EMOM vs Timed Circuits: The Best Ways for Athletes to Burn Fat

Two ways athletes can burn fat while maintaining muscle.

When you’re trying to lean out or just looking to drop a few pounds, a lot of people head for the cardio machines and not the weights.

However, with a few slight programming tweaks — like shortening your rest periods between exercises and exercising for time instead of counting reps — you can get the muscle preserving benefits of strength training combined with the fat loss benefits of high intensity interval training.

tired athlete

Why High Intensity Is Good for Fat Loss

High intensity training increases your demand for oxygen not only during training, but once you’ve finished as well. This is known as Excess Post Oxygen Consumption or EPOC.

EPOC is the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to homeostasis, and research suggests that increasing your EPOC can lead to your body burning more calories than it would have otherwise, long after you’ve finished your training. A 2017 study by Schleppenbach et al, for example, showed that there was a significantly higher caloric expenditure because of EPOC by those people who trained using speed interval training or high intensity interval training.(1)

For every liter of oxygen you breathe in to recover, you burn 5 calories. By increasing your intensity and reducing your rest periods between exercises, your O2 requirements increase during and after your routine, only enhancing your fat loss efforts. Suck in the air and burn fat.

[Combine your efforts in our guide to eating for fat loss!]

2 Types of Timed Sets for Fat Loss

These involve doing an exercise for a certain amount of time or completing the programmed reps in a certain amount of time.

Timed sets will keep you accountable to exercising for doing a certain amount of reps within a certain amount of time, and by holding yourself accountable and using short rest periods, it will increase your muscles’ time under tension, which can help you burn calories and lose fat.

You can do this in two ways.

barbell press

1. Every minute on the minute (EMOM) sets

This where you complete a certain amount of reps and then rest the reminder of the minute before starting the next set.

Say you’ll do 8 reps of each exercise, so choose a weight for each exercise that you can lift for 10 to 12 reps. You’ll have one minute for each set. If the set takes take you 45 seconds, you’ll have 15 seconds rest before the next exercise.

Three to four rounds of performing a set per minute will take you 15 to 20 minutes. Keep track of your time and try to do the same number of total reps faster next time to improve your fat loss efforts. Here’s a workout that uses five different exercises that you can run. (Pick one of the variations for each; don’t run through every exercise listed.)

  • 1A. Squat variation: Goblet, leg press, or front squat
  • 1B. Push variation:– Shoulder press, floor press, push-up, or dumbbell bench press
  • 1C. Single leg exercise: Reverse lunge, forward lunge, or side lunge (alternating sides)
  • 1D. Pull variation: Lat pulldown, seated row, or dumbbell Row
  • 1E. Isolation exercise: Triceps, biceps, shoulders, etc.

Note that some like to do EMOM training that’s more geared toward strength. In this example you might load a barbell with 90% of your 1-rep max, set a stopwatch for 10 to 20 minutes, and do one rep every minute on the minute. Note that this is neurologically demanding and should only be done with one lift per workout, once or twice per week.

[Learn more in our complete guide to EMOM training!]

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2. Timed circuit training

You can scrap the rep suggestion and instead just try to do as many reps as possible in a predetermined time frame.

For example:

  • 20 seconds work/40 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds work/30 seconds rest
  • 40 seconds work/20 seconds rest

Try this with the same circuit as above, just done for time. Remember to organize your weights beforehand so you can cut down transition time between exercises while making the most of your recovery time.

Wrapping up

When time is of the essence, working against the clock while doing compound lifts can keep you in tip-top shape when fat loss is your goal. Try one of these methods and see what works for you — and enjoy the shred.

Featured image via Rido/Shutterstock


  1. Schleppenbach LN, et al. Speed- and Circuit-Based High-Intensity Interval Training on Recovery Oxygen Consumption. Int J Exerc Sci. 2017 Nov 1;10(7):942-953.