Workouts for Women Over 50 | What’s a METCON Workout?

In this post I’m discussing workouts for women over 50 and defining a term that has been around yet may be just making it’s way to you and conversations of workouts for women. If you’re a Crossfitter, you may have heard of them. Here’s the answer to what are they, why do you care, and when should you use them.

Workouts for women over 50 usually, we’re all unique and I’ll give you that, emphasize maintaining or gaining lean muscle, reducing risk of injury, and reducing body fat, specifically visceral belly fat. But there’s a whole new vocabulary of terms you may not be familiar with and should know. Among them, METCON.

What is METCON and what is a METCON workout?

The workout consists of repeated high intensity effort. It’s a wordsmithing from metabolic + conditioning = metcon. We can relate, right? Afterall what is menopause? Menstruation + pause?

Usually METCON workouts include a sequence of challenging exercises often repeated without rest. That makes them distinctly different from Interval Training or High Intensity Interval Training which definitely include rest between high intensity exercise. Bootcamps are often much more METCON than they are High Intensity Interval Training.

One thing METCON and HIIT share is the high “after burn” or post exercise “payback” that increases overall calorie and fat burning.

METCON workouts often involve weight training exercises.

That’s where you lose me. More on my response to that below.

What METCON is not:

  • A weight-training workout designed to support lean muscle maintenance and gains for women over 50
  • A good way to “recover” if you include strength training exercises in it and are strength training the day before or after for women over 50
  • Just random exercises done in rapid succession (or shouldn’t be, but often is).

My METCON Skepticism

If METCON was trying to romance me, even seduce me, I was going for it, until that. For women over 50 who need a certain volume to create adequate overload stimulus for positive muscle change, doing a random strength training exercise within METCON workouts can be dicy.

Two reasons I don’t believe weight training within a METCON workout is wise.

  • If you’re doing strength training on other days, METCON between that uses weight training, interferes with your recovery.
  • If you’re using METCON as your weight training, it isn’t enough stimulus to increase lean muscle mass.

Bottomline about that is women over 50 can’t afford to lose more lean muscle and waste time thinking what they’re doing “qualifies” as strength training that will improve metabolism long term.

Get the Benefits of Higher Fat Burning After METCON workouts (without Getting Hurt)

It is possible to lose belly fat after 50, yes females too! And yes, METCON workouts could be a part of it, provided you do them correctly. Let’s discuss what that looks like. 

1) Reduce the Risk of Injury

Choose simple, safe low impact exercises that can be performed without losing form. (A burpee in my book does not qualify with wrist, shoulder, lower back issues that can occur in 6 different places unless your form is perfect… requiring it to be slow… defeating the purpose).

Think twice about kettlebell swings. Can you do them? I don’t know. I do them… occasionally. The sheer forces in the spine that occur for some individuals deem them worth careful consideration. If you wouldn’t think about going out and digging up a garden plot with a shovel… or clearing the driveway of a foot of snow with a shovel, you may be fine. If you’d think twice about either of those you might want to pause before swinging. The problem? We don’t know until it’s too late.

2) Go Hard Enough

The infamous Tabata protocol designed by Dr Izumi Tabata with elite cyclists is based on 170% of VO2 max effort intervals. I can guarantee I have never seen 170% VO2 max effort in any lab (20 years), gym, studio, or my own workouts in 36 years. To go at 170% of your VO2 max means you are “waste basket effect” sick afterwards. Trust me, fitness testing college students for 15 years in much lower intensities I’ve seen THAT, but witnessing that kind of effort is rare.

Workouts for women over 50 need not treat you like you’re fragile. Still, to safely perform this intensity of intervals where you have 20 seconds? Really needs to be done on a bike. And see #3

I want to add that to lose belly fat over 50 (females) your exercise must be of adequate intensity. Get breathless!

3) Progress Before You have Less Rest Time than Work Time

A couple decades ago when the fitness industry was grabbing onto Tabata as the best thing since Jane Fonda, a few small voices came out saying, have we forgotten the law of progression? You probably didn’t hear them. Because most fitness instructors and trainers didn’t listen either.

There’s no contesting the validity of Tabata (at least at 170% VO2 max for elite cyclists). But they didn’t become elite cyclists overnight. The principle of progression suggests you have more rest than you have work. So, if an interval is :30 for instance, a recovery period may be 2 or 3 times that or 1:00 or 1:30.

That’s almost never what you see in a fitness class. Even with trainers working privately with clients, or your favorite fitness influencer on Instagram, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find them doing or describing a Tabata interval of 20 seconds hard work and 10 seconds rest.

Rest can be a tough sell if you think the harder you work the more results you get. Think of it this way: to lose belly fat over 50 it’s a balancing act of the “just right” amount of stress. Work hard AND rest well.

Set Up For Injury

Already many of the interval classes and videos you’re watching have you set up for injury by not giving you adequate rest. And Rest & Recovery is a crucial part of fitness after 50. Your need for recovery increases, it doesn’t decrease.

There’s no question that Tabata works. But a proven system isn’t proven when it’s watered down. When you’re female and 50 not male and 25… When you’re a moderate exerciser and not an elite cyclist… When you’re doing maybe 80% of your VO2 max and not 170% … then you can’t expect the same results from 20 minutes of exercise a week or from doing that even 2 or 3 times a week (which is NOT what the study suggested).

We do know Sprint Interval Training are recommended workouts for women over 50. Performed on a bike, you’d do 20 minutes alternating 8 seconds hard and 12 seconds recovery 3 times a week improved fitness, decreased fat, and increased lean muscle. (preceded by warm up and followed by cool down)

Unless a study has been done on older adults, and unless a program is based on that protocol, and unless you follow it, there’s no guarantee you’re going to get results. And there is chance of injury or adrenal fatigue without adequate rest. Women in midlife are more susceptible to stress due to drop in estrogen, testosterone and progesterone.

workouts for women over 50

4) Avoid Applying 1980 rules to 2020 Intervals

This is happening far too much. I see it every day with women who join my programs or watch a random YouTube workout. They think they can and should do more. They don’t think the 20-minute workout is enough and they want to know if they should repeat it.

“I feel like I’m just getting started and then I’m done.”

The answer to that is potentially that you’re not following a weekly plan that makes the workout you just did adequate. Workouts for women over 50 need to be different than the workout you remember from decades ago.

Another possibility if you feel like you didn’t do “enough”: The intensity was not enough. You should feel after an intense session that short is long enough.

But then again you possibly should. Why do we think we should feel like SH*# at the end of a workout for it to have been beneficial.

It’s crazy to think that exercise that is miserable, and that makes you feel miserable and sore will then magically lead to higher level of fitness and bliss.

Go hard during intervals, recover between them, OR stack intense exercises in a row and do a short but effective workout that way. Either way you’re going to get some variety, some recovery in a body part or recovery overall even within it.

5) Avoid Eccentric Exercise

It causes the most muscle damage. If you want to change your metabolism during strength training you do want this type of work. If you’re doing a conditioning workout however you want to avoid it.

If you’re not doing a strength training session for the purpose of breaking down muscle so you can build muscle tone and strength, then you should be focused on moving in a way that facilitates recovery and compliments your moves, not breaks you down further.

Jumping, slow squats, sprinting on a flat, and slow lunges are all examples of eccentric contractions or exercise.

6) Pick a Goal

I know we want it all… but what’s your first priority? Is it fat loss? METCON workouts can be helpful.

If you want to have endurance so you can run for a period of time.. you need short intervals with short rest breaks.

If you play a purely anaerobic sport then you want to create longer rest periods between more powerful intervals.

Want to add lean muscle? METCON may not be something you want to over do. You’ll do best with HIIT and strength training with moderate number of repetitions (10-12).

Workouts for women over 50 aren’t special because you need less intensity. On the contrary, women are often workout out too lightly too often to reap rewards.

If you want to lose fat you have to exercise in a way that supports fat loss. For instance, strength train twice a week followed by a METCON workout or do METCON on the opposite days.

Oh, and by the way? No matter what you want, you’ll need to clean up your diet first before you get it.

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