A lot of people have asked me how I use EMOM sets. So here are some of my thoughts on the subject:
To avoid any confusion it might be worth mentioning that EMOM means starting a set at the beginning of every new minute, not after 1 minute of rest.
As Glenn pointed out in his article, even as fatigue accumulates, the lifter still can make the lifts. The main reason might be that there is less antagonistic inhibition; the antagonists aren’t opposing the prime movers as much. The body often produces antagonistic co-contraction to protect the joints against primer movers that are too strong. As fatigue builds up the body can allow the prime movers to work without as much opposition, allowing for more efficiency.
Another important element from my experience working with Crossfit athletes and using a lot of EMOM work, when you do an EMOM you do not think, you don’t have time. All of your time is spent recovering and getting ready for the next lift.
I find that overthinking is the worst sin when trying to move big weights, especially in complex lifts. With the Olympic lifts for example, overthinking can kill your timing and coordination, with squats and deads is can psych you out. So EMOMs by preventing overthinking help you perform with better technique and confidence. They also help you automatize technique better because you learn by feel rather than by analysis.
EMOMs also offer a great benefit when it comes to stimulating positive adaptations to the motor units. While you build up less fatigue from 10 EMOM reps than from 2 sets of 5 reps for example, you do create some fatigue on every rep. And that fatigue is really targeted only on the faster twitch fibers.
As Dr.Zatsiorsky mentions “a muscle fiber that is recruited but not fatigued is not trained”. So EMOMs, as opposed to doing a bunch of singles or doubles with a lot of rest create a greater fatigue accumulation specifically in the faster twitch fibers. Which means that you will selectively strengthen these fibers.
EMOM singles or doubles can thus have a much greater impact on strength gain and hypertrophy than doing singles, doubles or even triples with full rest between sets.
Another element that is not often mentioned is the firing rate of the muscle fibers. See you can increase the force produced by a muscle two ways: by recruiting more muscle fibers and by making those fibers twitch at a faster rate (they will fire more often per unit of time). Full muscle fiber recruitment (the fullest you can reach) is achieved at 80% of your maximum. When you lift heavier weights your only option is to increase the firing rate of the muscle fibers. That’s one of the reasons why someone might look great lifting 80% weights but everything falls apart at 90%.
With EMOMs the fatigue that accumulates from set to set forces the body to increase firing rate to compensate for the fatigued muscle fibers. So after 6-8 sets you will have a much higher firing rate than in the first few sets. This is because that’s the only way to keep making the lift in the fatigued state!
There are only two ways to really train firing rate: lifting weights in the 90-100% zone or doing reps with 80-85% in a state of partial fatigue. Obviously EMOMs work great for the second option.
Now I believe that the best load to use with EMOMs is between 75 and 85%. My most common weight being 80% as this is the load where you are recruiting all of your recruitable fibers from the first rep. It is the best percentage to train your strength using EMOMs.
I normally do sets of 3 reps on pressing movements and 2 reps on the Olympic lifts. squats and deadlifts. And I normally use 8 to 12 minutes EMOMs.