Metcons Don’t Make You Stronger

by Thomas Richards

CrossFit Metcons vary in a ton of different ways: time domain, number of movements, number of reps, weights… the list goes on and on! But what doesn’t change is the purpose of a metcon, which is to build your conditioning in a variety of different pathways. Short sprint workouts, medium-length workouts and long workouts. These all challenge different aspects of your physiology. The metcon is designed to challenge your conditioning output, generally using Threshold Training in CrossFit. Threshold training is where you’re working at a very high heart rate for a sustained period of time.

Strength on the other hand is built using well-established sets, reps, and rest times over a long duration of your training age. If you want to get stronger, you need to put in the work on your strength segments of the day. So while many people think that using heavier weights in the metcon will make you stronger, generally it isn’t accomplishing that goal. 

So the big question we’re trying to answer is: what weights do I choose for the metcon? The answer is almost always what weight you can work at your threshold for the given time domain. Let’s use an example. 


8 Hang Power Cleans 135/95
8 Handstand Push-ups

Here’s how this workout would go for a high-level CrossFit athlete: they will complete all of the reps unbroken, their heart rate will stay high for the entire workout, they’ll take no breaks other than transitions, and they will fall on the ground at the end of the workout. They’ll have got in an extremely hard 8 minute workout.

Here’s how it will go for someone that used too heavy of a weight: they’ll do the first round unbroken, barely get all 8 reps on the second round, then break up the rest of the rounds into 2-3 sets. Their heart rate won’t stay high and they won’t be exceptionally taxed at the end of the workout.

Why do high-level athletes always end up on the ground at the end of the workout? Because they are always working at their threshold pace with weights that let them move fast for the whole time domain!

Think about your CrossFit training like this: the strength portion is where you’re working to get stronger; the metcon is where you’re looking to move fast and sometimes test your strength capacity. If we want to move heavier loads in the metcon, we need to focus on our strength development. If we want to move faster in metcons, we need to work at our threshold.

If you’re having trouble deciding what weight to use, ask your coach! They understand the stimulus of the workout and your capabilities. Lean on their experience to guide you to better results!