Thoughts on Strength & Conditioning: Introducing EMOM sets

1 Introduction

EMOM is an acronym for „every minute, on the minute“ and describes a certain way to organize a strength training session. Upon each full minute, the athlete performs a prescribed, usually low, number of repetitions of a strength exercise. Short rest periods increase the cardiovascular demand of such sessions and directly affect the athlete’s hormonal situation. Therefore, EMOM training can be effectively used as a conditioning tool. However, EMOM style training may offer additional benefits apart from cardiovascular conditioning.

From a neuro-muscular point of view, limiting the number of repetitions per set and keeping sets clearly sub-maximal may be beneficial, as fatigue can impair movement quality and even spinal stability [GRSW2004]. While fatigue may not lessen the effects of motor learning [ALDE1965, CARR1969], it might well lead to compensatory movements, less-than-optimal joint mechanics and hence, a greater degree of wear-and-tear. Especially in an athletic population such as fighters, who regularly deal with varying degrees of strains and injuries, closely monitoring movement quality and ergonomics intuitively makes sense.

Power is defined as the product of Force x Velocity. It is our hypothesis that in submaximal sets, the average power output across all repetitions is higher than with maximally fatiguing sets. We suspect this due to two main reasons. For one, athletes are in a more recovered state at the onset of a new working set if the previous set was sub-maximal. Second, fatigue accumulates over the set and at the same load, more repetitions will inevitably lead to a higher degree of fatigue. In either case, we suspect concentric speeds to decrease with increasing fatigue, hence leading to a lower power output. 

2 Related Work

Rest intervals, load (relative intensity) and volume, amongs other factors, determine a workout’s effect and can be manipulated to yield the desired result. In the following Sections, we present a short and by no means complete review of the state-of-the-art on those aspects.

2.1 Effects of Rest Intervals

In multi-set strength programs, the inter-set rest period dictates the performance during subsequent sets. Ratamess at el. [RAT+2007] state that „Replenishment of the ATP-phosphocreatine (CP) system, buVering of H+ from glycolytic energy metabolism, and removal of lactate occur during the recovery period“ [RAT+2007].

Previous studies have investigated the effects of different rest intervals. Kraemer et al. [KRA+1987] looked at the structural differences between powerlifting (PL) and bodybuilding (BB) training. The BB group trained using a 6 – 12 repetition maximum (RM), with a 10 – 90s rest in between sets. On the other hand, the PL group trained using a 1 – 8 RM, with a 120 – 420s rest in between sets. The authors found that training volume, defined as sets x repetitions per set x weight was significantly higher in the bodybuilding group.

Larson and Potteiger [LAPO1997] compared three different rest intervals between multiple squat bouts. They had athletes perform four sets of squats at 85% 10 RM to voluntary concentric failure. The first group of athletes had a fixed, three minute rest period in between sets. The second group rested until their heart rate dropped under 60% of their maximal heart rate (HRMax), as estimated from their age. Finally, the third group had a 1:3 work to rest ratio, i.e., they rested three times as long as it took them to complete the set. No statistically significance was found between the groups regading the number of repetitions that could be performed in each set. The authors conclude that „this indicates that shorter rest intervals such as those used in the 1:3 W/R recover condition would benefit athletes seeking to maximize their time in the weight room. Those who might benefit most from a 1:3 work:rest protocol include athletes whose sports allow limited recovery time.“

Rahimi et al. [RAH+2010] compare the effect of three different rest periods on the acute
hormonal responses to resistance exercise. The authors recommended that „short rest periods can be
used to stimulate hypertrophy and that long rest periods are used to maximize strength gains“ [RAH+2010]. They explain that the increased muscle hypertrophy that occurs with short rest periods is partly due to an increase in serum growth hormone (GH) levels.

De Salle et al. [SAL+2009] review the literature with regards to  rest interval between sets for targeting specific training outcomes. Not surprisingly, the authors found that for repeated maximal strength assessments, „resting 3–5 minutes between sets may allow for maintenance of force and power production over multiple sets and repetitions“ [SAL+2009]. Also, when training for muscluar strength, „resting for > 3 minutes might be advantageous to accumulate a higher training volume while also maintaining the intensity of the load lifted“. It is important to note that most, if not all of the reviewed studies take the working sets to voluntary concetric failure. Therefore,  The authors add that „for any intensity or objective in strength training, the rest interval length may vary when sets are not performed to concentric failure“.

In a recent meta-study, Grgic et al. [GRG+2017] specifically investigate the influence of long (>60 sec) vs short (<60 sec) rest intervals and attribute this finding to the higher total volume that is made possible by resting longer. They further conclude that "When the exertion is maximal or near maximal, a longer rest interval may be necessary to maintain the level of performance. By contrast, a sub-maximal exertion may allow training with shorter rest intervals" [GRG+2017].

2.2 Effects of different strength training intensities

Campos et al. compared the outcomes of three different resistance-training regimens with regards to the relative intensity and rest periods. All groups performed multiple sets of different strength exercises to voluntary concentric failure. The high intensity group performed four sets of three to five repetitions, with a the minute rest in between sets. The moderate intensity group performed three sets of nine to eleven repetitions, with a two minute rest in between sets. Finally, the low intensity group performed two sets of 20 – 28 repetitions, with a one minute rest in between sets. The authors then investigated the effect on maximal strength after the training intervention. Not surprisingly, they found the strength gains to be highest for the high intensity group and lowest for the low intensity group.

Fröhlich et al. [FRO+2002] investigated the effects of fixed intensity (FI) versus fixed repetitions (FR) across multiple sets of strength exercises. Athletes performed six sets of the bench press, separated by three minute rest intervals between sets. The FI group performed all sets at the same intensity (i.e., weight) and was instructed to perform as many repetitions as possible on each set. On the other hand, for the FR group, intensities were decreased from set to set such that the athlete was able to constantly perform eight repetitions. The authors found that the FR group performed significantly more mechanical work during the training session and concluded that this type of training potentially yields better results with regards to muscle hypertrophy („Geht man davon aus, dass das Muskeldickenwachstum durch hohe muskuläre Spannungen, hohe intrazelluläre H+-Konzentration und eine möglichst weitgehende Ausschöpfung der energiereichen Phosphate (ATP) bedingt wird, so wird bei einem Absinken der Wiederholungszahl über die Serien auf zwei bis drei, der eigentliche adaptive Reiz für das Muskelaufbautraining wahrscheinlich geringer ausfallen, als bei einem Hypertrophietraining mit konstanter Wiederholungszahl über die Serien“ [FRO+2002]).
Prilepin’s chart is based on observation on eastern-european weightlifters and gives a range of repetition per workout, with regards to the relative intensity. Less repetitions would likely fail to induce a sufficient training stimulus, while more repetitions can result in technical breakdown or even overtraining. Table 1 gives an overview of the optimal training volumes for different intensity zones.

Table 1: Prilepin’s chart, adapted from [KENN2003]
Percent Range Reps per Set Optimal Volume Volume Range
55 – 65% 3 – 6 24 18 – 30
70 – 75% 3 – 6 18 12 – 24
80 – 85% 2 – 4 15 10 – 20
90+% 1 – 2 7 4 – 10

As can be seen from Table 1,  no set is taken close to failure in Prilepin’s model. For example, the Von Holten diagram [OOS+2009] proposes that at 85% 1RM, seven repetitions can be performed. In Prilepin’s model, four repetitions represent the high repetition range at this relative intensity. Although it can be argued that Olympic lifting differs from more strength – as opposed to power – based lifts, Folland et al. [FOL+2002] conclude that „Fatigue and metabolite accumulation do not appear to be critical stimuli for strength gain, and resistance training can be effective without the severe discomfort and acute physical effort associated with fatiguing contractions“.

 2.3 Effects of different periodization models

Periodization means the division of the training process into smaller, more manageable periods. At the base of the training process is the individual training session. In traditional periodization models, multiple sessions are grouped together into a microcycle. For convenience, a week is usually used for this purpose. A mesocycle is comprised of multiple microcycles. Finally, the macrocycle is the longest considered period. For most athletes this is the training year, although the competitive schedule largely dictates the actual length. For TAGB athletes, where world championships are held every two years, a two-year macrocycle is probably more sensible than a one-year cycle. For olympic athletes, a four-year period makes sense. Rosenblatt [ROSE2014] outlines seven strategies to manipulate training units: a) linear, b) concurrent, c) conjugate, d) concentrated,  e) block, f) taper, and g) competition.

Linear periodization (LP) builds multiple mesocycles on top of each other. Usually, training volumes decrease and intensities increase within and across mesocycles. Non-linear periodization (NP) does not adhere to this model. Proponents of Block Periodization (BP) point out the limitations of LP, namely „1) an inability to provide multiple peak performances in many competitions; 2) the drawbacks of long lasting mixed training programs; 3) negative interactions of non- (or restrictedly) compatible workloads during traditional mixed (multi-targeted) training; 4) insufficient training stimulus (produced by mixed training) for progress in certain abilities among highly qualified athletes.“ [ISSU2008]. In a BP model, specialized blocks with a very narrow training focues are implemented. Issurin [ISSU2008] describes three types of blocks. In the accumulation block, basic abilities are developed. Intensities are lowest and volumes are highest. In the transformation block, event-specific motor and technical abilities are enhanced. Finally, the realization block focuses on precompetitive preparation. The BP model builds on the concept of residual training effects, i.e., „the retention of changes induced by systematic workloads beyond a certain time period after cessation of training“ [ISSU2008]. Different motor abilities are retained for different time periods before starting to decline. Table 2 gives an overview of the residual effects of different motor abilities, as presented by Issurin and Lustig [ISLU2004].

Table 2: residual training effect of different motor abilities, adapted from [ISLU2004]
Quality Residual effect in days
Max. Speed 5 ± 3
Strength Endurance 15 ± 5
Anarobic Glycolytic Endurance 18 ± 4
Aerobic Endurance 30 ± 5
Max. Strength 30 ± 5

Undulating periodization (UP) varies training intensities on a weekly base, daily undulating periodization (DUP) varies intensities on a daily base.

It is a generally agreed upon fact that any periodization model results in superior training results compared to non-periodized training. Different periodization models have been compared with regards to their training results.

Rhea et al. [RHE+2002] compared LP and DUP for strength gains. Twenty men were randomly assigned to either LP or DUP and tested for 1RM in the bench press and leg press pre-, mid-, and post-intervention. The LP group performed three sets at 8RM during weeks one through four, three sets at 6RM during weeks five through eight and three sets at 4RM during weeks nine through twelve. The DUP group also performed three sets. However, intensities were undulated on a weekly base. On Monday, intensities were at 8RM, on Wednesday, at 6RM and on Friday, at 4RM. The authors find that “ the DUP group experienced significantly greater percent gains in strength from T1 to T2 and from T1 to T3 (p , 0.05) compared with the LP group“ and conclude that „The results from this study support the use of DUP for maximizing strength compared with the traditional LP“ [RHE+2002].

Miranda et al. [MIR+2011] found similar results. They also tested 20 resistance trained men at baseline and after 12 weeks for their 1RM and 8RM in the leg press and bench press. One group followed an LP, the other one an DUP. The LP group performed all the exercises in the following manner: weeks 1 – 4: 3 x 8 – 10 RM, weeks 5 – 8: 3 x 6 – 8 RM, weeks 9 – 12: 3 x 4 – 6 RM. The DUP group, on the other hand, undulated intensities over the course of the microcyle, in the following manner: day 1:  3 x 8 – 10 RM, day 2: 3 x 6 – 8 RM, day 3: 3 x 4 – 6 RM.

    After the 12 week intervention period, the 1RM for the leg press increased by an average of 18% for the DUP group and 10% for the LP group. For the bench press, the 1RM increases are 15% and 16%, respectively. Although no statistically significant difference between groups was found, the authors conclude that „the DUP group showed greater size magnitudes than the LP group did for 1RM and 8RM loads in leg press and BP after 12 weeks of training“ [MIR+2011].

    Preston et al. [PRE+2009] used a larger saple size of 40 men and found similar results following a similar study design but using only two, rather than three intensities for the DUP. They conclude that „This as well as previous studies support that DUP is an effective training program to increase maximal strength in untrained and trained individuals. … DUP using 2 instead of 3 training zones or ranges per week as used in previous studies is an effective training program to increase maximal strength. Strength and conditioning professionals can use DUP programs to bring about optimal gains in maximal strength“ [PRE+2009].

    3 Conclusion

    In our gym, the athletics class lasts 60 minutes and encompasses a joint-by-joint [BOYL2012] based warm-up, one to three power exercises (e.g., Jumps, Sprints, Olympic weightlifting variations), a strength part and finally, conditioning. Hence,  time efficiency is of the utmost importance. In the strength part, exercises are paired together to maximize productivity in the weight room. Two such pairs are performed in each session. In the first pair, a lower body exercise (a variation of a deadlift, squat or lunge) is paired with a core specific exercise. The second pair is comprised of an upper body push exercise and an upper body pull exercise. Exercises of a pair are alternated for the prescribed number of sets.

    Based on Prilepin’s chart, we set up a three-day DUP. Day one is a moderate day and has the athlete perform sets of three repetitions at 82.5% 1RM. This intensity is in the high hypertophy range. Day two is a lighter day, geared more towards dynamic efforts and technical practice. On this day, the athlete performs sets of four repetitions at 75% 1RM. Finally, the third day is a high intensity day. The athlete performs sets of two repetitions, at 90% 1RM. All these intensities are consistent with prilepin’s chart. Volume can be built up over a four week block, beginning with five intervals (for 15, 20, and 10 repetitions for the moderate, light and heavy day, respectively) and adding one interval after two weeks (for 18, 24, and 12 repetitions for the moderate, light and heavy day, respectively). While the first two weeks still correspond to Prilepin’s chart, the second two weeks are slightly above the proposed numbers. It bears repetition that Prilepin’s chart applies to olympic weight-lifters, where each repetition is performed with maximal concentric bar speed and hence, CNS demands are higher than with slower, submaximal lifts such as and rear foot elevated split squats.

    For athletes whose goal is to maximize muscle hypertrophy, the last set of the pair is performed to voluntary concentric failure. The number of performed repetitions can then be used to establish weight increments or decrements for the next session of the same intensity, as proposed by Mann et al. [MAN+2010] or to establish a new projected 1RM via the repetition counting method.

    Due to the greater weight increase when going from one size to the next, Kettlebells do not offer the same degree of adjustability as barbells and dumbbells. Hence, a two intensity zone approach  as presented by Preston et al. [PRE+2009] is employed. For any given exercise where DUP is feasible, the correct Kettlebell sizes for a 1-5 RM and a 6-10 RM, respectively, are found. While these ranges are rather big, they still fall into the same training categories, i.e., the 1-5 RM range primarily promotes maximal strength gains via the improvement of intramuscular coordination, while the 6-10 RM range primarily promotes mass gains. The test is done in an AMRAP fashion and the number of performed repetitions is recorded. In the EMOM workout, 50% of these repetitions are performed in each set.

    Table 3 gives an overview of a real example of this periodization in the context of a two-day training split.Workout volume is increased over the course of eight weeks, beginning at six sets per exercise, with an increase of one set every other week. Exercises 1A and 1B are paired into a superset, i.e., 1A is performed on every odd minute, while 1B is performed on every even minute. After the prescribed number of sets is completed, the same system is followed for exercises 2A and 2B.

    Table 3: sample two-day DUP kettlebell and bodyweight program
    Intensity Day Volume Day
    1A) Single Leg Deadlift 72 Kg (2 x 36Kg) x 2 64 Kg (2 x 32Kg) x 4
    1B) Weighted Pull-Up BW + 12 Kg x 2 BW x 4
    2A) Weighted Push-Up BW + 30 Kg x 2 Single Arm PU Regression x 4
    2B) Gorilla Rows 36 Kg x 3 32 Kg x 5

    4 Discussion

    Introducing a EMOM-based DUP into our athletics classes makes the workout structure easier to follow.  Conversely, no single periodization model reigns supreme and inter-subject differences need to be taken into account. Over the course of the next months, we will test the decribed training model. In a subsequent step, we will perform a study to compare the completed training volume per session and mesocycle between this method and a traditional super-set method with maximal efforts and self-paced rest intervals.

    5 Literature

    [ALDE1965] Alderman, Richard B. „Influence of local fatigue on speed and accuracy in motor learning.“ Research Quarterly. American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation 36.2 (1965): 131-140.

    [BOYL2012] Boyle, Michael. Advances in functional training: training techniques for coaches, personal trainers and athletes. On Target Publications, 2012.

    [CAM+2002] Campos, Gerson E., et al. „Muscular adaptations in response to three different resistance-training regimens: specificity of repetition maximum training zones.“ European journal of applied physiology 88.1 (2002): 50-60.

    [CARR1969] Carron, Albert V. „Physical fatigue and motor learning.“ Research Quarterly. American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation 40.4 (1969): 682-686.

    [FOL+2002] Folland, Jonathan P., et al. „Fatigue is not a necessary stimulus for strength gains during resistance training.“ British journal of sports medicine 36.5 (2002): 370-373.

    [FRO+2002] Fröhlich, M., D. Schmidtbleicher, and E. Emrich. „Belastungssteuerung im Muskelaufbautraining-Belastungsnormativ Intensität versus Wiederholungszahl.“ Deutsche Zeitschrift für Sportmedizin 53.3 (2002): 79-83.

    [GRG+2017] Grgic, Jozo, et al. „The effects of short versus long inter-set rest intervals in resistance training on measures of muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review.“ European Journal of Sport Science 17.8 (2017): 983-993.

    [GRSW2004] Granata, Kevin P., Greg P. Slota, and Sara E. Wilson. „Influence of fatigue in neuromuscular control of spinal stability.“ Human factors 46.1 (2004): 81-91.

    [ISLU2004] Issurin, Vladimir, and Lustig G. Klassification. „Dauer und praktische Komponenten der Resteffekte von Training.“ Leistungsport 34.3 (2004): 55-9.

    [ISSU2008] Issurin, V. „Block periodization versus traditional training theory: a review.“ Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 48.1 (2008): 65.

    [JOLE2014] Joyce, David, and Dan Lewindon, eds. High-performance training for sports. Human Kinetics, 2014.

    [KENN2003] Kenn, Joe. The coach’s strength training playbook: featuring the Tier System. Coaches Choice, 2003.

    [KRA+1987] Kraemer, W. J., et al. „Physiologic responses to heavy-resistance exercise with very short rest periods.“ International journal of sports medicine 8.04 (1987): 247-252.

    [LAPO1997] Larson Jr, Gerald D., and Jeffrey A. Potteiger. „A Comparison of Three Different Rest Intervals Between Multiple Squat Bouts.“ The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 11.2 (1997): 115-118.

    [MAN+2010] Mann, J. Bryan, et al. „The effect of autoregulatory progressive resistance exercise vs. linear periodization on strength improvement in college athletes.“ The Journal of strength & conditioning research 24.7 (2010): 1718-1723.

    [MIR+2011] Miranda, Fabrício, et al. „Effects of linear vs. daily undulatory periodized resistance training on maximal and submaximal strength gains.“ The Journal of strength & conditioning research 25.7 (2011): 1824-1830.

    [OOS+2009] Oostdam, Nicolette, et al. „Design of FitFor2 study: the effects of an exercise program on insulin sensitivity and plasma glucose levels in pregnant women at high risk for gestational diabetes.“ BMC pregnancy and childbirth 9.1 (2009): 1.

    [PRE+2009] Prestes, Jonato, et al. „Comparison between linear and daily undulating periodized resistance training to increase strength.“ The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 23.9 (2009): 2437-2442.

    [RAT+2007] Ratamess, Nicholas A., et al. „The effect of rest interval length on metabolic responses to the bench press exercise.“ European journal of applied physiology 100.1 (2007): 1-17.

    [RAH+2010] Rahimi, Rahman, et al. „Effects of very short rest periods on hormonal responses to resistance exercise in men.“ The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 24.7 (2010): 1851-1859.

    [ROSE2014] Rosenblatt, Benjamin. „Planning a Performance Programme.“ High-Performance Training for Sports.

    [RHE+2002] Rhea, Matthew R., et al. „A comparison of linear and daily undulating periodized programs with equated volume and intensity for strength.“ The Journal of strength & conditioning research 16.2 (2002): 250-255

    [SAL+2009] de Salles, Belmiro Freitas, et al. „Rest interval between sets in strength training.“ Sports Medicine 39.9 (2009): 765-777.

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