Alternating EMOMs for Small Group Training
By Sarah Rippel
It’s no secret that I love the EMOM format for conditioning work in a group training setting. EMOM stands for “every minute on the minute,” and for whatever reason it’s become the “Tabata” of late. EMOMs are popular these days, but there’s really no magic to the concept. It’s a straightforward format that works well.
Everyone is doing EMOMs involving all sorts of exercises! However, not everyone is paying attention to how these workouts are structured. I feel there is one important aspect that needs to be emphasized if you wish to program EMOM workouts that deliver optimal results.
EMOMs work well in a group training environment IF they are structured in a manner that allows for sufficient rest intervals. In an EMOM, the work interval begins at the top of the minute. The rest interval begins once the work is done and lasts until the top of the next minute. Simple, right? It is, I mean, you basically plug in your desired exercises & start the clock. However, there should be a little more to it than that.
I believe there needs to be more attention paid to the work: rest ratio in EMOM workouts used in a group training setting. The goal of the work interval in an EMOM is to perform the required work in an all-out manner (safely, of course). Knowing that there is a rest interval that follows each bout of intensity gives exercisers peace of mind. Everyone loves those rest intervals, right?! It’s easy to focus on the work interval, however no one really seems to be paying attention to how much rest is being taken after this all-out work. I do not feel it is optimal to program EMOM workouts using high-intensity exercises coupled with a negative work-to-rest ratio in a group training environment.
In other words, if you have people performing 40 seconds of high intensity work in an EMOM, that leaves them with 20 seconds of rest. This is a negative work-to-rest ratio and it can be notated as 2:1. Chances are, most of your clients will not be able to keep up with the intensity required for this level of work. They are going to be huffing and puffing while their heart rates stay sky-high. Sounds like a nightmare to me! Remember, we are working with everyday people, NOT athletes training for a specific event that may require performing at a high level under excessive fatigue.
What do I suggest? Keeping the work-to-rest ratio at 1:1. This means roughly 30s of work and 30s of rest. If you would like to incorporate a longer work interval of 40s, I would program less-intense movements to be completed in those work intervals. Another option would be to alternate a higher-intensity exercise for the first minute with one that is less intense for the second minute.
In programming our current training block, I have designed conditioning pieces that are to be completed at the end of workouts. These pieces use exercises that mirror the movement patterns we used in the strength training portion of the workout. In addition, most of these conditioning pieces last 8-12 minutes. I do program longer workouts (up to 20 minutes) but prioritize the shorter ones.
I am always testing and measuring things in the gym with my clients. It is no different with my small groups. The first time we go through a conditioning workout, I am observing my clients while also making notes regarding length of work/rest intervals & intensity level. In the moment, I can modify a workout based on their feedback and what I am observing. If we need to cut back on reps to fit a desired work interval, I will tweak that on the fly and see how they feel.
Not too long ago, I programmed a new alternating EMOM that paired a higher-intensity movement with a core stabilization exercise. Even minutes were 10 wall balls followed immediately by a stability ball plank for 20s. Odd minutes were 15 kettlebell swings followed immediately by a hollow hold for 20s. I explained the workout, everyone gathered their equipment & found their places, and the timer started. Almost immediately I realized that this workout was going to be a disaster if I didn’t change a few things.
For one, I was reminded of just how efficient and powerful keeping it simple always proves to be. Expecting them to transition quickly between the wall balls and positioning themselves on stability balls for the 20s plank was crazy. In addition, we had to worry about wrangling stability balls that had gone astray! It would have been chaos had I not decided in that moment to do away with the balls and just use a regular ol’ plank on the floor.
The ball problem was easily solved, however, my ladies were gasping for breath only two minutes into the workout and I realized that 15 swings was an excessive amount. I changed this to 10 reps for the remaining rounds, which was perfect because this allowed for roughly 20s of work, just as with the wall balls.
My thought process in pairing up the exercises was to have a short work interval immediately followed by a static core exercise. I wanted a format that would lengthen the work interval just a bit while allowing the intensity to decrease with time. In executing the core exercises immediately following the wall balls and swings, I realized that requiring my clients to look at the clock and make note of when a 20s hold was completed was unrealistic. There was just too much going on! In addition, they were taking 5-10s to get into position for the core exercises, therefore they were only able to rest 10s in those initial rounds.
The original format would have been a disaster! If I had just sat there while allowing my clients to go through it without adapting it based on their performance and feedback, they have completed a workout that was too intense and stressful for them to get anything positive out of it. In addition, I feel I would have failed miserably as an effective coach.
Here is a screenshot of that workout, the modifications, and my notes. During workouts, I jot my notes down on a giant whiteboard and transfer them over to Evernote/spreadsheet when we are done. I have said it before and I will say it a thousand times again – if you are not keeping detailed records of your training sessions, you are doing your clients a disservice as well as yourself. I can constantly upgrade my training system based on the modifications and notes I make every single time a client trains with me. If I didn’t take notes, there’s no way I would be able to sit down at the end of a long workday and recall the important aspects of every training session I did that day. If you are wanting to continually level-up your training experience and deliver results, you simply must take notes.
There is no point in having our clients do things if we are not sure if they are eliciting a positive response. I know that if my clients are improving, this will be reflected in their overall attitude I observe every time they train. In addition, this will be reflected in their strength levels as well as their performance on repeated workouts such as the EMOMs I am sharing in this article. This is nothing new of course, but it is important to bring up. I am in a mindset where I am approaching every workout with the goal of discovering more “stuff” that can be used to help other fit pros program better workouts. It can be easy to become complacent & assume that everything is going great…but you cannot know for sure unless you are testing and retesting your strategies! Refuse to be the trainer who makes a habit of just throwing sh*t at the wall and hoping it sticks. Your clients deserve better!
12 Minute Alternating EMOM 1:
Even Minutes: 10 Wall Balls immediately followed by Plank Variation until the 40s mark
Odd Minutes: 10 KB Swings immediately followed by Hollow Hold Variation until the 40s mark
*Goal of 20s higher intensity work paired with lower intensity for a total of 40s per round!
12 Minute Alternating EMOM 2:
Minute 1: 10 Battle Rope Burpee Slams
Minute 2: 12 KB Figure 8 to a Hold (total)
Minute 3: 15-20 KB Swings
*Goal of 30-35s work with 25-30s rest per round!
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