AMRAP Workouts Are the Next HIIT — Here's Why You Should Try One

CrossFit junkie? Group fitness frequenter? HIIT devotee? Have you conquered an AMRAP workout yet? You might be thinking thinking, "Not another fitness acronym!" But yep, here's another one for the Fitness Lover Lexicon. Trust us, this is one that'll become part of your gym vocabulary quickly.

Get more from your CrossFit and HIIT workouts with AMRAP. (Image: MoMo Productions/Stone/GettyImages)

AMRAPs are a workout format that pits you against the clock, challenging you mentally as much as physically. Ready to learn exactly what those five letters mean and how to add this rep scheme to your fitness routine? Keep reading.

What Are AMRAP Workouts?

AMRAP stands for as many reps (or rounds) as possible, says physical therapist Grayson Wickham, CSCS, founder of Movement Vault, a mobility and movement company works with a lot of competitive CrossFit athletes. "It's a workout format that challenge you to complete as many reps and rounds of a set of movements as you can before the clock goes off."

Need an example? One of the most famous AMRAPs, according to Ben Sweeney, CrossFit level 3 coach, is CrossFit workout Mary, which consists of completing a circuit of 5 handstand push-ups (HSPU), 10 pistols squats and 15 pull-ups for 20 minutes.

But they don't have to be 20 minutes long or include three different exercises. "They can be 20 seconds long or over 50 minutes long," Wickham says. "Whatever the length the goal remains: go as long as the clock is going." AMRAP is essentially a workout formula. You can plug in different exercises, weights and time into the formula, based on your fitness goals, he says.

They're different than EMOM workouts, though, which involve doing a set number of reps at the top of every minute and resting the remainder of time. "In AMRAPs there is no pre-set number of reps that needs to be completed before you 'earn' your rest," Wickham says. Instead, you're aiming to complete as many reps as possible for the entire workout, only resting at the end of the workout.

They're also different than interval-training workouts, which combine work and rest intervals. "Because there is no build in rest, AMRAPs usually require a little more pacing and mental fortitude," he says.

Benefits of AMRAP Workouts

If you're looking for a great way to ramp up the intensity and/or stay motivated during your workout, this is it, Wickham says. Plus, according to the 2008 CrossFit Games champ Jason Khalipa, founder of NCFit and author of As Many Reps As Possible, "They're the best way to measure how much fitter you've gotten over time."

In theory, you can manipulate the formula to emphasize strength gains or improved cardiovascular capacity, but most commonly, "AMRAPs are associated with improved stamina and aerobic conditioning more so than strength," Khalipa says. That's because "generally, during AMRAPs you want to stay light and move with purpose and with sustained intensity."

In fact, he says, as far as workout styles go, because you typically prioritize speed over load, an AMRAP is not the best choice when it comes to building pure strength or improving your one-rep max. For that, he recommends doing slow and controlled sets with a heavy load and lots of rest in between.

That doesn't mean AMRAPs are totally useless for improving strength, though. Body-weight moves and lighter-weight barbell exercise can improve strength some. "They'll still challenge your muscles enough to result in some muscle break-down that results in those muscles growing back stronger," says Wickham. Plus, adds Khalipa: "It's a great way to become more proficient and comfortable with a barbell — which you need to be to eventually list more weight."

Of course, these are only benefits if you practice good form. "You're completing a lot of reps during AMRAPs, so if you're moving with bad form you reinforce bad movement mechanics and increase the risk of injury in the long-term," he says. Yep, quality is more important than quantity, even when you're going against the clock.

Doing AMRAPs can also be extremely effective in burning calories and improving body composition. "Anytime you're doing a lot of work in a short amount of time, it's going to burn a lot of calories," says Wickham. And training at high intensity increases your post-exercise oxygen consumption, which results in your body continues to burn calories even after you're done exercising, he says. This is known as "the after-burn effect."

Just note: If losing body fat is your goal, Lauren Gill, a CrossFit level 1 coach and macronutrient specialist at Kettlebell Kitchen says, "It's important to combine your AMRAP training with a nutrition routine that emphasizes eating whole, clean foods."

Oh, and don't be surprised if what Khalipa calls the "AMRAP mentality" spills over into the rest of your life. "AMRAPs prioritize efficiency, focus and mental toughness. It's a methodology that will benefit you in and out of the gym."

How to Incorporate AMRAPs Into Your Workout

If you're building your own AMRAP, Wickham suggests starting by picking an intention. Do you just want a good sweat? Is it leg-day or upper-body day? Or do you want a full-body workout?

For a cardio-focused sessions, he suggests a combining rowing, air biking or ski-erging for calories with burpees, double-unders or rowing. For instance, a 20-minute AMRAP of 15 calories on the air bike, 15 burpees and 50 double-unders.

For a lower-body workouts, he suggests pairing a hinge movement (good morning, deadlift, kettlebell swings), with a squat movement (goblet squats, box jumps, wall balls) and a core movement (hallow rocks, V-ups, etc.) to give your legs a break.

And for an upper-body circuit, he suggests combining a push movement (push-ups, bench-press, chest-press, HSPU) with a pull movement (chest-to-bar pull-ups, ring rows, dumbbell rows) and a core strengthener.

Sweeney recommends keeping the workout in the 12- to 15-minute range. "This time frame will allow your body to go tap into all your energy systems allowing you to improve capacity and burn fat throughout the entire workout."

If a few minutes into the workout you notice something is off mechanically, "you need to either commit re-focusing on the form, reduce the weight or lower the number the number of reps," he says.

Try This 8-Minute AMRAP Speed Demon Workout

"The goal of this workout is to move non-stop for eight minutes and to really get after it," says Khalipa. Pick a dumbbell weight that allows you to complete the first set of 30 dumbbell front squats unbroken and make it your goal to never stop moving on the burpees. "Set a pace and get after it," he says. Aim to get into your third round.

Workout

  1. 30 single-dumbbell front squats
  2. 30 burpees

Move 1: Single-Dumbbell Front Squat

  1. Pick up dumbbell and hold it at chest height with both hands (you can also do a body-weight version without weight), then adjust your feet so they're shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keeping you chest upright, sit your butt back as if you're sitting into a chair. Continue descending until your thighs are parallel with the ground.
  3. Next, drive through you heels back to standing while maintaining a neutral arch in your low back.

Move 2: Burpee

  1. Standing with feet hips-width apart, drop into a squat.
  2. Place your hands on the ground in front of you and hop you feet back behind you so that body is in a straight line. Then, lower your chest to the ground for a push-up.
  3. Press back up, then jump your feet to the outside of your hands.
  4. Jump up into the air with arms overhead, landing with knees slightly bent and ready for the next rep.
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