The Simple Elegance of the EMOM
It's easy to write EMOM off as just another CrossFit gimmick. In reality, EMOM work—short for Every Minute On the Minute—is pure programming gold, offering a simple, flexible, and effective structure for conditioning work.
Don't Be Overwhelmed
Maybe it's a collective bias towards strength-training, or maybe it's the subtlety of the science involved. Whatever the reason, writing conditioning programs seems to be a stumbling block for an awful lot of up-and-coming trainers. If that's you, I'm here with some good news: it doesn't need to be that complicated!
I think we're all in agreement that most of our clients need to squat and hinge, and probably push and pull as well. Sometimes it should be heavy, sometimes they should do more reps, but in general it should be challenging enough to evoke a stress response and drive an adaptation. And for most of those clients—even those at a fairly high level—"heavy" is good enough; we don't always need the precision of percentage-based work. As long as we're varying the stressor and doing so with an eye towards the big picture we're doing our job.
The same is true of conditioning work. An intelligent approach to periodization probably matters more than a specific protocol. EMOM work is far from the only approach available to us, but it does offer a certain streamlined simplicity that keeps the focus where it needs to be: on getting someone to do some work.
What it Is
To ensure we're all on the same page, let's review what an EMOM workout looks like. At the top of each minute the client or athlete completes a particular exercise for the prescribed reps or distance. When they've finished, they rest for the remainder of the minute. The beginning of the second minute has them back at work, whether with the same exercise or a new one. This continues for a predetermined number of total rounds.
It's that simple. And that's reason number one why I like it.
Simplicity. I told you, its reason number one. And because it's so simple, that's all I'll say on this point.
Self Regulating. EMOM workouts are sneaky; you race through the prescribed reps in order to get a few extra seconds of rest, only to find you need it that much more, or maybe you get caught slacking a bit on one round and find you're up against the next minute almost immediately. Regardless, there's nowhere to hide.
Hard to Cheat. When writing an EMOM workout, the total workload is pre-determined. The volume, distance, and total stress isn't up for debate, nor is the time allotted to complete it.
The Clock is the Enemy. Not only is the clock the bad guy, it also provides a proxy for competition, and nothing drives effort like competition. Beating the clock is a real thing, and inanimate object or not, people work harder when up against an opponent than when asked to "give it 100%".
No Extra Equipment. Heart-rate driven rest periods may be my single favorite method of regulating a conditioning workout, but there are times and situations where that's not feasible. The only equipment required for an EMOM is a clock, and you'd be hard pressed to find yourself without one of those.
Easy To Manage. Aside from exercise selection, the work-to-rest ratio of a given conditioning workout may be the single most important variable, as it determines the energy systems and qualities being trained. While an EMOM workout isn't explicitly written with this in mind, it certainly can and probably should be. Using a minute as our metaphorical pie, determining work-to-rest ratios is as simple as trying to prescribe something that uses up a given fraction of the minute. 10 pushups? That takes maybe 15 seconds, giving you a 1:3 work-to-rest ratio. You get the idea.
A Virtual Finish Line. Conditioning work can be as hard on the mind as it is on the body. Borderline maxed-out heart rates combined with accumulating fatigue can put you in a pretty dark place. While EMOM work can be tough, there's at least a little solace in knowing when and where the pain comes to an end (as well as when it starts up again).
Don't Be Stupid
As much as I like structuring some of my workouts around the EMOM protocol, it's not without its potential downside. An awful lot of the criticism leveled at CrossFit can be traced back to the overly randomized approach to programming found in some boxes. As simple as writing an EMOM workout can be, doing it well does take a certain amount of thought. Using movements that are too heavy, too ballistic/explosive, take too long and leave athletes with too little rest, or require too much skill is a sure-fire way to up the odds of injury.
When in doubt, try it out.
Don't Stop Exploring
I use EMOM work fairly regularly, but it's not the only tool on my belt. Do some digging, do some learning, and do some playing. And if you could use some help along the way in the form of programming or mentorship, I'd love to talk.