The Magic of the EMOM – and keeping fit after 40

Don-t-count-the-minutes-make-every-minute-countI’m 44 years old and still like to think of myself as young and strong (I have a beautiful daughter and still need to be young and strong!). And that is hopefully the case for most of us 40+’ers still keen on being fit and healthy.

It’s not always easy though, to tailor whatever advice is out there to your specific needs. Take high-intensity training for example. For the last couple of years high-intensity training was and probably still is, the preferred training method for getting the best results in the shortest period of time. The advantage of going flat-out is well documented and of particular interest is the fact that it burns a lot of calories quickly.

There are a few pitfalls to consider before embarking on a high-intensity training regime and the first is your level of fitness and your ability to master the fundamental movements. If you’re unfit (overweight) and have poor mobility, you should sacrifice intensity and prioritize form. In other words, don’t ramp up the intensity if your form is going to go for a ball of crap. You’ll likely end up hurting yourself.

Secondly, there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to fitness and health. Just because high-intensity worked for someone else, following that exact same regime is not necessarily going to work for you. Your body will respond differently to high intensity training than a 20 year-old for example. You’ll require different recovery protocols than an elite athlete and you’ll probably need to ease into it gently.

A third thing to consider is that high-intensity training is not only physically demanding, it also takes its toll mentally. Pushing yourself into that ‘deep, dark place’ during every workout will drain away your motivation to get up and repeat the process. If workouts are no longer fun odds are that you’re going to quit sooner rather than later.

Enter the EMOM – an abbreviation for every minute on the minute. It is a CrossFit staple and something I find more and more useful every day. It works like this. At the start of each minute you perform a set number of repetitions of a particular exercise and after that you rest for the remainder of that minute and so on…

EMOMs allow you to be creative in a number of ways. Firstly you can choose a time domain suitable to your level of fitness. Just starting out you can for example kick off with a short and sweet six minute EMOM of 8 air squats and 8 sit-ups. By the end of six minutes you would have banked 48 reps (24 squats and 24 sit-ups), meaning you just lapped the guy on the couch.

You control the intensity. Say you’ve breezed through your 6 minute EMOM, the next time you could up the reps and up the minutes. Going for say, an 8 minute EMOM of 12 air squats and 12 sit-ups. Equating to double the number of reps (96) of your previous workout, taking you only two more minutes. You get the idea.

You can easily keep tab on your progress. Making progress is a great motivator for sustaining effort. By adding minutes and reps you’ll be able to get more and more work done in a measurable period of time. You can always add weight and keep reps and time the same for exercises performed with ‘objects’. EMOMs make it easy to measure things such as reps performed, training time, weight etc. Again, you get the idea.

And then there’s the mental side. Compare having to do 50 pull-ups followed by 50 burpees for time, with having to do a 10 minute EMOM of 10 pull-ups (odds) and 10 burpees (evens). Most people can’t do 20 unbroken pull-ups let alone 50. Nobody will be licking their lips for having to grind through 50 burpees. To put it bluntly, workout 1 sucks while workout 2 seems doable. Doable because its broken up into bite-size chunks. I’ll jump up for 10 pull-ups knowing that it’ll probably take me 20 seconds thereby rewarding me with 40 seconds of rest before having to do it again. I’ll be much less enthusiastic about jumping up for 50 pull-ups knowing full well that I’ll probably fatigue by rep 20, fall down from the bar, not likely to be jumping up to complete the reps anytime soon. Go ask any guru how to eat an elephant and they’ll tell you ‘one bite at a time’. EMOMs make a seemingly impossible task seem manageable and if you perceive something to be manageable you’ll be up for it.

Truth be told, the possibilities are endless. You can do a different exercise every minute (on the minute), or you can do the same exercise for every minute. You can take a 5 minute breather between EMOMs and do a couple of EMOMs thereby burning a significant number of calories in a relatively short period of time. Training in, or with EMOMs are highly productive and from an injury perspective much safer than just going for it until you drop. It’s even fun.

Next time you’re dreading the prospect of completing a challenging workout, set the timer and work your way through it minute by minute and get it done.

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