EMOM Training for Tactical Athletes


EMOM training—Every Minute on the Minute training—has long been popular with tactical athletes. I’ve had quite a bit of success utilizing EMOMs at the appropriate time with a wide variety of strength and endurance athletes, regardless of skill level or training experience. In this post, I outline four flavors of EMOM training.

EMOM for Tactical Athletes: An Overview

The basic premise of EMOM training is exactly as it sounds: at the start of every minute, you complete a prescribed action or series of actions. Once that prescription is complete, you rest for whatever time is left until the start of the next minute. This continues for a set amount of time. One of the most attractive features of EMOM training from a tactical athlete perspective is the absolute control over the time domain. In considering the flow of a session that I’m creating for an athlete, I find it helpful to know exactly how long a piece of work will last.

When used intelligently and with purpose, EMOMs can be an important training tool for tactical athletes. However, there are many misconceptions surrounding this approach that can distract from the real goal of a training session. The following EMOM options should steer you away from creating random chaos.

EMOM Option 1: Skill Work

My primary reason for including EMOMs in training sessions for tactical athletes is skill development. Deciding from the outset that I want an athlete to spend 15 minutes working on a hang power clean lends itself very nicely to utilizing an EMOM format. First, there is an element of rest between each rep. Second, EMOMs create an inherent sense of excitement due to the absolute focus required. Third, EMOMs can facilitate a scaffolding effect of skill acquisition: I can add pieces to the skill with each additional minute without overly taxing an athlete. For example, minute 1: high hang clean, minute 2: hang power clean, minute 3: power clean, etc.

A rule of thumb that I have with skill-based EMOMs is that I prefer for the rest between efforts to take longer than the effort itself. Say I want a tactical athlete to complete a certain number of kettlebell snatches: the effort should take 10 seconds, leaving 50 seconds for rest. The exception to this rule is if I specifically want fatigue to play a role in skill management—an exception that comes into effect only in the later stages of skill development.

Skill Work Example

10-minute EMOM:
3x hang power cleans
Start at 95 pounds and add 5 pounds each minute.

EMOM Option 2: Density Training

Density training is an approach where more work is progressively added into a fixed time period. That definition alone should explain why the EMOM format is an excellent candidate for this type of training. In the CrossFit world this is often understood to mean “Death By,” in which one or more reps are added each minute until the athlete literally cannot complete the amount of work in the given time frame. When appropriate, this Death By approach is quite useful for eliciting maximal effort from athletes.

With tactical athletes I prefer to use a density approach in a sport-specific training cycle to figure out what sort of capacity an athlete has for progressively more work. It is important to begin this type of progression with a manageable volume, otherwise the piece may not last long at all. One method I like to use is to start at a volume that almost fools the athlete into thinking this will be an easy prescription, only for them to realize a few minutes down the road that they’re in for a pretty serious effort.

Density Training Example

10-minute EMOM:
1x hang power clean (95 pounds)
Add 1x HPC each minute until 10 minutes.

“Death By”
EMOM 1x hang power clean (95 pounds)
Add 1x HPC each minute until failure.

EMOM Option 3: Interval Training

When the interval distance allows for it, using an EMOM format can be an excellent tool for keeping athletes engaged in anaerobic or aerobic training. Some flexibility may be required here, however, as a single minute may not be enough rest to elicit the appropriate work effort. Don’t be afraid to go every two minutes, every three minutes, etc. This is especially true for anaerobic training, where the work-to-rest ratio can be as high as 1:15. (The work-to-rest ratio for aerobic training is closer to 1:1.)

When structured appropriately, an interval-style EMOM is great for maintaining an athlete’s focus and emphasizing the importance of rest. The athlete learns to maximize it in order to perform at the appropriate level for subsequent intervals.

Interval Training Example

10-minute EMOM:
30-second assault bike
The goal is to hit the same number of calories on each 30-second effort.

EMOM x 10 rounds:
30-second max effort assault bike
Each round needs to be at 120 percent effort.

Training notes: With aerobic training, I’m more concerned with sustainability. This automatically lowers the pace for the athlete, as the goal is to hit the same number of calories each round with minimal rest. With anaerobic training, although there should still be an element of sustainability, I’m more concerned with threshold-type work. Given the longer rests between efforts, a higher output is expected.

Bonus EMOM Option: Stress-Induced Resistance Training

I’m not sure if I made up this approach, or if the name even makes sense, but either way it is a useful option for adding a bit of stress to your resistance training. In traditional resistance training (e.g., 3×5 back squat), the expectation is that the athlete will rest 3–5 minutes between each set. Sometimes this is specifically prescribed and sometimes it happens naturally. What I’ve noticed is that by adding an element of EMOM to this situation, I can introduce a bit more stress through the implied time cap.

Here’s what a traditional 3×5 might look like using this format:

Every 4 minutes for 3 rounds, complete 5x back squats @ 2-1-1-1 tempo

At a tempo of 2-1-1-1, five squats should take 25 seconds. That leaves a rest break of 3 minutes and 35 seconds—arguably the same amount of time the athlete would rest anyway. What you’ll see happen, though, is that the athlete will report feeling more rushed simply because I’ve now taken away their self-prescribed rest. It’s a useful tool in a sport-specific/pre-deployment cycle to determine if the athlete truly has mastered a particular weight or percentage of their one-rep max.

Closing Thoughts

When the timing is right and the purpose is sound, EMOM training can be a highly effective tool for tactical athletes targeting a variety of goals. I recommend starting with low-level skills to learn the intricacies of task timing as well as work-to-rest balance. From there, play with density training and intervals to sharpen the spear in terms of sports-specific work capacity. Finally, if the opportunity presents itself, examine the subjective changes that occur in the look and feel of the training when you introduce EMOMs into your resistance prescriptions. Get creative and have fun with the process.

-by Drew Hammond, Uphill Athlete Director of Tactical Athletes

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