If there’s one way most lifters can improve their training plan, it’s not about fixing their time spent training. It’s about fixing their time spent not training. Rest between sets is an extremely undervalued variable in program design.
Many lifters know that resting for a few minutes allows better recovery and lets them move heavier weights with greater intensity. On the flip, cutting the rest time short amps up the demand on the heart to test their conditioning. But what about resting briefly while also moving pretty heavy weights? That type of workout can redefine what training intensity means.
One of the most effective ways to do this is to work against the clock with a programming method known as EMOM — every minute on the minute. Here’s how this high-intensity approach to training can be the key to building strength, improving technique, packing on size, and burning fat. Yep, one technique can do all that.
EMOM Training: Every Minute on the Minute
An EMOM workout requires you to forget what you think you know about sets, reps, and rest periods, because it builds a whole new perspective. Instead of performing one set, resting for a certain amount of time, and performing the next set, EMOM training has you performing one set every minute on the minute. Re-read that. Every minute on the minute. E.M.O.M.
Whether you download one of the countless apps that track EMOM workouts (SmartWod Timer and Interval Timer — HIIT Workouts are two you can try) or simply monitor a clock with a second hand, when the time hits 0:00, you begin your set and perform your target number of reps, whether it’s a single repetition or a set of 20. When you finish your set, you put the weights down and rest.
When the second hand hits 0:00 again, you begin your next set. Continue this sequence for the duration of the workout, typically eight to 20 minutes total. It’s essential that every set starts right on the minute.
You don’t start setting your grip and stance at 0:00 and begin your rep at 0:06. You start the lift moving at 0:00, whether you want to or not. Spoiler alert: Just a few minutes into any session, you’re not going to want to.
The genius and brutality of this method is that the clock is the most unforgiving training partner you’ll ever have. It’s going to tick-tick-tick no matter how hard you’re breathing. It’s going to say, “Get up and move” whether or not your muscles are still burning. It will keep you on track and accountable.
Also, your specific rest times will change depending on the duration of your previous set. As the workout progresses and you fatigue, each set may take slightly longer as your rest periods become shorter.
For example, a set of five reps might take 20 seconds at the start of the workout, so you get 40 seconds of rest. After several minutes, however, cumulative fatigue sets in and those five reps may end up taking 25 or 30 seconds, whether the individual reps are moving slower or you’re sneaking extra breaths between reps. This means you get less rest for the next set and the workout gets more challenging as you progress.
One key, however, is to not rush through with fast, sloppy reps just to end the set sooner and sneak in more rest time. That’s counterproductive. Perform your reps properly and with control, and appreciate that the short rest periods are integral to results.
This innovative approach to training was first implemented by Olympic weightlifters as a way to build strength in technical lifts, and more recently popularized by CrossFit athletes as a way to get serious conditioning in minimal time.
EMOM training builds strength, power, and strength-endurance — the ability to maintain power output for an extended period of time. (1) Because of this endurance-related benefit, it’s often used as a conditioning or fat loss method, rather than strictly for strength-building. It also has muscle-building applications, as a way to increase training volume and stimulate growth.
Typically, EMOM sets are performed with movements like squats, deadlifts, Olympic lift variations, presses, and other multi-joint exercises for low-rep sets. One crucial programming principle is to avoid muscular failure during the workout.
Because the rest ends up being insufficient for full recovery, taking any set to failure will lead you right into a brick wall. Begin the workout with sets two or more reps shy of failure and allow the short rests to provide the difficulty. Toward the end of the workout, you’ll realize the weight was plenty.
EMOM is typically performed with one to three reps per minute for 10 to 15 minutes, but there are several very effective variations that can provide different stimuli for a variety of goals. The specific programming can be adapted to various goals. Think of EMOM as a sandbox — there are a lot of different ways to play within this protocol.
Longer workouts with heavier weights and lower reps are well-suited for building strength. Manipulating the total workout time and reps per minute will determine the results.
Varying Rep Ranges
Instead of low-rep strength building, EMOM can be used for a muscle-building workout. (2) This works well with single-joint (isolation) exercises performed for eight to 10 reps EMOM for five to 10 minutes.
Isolation exercises can be performed more quickly than heavier compound exercises, so a set of eight to 10 should take less than 30 seconds to complete. This approach keeps the pace quick and the intensity high.
Moderate to higher reps can also be used with multi-joint exercises as long as the reps don’t end up taking too long to perform. If the duration of work is too high to begin with (more than 30 seconds or so), the already precious rest time will have nowhere to go but down and your overall performance will suffer.
For example, if a set of 12 squats takes 40 seconds (which allows 20 seconds rest), after only a few minutes fatigue will naturally extend the training closer to 50 seconds and the rest drops to 10 seconds. This shifts the workout focus away from muscle-building and more towards cardiovascular conditioning.
Every 30 Seconds
Performing reps every 30 seconds may not flow as easily off the tongue — E30O30 or E30S— but it’s still an effective variation of EMOM training, particularly for drilling technique on an exercise. Performing one or two reps every 30 seconds for six to 12 minutes allows you to focus on picture-perfect form, engrain good lifting habits, and build skill as well as strength.
E30S also works well as a transition from your general warm-up into your work sets because you can achieve high-quality reps and directly prepare your joints and muscles in minimum time.
This method can also be adapted as a high-intensity conditioning drill with low to moderate reps. Performing four to six reps every 30 seconds for five to 10 minutes at the end of a workout can improve anaerobic endurance and fat-burning.
For this to be most effective, the reps must be completed quickly with enough time for rest. Explosive exercises like kettlebell swings or simple bodyweight exercises like push-ups or burpees are ideal for this type of workout.
EMOM with Different Exercises
While EMOM typically uses one exercise for the duration of the workout, you can use a different exercise each minute depending on your goals. This is an extremely efficient way to train the upper body, lower body, or even your entire body with a fast workout. Choose one exercise per body part and perform four to eight reps EMOM for 15-25 minutes.
This method allows greater recovery between each repeated exercise, more in line with traditional training, because the training stress is dispersed between multiple movements. You may get two to four minutes between sets of a single exercise, so you can attack that movement with higher intensity, but you’re still performing an exercise every minute, which keeps the overall training intensity high as well.
Because this approach requires using more equipment simultaneously, choose exercises that require little to no transition time. Free weights or cable stations can be more useful than specialized machines. If you want to use the leg press, but it’s a 15-second walk from your previous exercise, you’re spending precious time getting there.
- Minute One: Deadlift
- Minute Two: Overhead Press
- Minute Three: Front Squat
- Minute Four: Barbell Row
- Minute Five: Deadlift
- Minute Six: Overhead Press
Upper Body Workout
- Minute One: Dip
- Minute Two: Pull-up
- Minute Three: Seated Dumbbell Press
- Minute Four: Dip
- Minute Five: Pull-up
- Minute Six: Seated Dumbbell Press
Lower Body Workout
- Minute One: Goblet Squat
- Minute Two: Romanian Deadlift
- Minute Three: Reverse Lunge, Right Leg
- Minute Four: Reverse Lunge, Left Leg
- Minute Five: Goblet Squat
- Minute Six: Romanian Deadlift
Splitting a workout into two exercises and alternating even minutes/odd minutes is another simple and effective way to fit even more total training volume into a 10 to 20-minute workout. For example, performing squats on minutes one, three, five, seven and nine while performing push-ups on minutes two, four, six, eight, and ten.
Combining any of these EMOM variations with bodyweight exercises is a reliable go-to whenever you can’t get to a gym, you’re traveling, want a mid-day exercise break, or need a quick lunch-hour workout.
Programming EMOM for Your Goals
EMOM workouts are ideal for lifters with tight schedules because of the finite start and end time. Instead of going to the gym and hoping to be done in less than 90 minutes, you walk in knowing that you’ll be working in eight, 10, or 12-minute chunks — whatever your training plan calls for.
All you need to do is follow the clock and you’ll get a productive session done in that given timeframe. However, EMOM training is a versatile method that can be applied to any goal.
EMOM for Strength
EMOM is also perfect for beginners or competitive strength athletes who want to drill exercise technique. Beginners benefit from repeated performance without excessive fatigue, while more experienced lifters can get acclimated to moving heavy weights under near-contest conditions, performing repeated near-maximal attempts over a given time period, while also refining technique.
This is one reason why the EMOM method was initially used by competitive weightlifters. They were able to perform explosive lifts one or two reps at a time, minute after minute after minute, while building strength, power, and crucial technique.
EMOM for Muscle
Lifters focused on increasing muscular size will benefit from EMOM workouts using moderate rep ranges, as explained above, as a way to increase training volume and trigger more muscle growth in a shorter workout. (3)
For example, doing a bench press for five sets of eight reps might take seven or eight minutes total. Doing the bench press for 8 reps EMOM for five minutes takes five minutes. Multiply that extra time across several exercises in a workout and the efficiency of EMOM becomes more clear.
EMOM for Conditioning
EMOM gained more recent popularity due to its frequent appearances in CrossFit workouts. Because EMOM may be seen as a type of interval training, it can be beneficial for cardiovascular health as well as fat loss. (4)(5)
EMOM is, fundamentally, alternating relatively short periods of high-intensity exercise with relatively short periods of rest. If you were running on a track or pedaling a bike, you’d consider that an interval workout. The stimuli and effects don’t change drastically just because you’re doing 10 kettlebell clean & presses or 15 burpees instead.
Sample EMOM Workouts
EMOM may sound like a cure-all technique that can deliver results for any lifter with any goal. That claim is a little hyperbolic, but not too far off.
Implementing EMOM sessions into your program, either as standalone workouts or incorporated into more traditional training, can be a game-changer. Here are a few effective ways to start using EMOM now.
- Power Clean: Two reps EMOM x 10 minutes.
- Squat: One rep EMOM x 12 minutes.
- Flat Bench Press: Two reps EMOM x eight minutes.
- Incline Dumbbell Press: Six reps EMOM x eight minutes.
- Pec-Deck Flye: 12 reps EMOM x five minutes.
- Push-Up: 5 reps E30S x five minutes.
15 total minutes of:
- Minute One: Goblet squat 10 reps
- Minute Two: Overhead press 15 reps
- Minute Three: Mountain climbers 20 reps
Just One Minute
The rule used to be “do a set, rest 90 seconds, do another set.” By flipping that on its head and removing a specific rest period, EMOM training takes you from resting passively to being actively involved for the entire workout, walking the line between uncomfortable fatigue and high-performance lifting. If you were ever curious how much self-discipline you really have, go find out how you handle yourself 14 minutes and 55 seconds into a 15-minute squat EMOM workout.
- Tufano JJ, Conlon JA, Nimphius S, Brown LE, Seitz LB, Williamson BD, Haff GG. Maintenance of Velocity and Power With Cluster Sets During High-Volume Back Squats. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2016 Oct;11(7):885-892. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2015-0602. Epub 2016 Aug 24. PMID: 26791936.
- González-Hernández JM, García-Ramos A, Castaño-Zambudio A, Capelo-Ramírez F, Marquez G, Boullosa D, Jiménez-Reyes P. Mechanical, Metabolic, and Perceptual Acute Responses to Different Set Configurations in Full Squat. J Strength Cond Res. 2020 Jun;34(6):1581-1590. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002117. PMID: 28700515.
- Schoenfeld, Brad J et al. “Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 51,1 (2019): 94-103. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001764
- Ito, Shigenori. “High-intensity interval training for health benefits and care of cardiac diseases – The key to an efficient exercise protocol.” World journal of cardiology vol. 11,7 (2019): 171-188. doi:10.4330/wjc.v11.i7.171
- Boutcher, Stephen H. “High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss.” Journal of obesity vol. 2011 (2011): 868305. doi:10.1155/2011/868305
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