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Training that Works: EMOM or Each Minute, on the minute

For the as long as I can remember I've liked to utilise volume, ie total number of repetitions as a primary tool for progress.

I've never been one for rushing up the load.

There are several volume based approaches that I really like, but one that has stuck with me for as long as I can remember is the EMOM or Each Minute, On the Minute, or as I prefer to call them, Minute Drills.

It goes like this:

Set your timer to sound an alarm every 60 seconds for anything between 10 and 20 minutes.

Each time the alarm sounds, do a set.

Continue until the required volume is achieved.

We use this in a number of ways depending on the athlete and the goal.

The two most valuable outcomes of Minute drills are for skill acquisition and for acute recovery practice.

Skill Acquisition:

When a new member joins our sessions and don't know how to use a Kettlebell, they need to learn. For many years this process has gone:

  1. Kettlebell Deadlift x 10

  2. Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift x 10

  3. "Pendulums" aka, sorta doing swings, but really just getting used to the rhythm of hinging in time with the bell

  4. Partner Swings with a partner pushing the kettlebell to emphasise the back swing

  5. Kettlebell Swings x 10 EMOM x 10 Minutes

And in the 15 years I've used this process, barring a handful of exceptions, people leave their first session with excellent swing technique and a rapid onset of hamstring DOMS!

Minute Drills for skill acquisition should last no more than 15-20 seconds, this means you get plenty of rest. Fatigue slows the learning process.

If we stretch this out and look at say a Deadlift for a more experienced lifter, this skill focus still holds true. Doing 1-3 reps of a Deadlift (or power clean) EMOM for 10+ minutes allows for a lot of work to get done. If we're using a fairly high weight, over 85%, maybe up to 95% with a really conditioned athlete, we're dialling in the start, we're dialling in the tension, we're dialling in the speed (are our rest periods standard across all sets? If yes, speed is consistent) and we're getting a conditioning aspect that will carry over into other aspects of their performance.

It's a high volume, high density training protocol that requires the athlete stay sharp and get sharper as they go. In fact, it's not uncommon for the lifting to feel easier, get faster/snappier after half a dozen or so minutes.

The theory here is the early sets have offered a potentiation effect that takes effect in later sets. It's theory, but I like it.

Acute Recovery Training

The ability to recover quickly is something that was drilled into me by Karate instructor back in my youth. The late great Sensei Jack Parker (e hated it when we called him Sensei, we'd all him that somedays just to wind him up!) advocated for interval shuttles when out running. Using lampposts as markers he'd have us alternate sprinting and jogging. It works a treat.

In the training room there's a shortage of lamposts..... and we have a greater variety of movements we can choose from, so enter the Minute Drills.

Pick 1-4 movements and do them as a circuit/giant set as quickly as possible. Ideally it takes less than or equal to 30 seconds to complete the exercises, leaving you 30+ seconds to recover and repeat the effort. The key here is in that little phrase "repeat the effort"

It's no point doing minute drills with if the effort dwindles as the sets go on. The easiest way to monitor this is to look at the clock to see how long is left after the last exercise, if it was 35 seconds left after the first set, it should be more or less the same in every set through to the end. If you notice the time reducing, meaning it's taking longer to finish the set, then you are done. Stop. You are now in the territory of diminishing returns and achieving results contrary to the goal of the exercise.

A classic Minute Drill set, which we use as part of our Bootcamp Program running in the mornings is:

1A: Kettlebell Swing x 4-6 1B: Push Up x 4-6 1C: Burpee x 4-6 EMOM x 10-12

This is a full body conditioner and always popular, the results after a few weeks speak for themselves.

Our Kettlebell specialists "enjoy" using Snatch.

Kettlebell Snatch x 8-12 reps EMOM x 10-16 minutes, alternate hands each set.

We use a lighter weight than their competition weight and encourage them to lift as fast as possible. If you're not highly proficient with Snatch, you're likely to tear up your hands, so use a "hard style" swing with one or both hands. The Snatch specialists love this as an "overspeed" session that helps them dial in technique, be more explosive and acclimatise to higher speed of movement.

A strength endurance style Minute Drill may be:

2-3 Deadlifts / Power Cleans and 3-6 Plyo Push Ups (or 2-3 one arm push ups per side)

This little pairing often leaves lads feeling like they could fight a Grizzly Bear!

The trick with the Acute Recovery based minute drills is that 30-40 second rest window. You have to wilfully recover, that means big exhales, shaking the muscles, physiological sighs, and of course, visualisation.

Why visualisation? Because we're training for a reason, you may be a combat athlete preparing for an event, so in your minds eye, each set represent a fight, each rest period is you getting ready for the next fight. Substitute "combat athlete" for rugby player and "fight" for phase of play Substitute "combat athlete" for whatever sport you wish

Final point before wrapping up here. Minute Drills are not about chasing fatigue. Yes they leave you temporarily exhausted, but that isn't the goal. The goal is to stimulate recover or to build repetitive strength. That point I made about consistency, that the recover time between sets not getting any shorter, that is critical. Once you start slowing down, you have done too much. If anything, the last set should be the best set.


Dave Hedges.

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