain bike, or gravel bike. That said, you should pay attention to both the traffic and the condition of the roads, and it may be safer to join a spin class if the weather is bad or you live in a busy city.

You can cycle long distances at slower speeds or go faster over shorter distances. Cycling is also suitable for interval training. You could even ditch your car and cycle to work or to the gym, saving you gas money as you get fitter and leaner.  

Wrapping Up

Lifters love to lift! After all, strength training is the best way to get stronger and build muscle. And while training for strength and size is generally good for your health, it’s not necessarily the best way to develop your cardiovascular fitness or get leaner.

That’s where metcon comes in!

The good news is that you don’t need to lace up your sneakers and go for a run. Instead, there are plenty of alternative metcon exercises and workouts that are ideal for bigger, heavier guys.

Easier on your joints and a lot more fun, these methods will help you get fit, improve your health, and burn fat and calories but without punishing your feet, ankles, hips, and knees.

There is nothing particularly wrong with running, but it’s not suitable for everyone. If running hurts your joints, or you just don’t enjoy pounding the pavement or a treadmill, use these alternatives.

References:

1 – University of New Mexico: New Insights into Circuit Training (source)

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