Metabolic Conditioning for the Season of Indulgence

By Tino Fiumara

It’s December already and we are smack dab in the season that we identify with high caloric intake and reduced physical output – aka the drink, eat, and be merry season! As climbers, we always want to maintain fitness so that we see as little regression as possible. To keep our progress and still enjoy all of the holiday trimmings, we can focus on metabolic conditioning, a workout style that, according to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, leads to a higher resting metabolism for the next few hours after training.

The Protocols

Much of the research is oriented around small workout windows of about 30 minutes. This is great for the time-crunched society that we have become. These workouts focus on two different protocols that have similar results on increasing one’s resting metabolic rate. The first protocol operates on 3 sets of 4 exercises. The second protocol operates on 1 set of 11 exercises and 2 sets of 3 exercises, and is great for the attention-challenged. It’s best to follow the protocol that gets you the most psyched because you are more likely to do it!

The Exercises

If the first protocol seems most appealing, it would serve you well to stick to the four major lifts that the climbing industry training professionals now embrace : Squat. Hinge. Push. Pull. This will engage all of your big muscles and help build body strength to help you get closer to overcoming any plateaus you might be facing. If the second protocol seems like a best fit, it is still a good idea to keep those four basic lifts in mind, but you can do any number of variations of each lift and never get bored.

The Energy System

Now you have your protocol and an idea about the exercises that you want to do. The next step is asking yourself what energy system you are trying to train? Energy system choice has a direct correlation to the intensity of the activity and teh amount of time that you will rest between sets. There are three main energy system pathways that you can train to reach your goals.

The immediate system (phosphagen) is to train up our ability to do small amounts (ie. ten seconds) of high intensity work – think limit bouldering and max strength/power. The intermediate system (glycolytic) is to train up our ability to do moderate intensity work for one to four minutes – think sport climbs, endurance bouldering, and overall sports performance. The long-duration system (aerobic) is to train up our ability to do light intensity work for long periods of time and is outside of the focus of this post.

To train the immediate system, you want to perform five or fewer reps per exercise (so choose an appropriate exercise & weight) with a rest that is approximately 10 times the amount of time it takes to complete the exercise. To train the intermediate system, you want to perform 10-12 reps per exercise with a rest that is twice the amount of time that it takes to complete the exercise. If this is your first time performing some of these exercises it’s best to stick with low weight and higher reps until you have started to habituate to doing strength training.

You are now equipped to create an efficient workout that you can do while visiting family or friends for the holidays. However, being armed with these metabolic afterburners is not a license to eat. Like the classic adage goes, the best offense is a good defense – meaning don’t eat too much. If you do indulge over the holidays, look for our four-session Boot Camp in January 2017 where we will help you get fit for the New Year!


Sample Immediate System Workout (3 sets of 4 exercises)
Kettlebell Goblet Squats (70lbs x 5 reps) – the squat
Dead Lifts (body weight x 5 reps) – the hinge
Ring Push-Ups (raised feet w/ a weight vest x 5 reps) – the push
Weighted Pull-Ups (35lbs x 5 reps) – the pull





  1. Effect of Resistance Training on Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: May 1992