What are EMOM workouts? Give it a try with this 20-minute routine

If you're a fan of HIIT workouts, EMOM exercises are worth a try.
Fitness trainer keeping time with woman doing dumbell push-ups
EMOM workouts challenge you to complete an exercise for a certain number of reps in less than 60 seconds.Westend61 / Getty Images/Westend61
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By Tiffany Ayuda

You already know that HIIT workouts are one of the most efficient ways to burn fat and build muscle in a short amount of time, but even training Tabata-style can turn into a rut if you’re not creating new challenges for your body. Enter: EMOM workouts. EMOMs are HIIT-style workouts, in which you alternate between short, intense bursts of exercise with complete rest. The caveat: the intervals are limited to one minute.

What are EMOM workouts, exactly?

An acronym for “every minute on the minute,” EMOM workouts challenge you to complete an exercise for a certain number of reps in less than 60 seconds.

An acronym for “every minute on the minute,” EMOM workouts challenge you to complete an exercise for a certain number of reps in less than 60 seconds. The remaining time within the minute serves as your recovery. The recovery time is crucial and you shouldn’t skip it. It helps your body reset and prepare for the next round of exercise. At the top of the next minute, you perform a different move.

“EMOMs are an effective style of training because it demands intense effort to gain any recovery within the allotted time,” explains Gerren Liles, Hyperwear athlete and Equinox master trainer. He adds that this structure allows people to get creative with their workouts and easily scale them to be more difficult as your fitness level increases.

The beauty of EMOM workouts is that you can personalize the programming and design it basically any way you’d like. You can tailor the number of reps, minutes and rounds to your fitness goals. EMOM workouts are also a great form ofmetabolic conditioning, which trains your body to use oxygen efficiently and revs up your metabolism. So if you’re training for a race or an athletic event, for instance, EMOMs are especially helpful for building power, speed and endurance.

As with any type of HIIT, EMOM workouts reset your metabolism to work at a higher rate during exercise. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), this results in EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), which leads your body to continue burning calories long after you stop working out. Talk about major weight-loss benefits!

What to know before you try an EMOM workout

If you’re taking a group fitness class that includes EMOM workouts, you can expect to do a variety of bodyweight, cardio and strength exercises each minute. The exercises are usually simple to follow so you can fire off rep after rep with good form, Liles says. You should be able to complete the number of reps within 30 to 40 seconds at most classes that offer EMOM workouts.

“In classes, you’ll likely alternate between different exercises each minute. Each minute will focus on a particular muscle group while allowing other muscle groups to rest,” Liles explains. For example, you could be doing eight push-ups for the first minute, eight squats the second minute, and eight bicycle crunches the third minute.

The exercises (and weight used) will be based on the goal of the workout — specifically, cardio, strength or endurance. Cardio-based EMOM workouts tend to have a higher rep range than strength ones because the amount of time needed to complete one rep is often minimal. Think about how much time it takes to do one jumping jack versus a squat with bicep curl. If the goal is to improve muscle endurance, Simon Lawson, a NASM-certified personal trainer and instructor at Fhitting Room, a HIIT studio in New York City, recommends lifting for more reps, which means lighter weights. But if you’re looking to increase overall strength, Liles says to use heavier weights and do fewer reps “because you do need to have adequate recovery when you are approaching maximal load.”

Regardless of the end goal, the key is to work as efficiently as you can with great form and allow yourself to rest the remaining time in each rounds' minute. You don’t ever want to sacrifice form for speed. Think quality over quantity, Liles says. In fact, moving through reps at a leisurely pace or rushing through them without proper form are the most common mistakes people make with EMOM workouts.

For cardio-based EMOM workouts, Liles says you want to make sure the work-to-rest ratio is 1:1 (30 seconds on, 30 seconds off) or close to 2:1 (40 seconds on, 20 seconds off), especially if you’re alternating between exercises that involve different muscle groups, like squat jumps followed by plank with shoulder taps. “If you’re doing a purely strength workout, similar rules apply. But keep in mind the weights being used and if the exercises use the same or different muscle groups,” Liles explains. You don't want to move too fast with a heavy load and risk injury, he adds.

If you’re finding it difficult to get enough rest between exercises in a class, don’t be afraid to decrease the reps or modify the exercise to your fitness level. Not sure how many reps you can complete? For beginners or those just getting back into a fitness routine, Liles recommends doing a quick test before starting the workout to see how many reps of each move you can complete in 15 seconds. “This way, once you get started, you can continue on and not course-correct. As you get tired, you’ll likely slow down and need more time to complete each set,” Liles says.

Who shouldn’t try EMOM workouts?

A word of caution: If you’ve been leading a sedentary lifestyle and are new to exercise completely, EMOM workouts might not be a good route to follow right now.

“Because most training happens in the heart and joints, you need to be able to sustain a workout that leaves you out of breath, and people with diabetes or heart disease generally have been sedentary so working at a high intensity isn’t something they should start doing right away,” explainsBen Levine, MD, Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, a collaboration between UT Southwestern and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

“Most people are better off doing aerobic exercise at a moderate intensity instead of the high intensity that EMOM workouts demand,” Dr. Levine says. “Everyone has different kinesthetics and biomechanic abilities, and working out in intervals isn’t magic. Meeting the minimum guidelines for exercise is more important,” he says. (FYI,current exercise guidelines are 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week.)

However, Levine says working out in intervals is great for people who have certain performance goals. “Working out 30 seconds to no more than one minute at maximal effort trains different energy systems, and this might be good for people who are training for something,” he says.

Levine recommends doing intervals that follow the4-by-4 Norwegian interval workout, in which you do four minutes of exercise at 95 percent max capacity and follow it up with three minutes of recovery for four rounds. “It’s a powerful way to build endurance and increase speed,” he says.

What an EMOM workout looks like

Many trainers will use EMOM workouts as a finisher in group classes, but you can also use them to squeeze in a little sweat sesh when you’re pinched for time. The beauty of EMOM workouts is that you don’t need a lot of time to do them. You can have EMOM workouts that are anywhere from four to 20 minutes.

Ready to give EMOMs a try? Check out these 20-minute EMOM workouts designed by Liles. Repeat each 5-minute EMOM four times for a total of 20 minutes. To kick things up a notch, you can hold a forearm plank as active recovery between each move for 10 seconds. This gives you enough time to get into position for the next exercise.

Beginner EMOM workout:

  • Minute 1: 8-10 Dumbbell squats
  • Minute 2: 8-10 Push-Ups (modify on the knees if you prefer)
  • Minute 3: 8-10 Plank rows
  • Minute 4: 8-10 Squat jumps
  • Minute 5: 8-10 Sit-ups

Intermediate to Advanced EMOM workout

  • Minute 1: 15 Dumbbell squats
  • Minute 2: 10 Pushups with renegade row (right then left)
  • Minute 3: 15 Squat jumps
  • Minute 4: 15 Sit-ups
  • Minute 5: 10 Burpees

At the end of each EMOM workout, Liles recommends making a note of the time it took for you to complete each exercise. This gives you a sense of whether you need to scale back or tack on more reps, as well as dial down or up the intensity. For example, if you complete eight reps of an exercise with more than 30 seconds to recover and you feel like you can be further challenged, you can try adding two to four more reps the next round. Again, just be sure you are completing the exercises with proper form and aren’t rushing through them.

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