Understanding METS

Understanding METs

If you think this post is about my hometown’s baseball team, think again… (Although that would be fun).  “METs” is an abbreviation that refers to “Metabolic Equivalents of Task” — commonly seen on cardio machines and heart rate monitors.

Level of Effort

Cardio machines and heart rate monitors will tell you the amount of calories you are burning during an exercise session (most accurate when you tell the machine and/or monitor your correct age and weight).  But calories alone cannot express how hard you’re exercising (i.e., exercise intensity).  On the other hand, metabolic equivalents (METs) can help quantify the level of effort you put in.

What’s a metabolic equivalent (MET)?

More specifically, METs are a unit of measurement that calculates how much oxygen the body is taking in per minute.  METs are a useful measurement since they allow you to compare the amount of oxygen consumption used during exercise versus at rest.  The harder your body works, the more oxygen you will have to take in (and the higher the MET level).

At rest, the amount of oxygen your body needs to take in is equal to one MET.  Two METs equal any activity that requires two times the amount you require at rest.  Nerijus’ p3 class (circuit training) is about 8.0 METs.  This means you are generally using eight times the amount of oxygen per minute that you would typically use at rest.

Explicit MET values     

MET values haven’t appeared out of thin air.  One MET = 3.5 ml of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (1 kg = 2.2 lbs).  Since no one (at least here at the company) cares to measure the rate at which you’re consuming oxygen, the 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities assigned numerical values based on the energy costs of activities.  This list (described in more detail below) shows how intense certain activities are over others.

MET values in the compendium

Since one MET is considered the “resting metabolic rate” or energy cost of a person at rest, that is the baseline we use to determine how many METs you are working at.  0.9 is for sleeping and 23 METs is for running at 14.0 mph.

Sedentary behavior = 1.0-1.5 METs

Light-intensity = 1.6-2.9 METs

Moderate intensity = 3-5.9 METs

Vigorous intensity = > 6 METs

One Met = 51.3 kcal/hour

Two Met = 102 kcal/hour

Here is the 2011 Compendium: click on the “Activities Categories” tab and choose your exercise.  Here is a full list PDF.


Metabolic equivalents (METs) calculate the “metabolic cost” of doing a certain activity per minute.  It is a great measurement to use when building a routine that will add more intensity.


Compendium of 2011 Activities

Ainsworth et al. 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities: A Second Update of Codes and MET Values.  American College of Sports Medicine. 2011.



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