EMOM: What Is It And Why You Should Care?

EMOM, or every minute on the minute, is a term most folks affiliate (see what I did there) with Crossfit. It’s a popular modality of training that involves a movement or two done on the minute for 1-10 reps, depending on the movement, and the athlete has the remainder of the minute to recover for the next bout. The time frame isn’t set and can range anywhere from 7-20 minutes. No movement is off limits from this type of workout but basic barbell movements (squats, cleans, snatches, presses, deadlifts, etc.) are often incorporated. As with plenty of other modalities and movements, Crossfit has recently popularized the EMOM, though this form of training has been used for decades prior to the”Sport of Fitness”.  Hopefully you haven’t clicked elsewhere already because of the “C” word and want to know how these can help your training. Hey, at least we aren’t talking about Metcons vs Nanos…

1) Cardio Without Being Boring

Now I don’t know about everybody but I don’t wake up in the morning and say “I’m going to crush some cardio today!” If you do well good for you, but most of you that read this I imagine will insert “weights” of some kind for “cardio” in that sentence. Well if there is one thing I have learned in my years of training it is that cardio does not have to be the boringly, mind-numbing, painful trodding around for an extended period of time. If that’s not your thing then it doesn’t have to be. There are many ways to get the desired effect of cardiovascular training and to be honest it can only benefit your training. Now, before you toss your phone or computer, I’m not saying let’s run a 5k, but a little bit of conditioning can only benefit your training. The biggest factor for needing some sort of conditioning is rest between sets. The more deconditioned you are, the longer you have to take between sets, and the longer your workout will take. The longer your workout takes the higher the chance of you having to sleep on the couch becomes. It is understood that sports physical demands are different and the level of conditioning will vary from a golfer to a powerlifter but the fact is, a little bit won’t kill you. On top of that do you really want to be that guy that huffs and puffs walking up a set of stairs? I didn’t think so.

For those of us who are not gifted with the lungs of an Ethiopian marathon runner, EMOMs are a great way to get a little conditioning in without having to run or row your way to fitness. Simply pick your favorite barbell movement and start a clock. Every minute do one rep and use the remainder of the minute to rest for the next set. Depending on your level of fitness there are many ways to make this interesting and more challenging as you adapt. But before we talk about adapting the workout I want to preface this by saying the loads lifted/trained should not be a walk in the park. After all, you want to get better, so if you are doing a barbell movement I feel like a minimum of 70-80% should be used on these types of workouts. Keep in mind that this % is not only talking about your 1RM, but it’s based off whatever the rep range is. If you don’t know your 8RM, don’t worry about it, use your brain and guesstimate. The bottom line is don’t cheat yourself by doing a 5 rep snatch EMOM with an empty bar and post all over Instagram about how much “fitness” you just crushed.

The first change you can make to increase the level of difficulty is to change the mount of time you are doing the work. 7, 8, or 9 minutes may feel just fine, but imagine keeping that up for 15-20 minutes. That’s a lot of time to maintain 80% in a lift. A second adjustment you can make is to increase the reps. If 1 rep for 12 minutes isn’t achieving the desired effect then why not change the rep scheme to 2, 3 or 5 reps? It is suggested that you keep in mind the complexity of the movement when choosing the rep scheme. A 5 rep clean EMOM is going to be a lot more challenging than a 5 rep box jump EMOM, just as a 10 rep back squat EMOM is absolutely brutal in comparison. Plain and simple, keep the rep scheme comparative to the complexity of the movement. Another modification to improve effectiveness of this workout is to add weight each minute. Now this may take some time in terms of organizing weights. The last thing you want is to finish a set and be frantically trying to locate a 25 lb plate, load it and rest in 35 seconds. Gather all your weights ahead of time if you chose this route and embrace the crappiness that is about to ensue.

2) Time Under Tension

This mostly applies to multiple rep sets in the EMOMs but is still a factor overall. Multiple reps in a short amount of time may lead to an athlete performing “touch and go” reps but the training stimulus can be beneficial for an athlete if done correctly. Think of it this way: If you are doing a 3 rep deadlift with 275 touch and go as opposed to to dropping each single, the body is under tension with that 275 for 5-10 seconds rather 1-2 seconds. That time under tension builds strength in the athlete both concentrically (achieved in both touch and go and dropping between reps) but also eccentrically. This means the body is being work in both directions of the movement pattern rather than just one way as with a traditional rep. Now I will say, if your form is breaking and you are risking injury, you or your coach better be smart enough to realize this and switch to dropping the bar between sets. Quality over quantity is ALWAYS preferred, start out touch and go and then switch to singles as the suck fest continues.

In previous articles, we’ve discussed time under tension when explaining the benefits of complexes. In my personal experience the training benefits from this extended time under tension has been invaluable to overall strength and muscular balance, so give it a go and see if you notice a difference. The excessive amounts of time under tension and eccentric training benefits received from EMOM and touch and go work has allowed the higher level athletes to close the gap (relatively speaking) with nationally competitive weightlifters. They’ve been able to bypass years of training the lifts specifically because they build a base quicker with more GPP work due to this type of training.  But that’s another topic for another day, so back to the main point.

3) Lot Of Work/Short Period Of Time

This is, hands down, the most important reason why these should be included in your training. How many times have you had your training time set aside for the day but when it comes time to actually train you realize you have maybe half of that time available due to life? It happens to the best of us. Unless you are a full time athlete training times will never be set in stone. This type of a workout is a great tool to have in your bag for the instances where you are short of time.

Let’s do some math, shall we? Let’s imagine you are doing a 3 rep Push Press EMOM for 10 minutes at 80% of your best. If you Push Press 285, you have lifted 6,750 lbs (~225 lbs for the working sets) in 10 minutes not including a warming up to your 80%. That’s a good amount of tonnage is a short period of time and you got the heart rate up a bit doing it as well. That’s a win win in my opinion and now you can carry on with other parts of training or cool down and get the rest of your day tackled.

In today’s world of rushing around to get as much done as possible before our heads hit the pillow, this is a a great tool to eliminate the excuse “I don’t have time to train.” You take a ten minute general warm up, five minutes to warm up to movement you are training, ten minutes of training,  five minutes of cool down, and you are good to go. Problem solved.

4) Consistency Under Fatigue

The first time an EMOM type workout was introduced to me was for singles in the snatch and clean jerk at 80-85%  for 20 minutes a piece. When I first looked at this I thought to myself, “no way, not happening.” But when discussing the purpose behind this we found out that this forces the athlete to focus on consistency while under fatigue. For a rookie lifter like myself at the time, I had a habit of “muscling” the lifts when it got heavy. What I noticed was this load wasn’t too heavy, but heavy enough that when I started to fatigue I had no choice but to do it correctly. I was fatigued enough that I couldn’t muscle the weights around but had to rely on solid technique to complete the workout. Contrary to my original thoughts, the lifts at the end of the time period were sometimes sharper looking than the lifts at the beginning.

Another aspect of training with an EMOM is the ever important mental toughness. When you are feeling it and don’t think it’s possible to make a lift you may surprise yourself with what you are capable. If you can make 90-95% in  fatigued state that can carry over very well to a competition where you are not feeling 100% but have to make an attempt anyways. As an athlete you should always be looking for ways to push yourself physically and mentally. Here is one way of many out there to do just that.

5) Change Of Pace/Variety

I am a firm believer that there are many ways to get things accomplished. There is no cookie cutter way that applies to every individual in order to accomplish a task. If you are doing it right you should be in a constant state of improvement and always looking to add another tool to your arsenal in the hopes of checking that next goal off the list. Variety is key and allows for you to not become stagnant or plateaued with your training. If you are losing enthusiasm or are starting to dread training, it is time for a change. It doesn’t have to permanent but a few days or weeks switching gears and breath new life into your training and you might find something you can take from your “break’ and apply to your current training regime.

Bottom line, with the access we have these days to all sorts of training there is no reason to be close minded and think there’s only one approach that works. Assess the demands of your training in order to achieve your goals, pick a few tools to get the job done and then evaluate. Did it work? Could you do something different? Were you successful but could it have been even more successful? All these can be answered on your never-ending pursuit of awesome.

Now enough talking and explaining. Let’s get to the gym, warm up, set the clock and let it rip!

  1. Garrett left a comment on July 29, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Ironically, with no formal fitness education, I have noticed how effective EMOMs can be, especially for functional fitness training. In the recent weeks I have started to implement EMOMs for all the reasons described here about based on my own observations. We now do EMOMs as part of our Olympic technique work 3 days a week. Members simply think I’m trying to keep their work within a time frame so that we can get thru the hour without running over into the next class. But it secretly is so that I can observe each individuals lift as I have them all staggered by 10-15 seconds.

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