Imagine a typical hour-long strength-training workout. For argument's sake, let's say it's 3-5 sets of 10 reps, for five separate exercises. How much time during that hour do you think you'd actually spending lifting? At most, it's probably around 15 minutes—and that's being generous. The rest of the time, you're resting, moving equipment around, and otherwise… not lifting. (Let's not talk about that time you're spending on your phone).

Now, don't get me wrong. The workout above would likely be challenging, and it's definitely not a waste of your time. But it's also not your only option. And sometimes, it's helpful to turn that model right on its head.

That's what EMOM strength training does. It's one of those old-school, "do a lift for all it's worth" kinds of workouts that'll test you in all the best ways. The best EMOM workouts give you a little of everything—muscle, strength, fat loss, conditioning—all in one time-efficient package. Your rest periods will feel generous at first, but as the clock rolls on, you'll notice they feel a whole lot shorter. And by the time you're done, you'll know you did an honest day's work, even if you only did one exercise.

What is EMOM Training?

EMOM stands for "every minute on the minute." To perform EMOM sets, you start your clock prior to your first rep of an exercise, then proceed to perform your entire set.

In the last few years, this approach has become very popular in metcon-style beatdowns where you're working 30, 40, or more seconds per set and gasping for air the whole time. But it doesn't have to be that way. For example, one of my favorite EMOMs is a relatively light front squat for 3 reps per set, for upwards of 20 minutes per set.

When you hear "3 reps" you may think "strength," but even with only around 30 percent of my one-rep max, this workout is strength, cardio, muscle building, and will-power training, and just a great way to build picture-perfect front squat form.

Barbell front squat

An EMOM set can be 3 reps, 5 reps, 8 reps, 12 reps—whatever suits the movement and the nature of the workout in question. At the end of your set, you take advantage of whatever time is left to use as rest, before the turn of the next minute.

Want a simple place to start? Let's say you have a pair of light dumbbells that you feel like you can rep out forever. Try this: an EMOM of 10 sets of 10 reps.

Start the timer and perform the first set. Maybe it takes you 20 seconds to complete. That means you have 40 seconds to rest before the second set. Repeat in the same fashion until you've done 10 sets. Those light dumbbells won't feel light forever! If they're just a bit too heavy, you'll find out—quickly.

EMOM Training: Pro Tips

First and foremost, it goes without saying that you should choose your exercises wisely.

Movements that may require more rest in general due to a high fatigue factor, high complexity, or a great overall neural demand might not be the smartest choices for EMOM training. For example, that heavy Turkish get-up that takes you 45 seconds to complete probably isn't the best choice for this particular workout. I'm also not a big fan of performing EMOMs with moves like weighted pull-ups, hang cleans, or plyometrics. There's just too much going on, and it's too easy for fatigue to win the battle—and for your technique to be the loser.

That doesn't mean you should only go for isolation movements—although it can work for those as well. EMOM training can be fantastic with compound movements. For example, instead of your usual 3 sets of 10, you could do 10 EMOM sets of 3. Or even better, do 20 sets of 3. This approach allows you to "sneak in" a lot of quality volume without hammering yourself in the process.

But here's the catch: It only works if you're willing to be humble when loading the bar. If you get it right, it should feel quite easy at the beginning. Then, once you're about halfway in, maybe around 10 minutes into a 20-minute EMOM workout, you should find yourself thanking me for reminding you to be conservative in the weight selection.

Adding weight to a bar.

For those of you who like to use percentages and RMs to guide your weight selection, if you're doing 10-rep EMOMs, don't even dream about using your 10-rep max. Or your 12-rep max. Try something like 60 percent of your 10RM, depending on the movement.

For the big compound movements, percentages and rep maxes might not even be the best option. Instead, consider basing it around your body weight, like this:

  • Barbell squat: 80% of body weight, 3-5 reps per set
  • Trap bar deadlift: 100% of body weight, 3-5 reps per set
  • Barbell bench press: 60% of body weight, 3-5 reps per set
  • Barbell overhead press: 40% of body weight, 3-5 reps per set

If those are too heavy, knock it down by 10-15 percent, or more if needed, and keep coming back to the workout until you can hit these standards. Heck, this could be your whole workout program for a while. You'd definitely see some physique improvements and get a lot better at the big lifts in the process.

When it comes to single-joint bodybuilding-style movements, take advantage of EMOM training to get a serious pump in not much time. There's less risk involved with these movements by comparison, so you can ramp up the fatigue factor. A seated dumbbell press, lateral raise, machine leg extension, leg curl, or leg press can work great for higher-rep EMOM workouts. Just don't expect to be going for 20 minutes! Somewhere around 6, or maybe up to 10, is plenty.

Don't Overcomplicate Things!

I can see your brain running, thinking of ways to add something to this simple formula. Resist the temptation!

First off, EMOM exercises can't be paired with anything by way of a "superset," simply because the clock is running for one exercise at a time. If you add a second exercise in, you're not doing an EMOM anymore. They have to be done solo, and the rules of work and rest need to be obeyed.

With that in mind, many lifters will opt to perform a second EMOM with a new exercise after completing the final set of the first EMOM. I wouldn't stop them, but I'd give one piece of advice: Don't perform the second EMOM using a competing exercise.

Incline bench press

In other words, if you've just done an EMOM incline bench press, don't make your next EMOM lift a standing military press. They use many complementary muscle groups, and you'll only end up lowering the ceiling on what you can handle. Considering you've already drastically reduced loading from your actual rep range maxes for the sake of this workout, you risk creating an ineffective workout at best, and a dangerous one at worst.

Instead, choose non-competing movements, like following that EMOM incline bench press with an EMOM goblet squat or leg press. That full-body workout would be no joke.

Don't Be Afraid to Gear Up

Even if loading is lighter than usual, I need to reinforce that these kinds of workouts create plenty of fatigue, particularly if you're doing something like trap bar deadlifts or front squats.

For this reason, if you're used to wearing safety gear during your heavier efforts, it may be a good idea to throw it on for these kinds of workouts, too. It's not too often you'll be doing sets of squats or deadlifts with only 45 or so seconds of rest, for 15- or 20-minute stretches at a time. That's taxing, to say the least. If you have a history of back issue, for example, there's no shame in adding your trusty lifting belt to the gym bag that day. It might be the smartest move you make.

Lifting Belts
Lifting Belts
Support your lower back and core with a lifting belt. Make the most out of your heavy lifts and see results!

Now, go set the timer and see what you've got!

If you want to try a complete fitness plan that incorporates EMOM workouts, check out Home Body: 8-Week At-Home Fitness Plan on BodyFit.

About the Author

Lee Boyce

Lee Boyce

Lee Boyce is the owner of Boyce Training Systems, and is a fitness author and strength coach based in Toronto, Canada.

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