AMRAP is a great strength and cardio health workout program

AMRAP Workouts: Are They Good for You?

By: Liz Lotts, RDN; NASM-CPT

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD

You know exercise is good for your heart and good for your waistline. But sometimes you just can't muster the motivation to spend 30 minutes on the dread-mill. The good news is you don't have to run, bike or even swim your way through a heart-pumping workout.

The alternative you're looking for is called AMRAP, aka "As Many Reps As Possible." (It can also stand for As Many Rounds As Possible…more on that in a bit.) This interval-training-based program incorporates strength-training and aerobic exercises into one, fast-paced workout. If you've been skipping traditional cardiovascular training, you need to start an AMRAP routine ASAP!

What are AMRAP workouts?

The AMRAP-style workout demands that you complete as many reps (or rounds) as possible in a set amount of time. The time limit can be shorter or longer, varying between two and 60 minutes. Best of all, AMRAP workouts can include various types of exercises—everything from bodyweight to barbell. You don't even need specialized equipment to train this way—just a planned routine.

Quick history lesson: AMRAP workouts originally were made popular by CrossFit. In a typical CrossFit workout, you start with a warmup session, then work through a skills-focused set before getting into the "workout of the day," or WOD. AMRAP workouts are a type of CrossFit WOD. This approach, though, is not exclusive to people who belong to a CrossFit studio; anyone can structure their workouts to include maximum rep sessions!

What’s the difference between AMRAP and HIIT?

If an AMRAP workout sounds a lot like high-intensity training, that's because it is. AMRAP is a type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that is designed to increase your heart rate response quickly and in short bursts. These types of workouts create a sense of urgency, forcing you to work near your maximum effort in a short period of time.

The main difference between AMRAP workouts and HIIT is the rest period. There is no built-in rest with an AMRAP. The goal is to work nonstop and complete as many reps or rounds as possible. HIIT, on the other hand, encourages brief periods of rest.

Here's the caveat: if you start to lose proper muscle activation and form during an AMRAP workout, by all means, take a break! Pushing through poor form is never recommended. Be sure to listen to your body and know your limits.

Also, think about supporting your body from the inside out. For your body to perform high-intensity training sessions, making sure you are maintaining peak energy levels is essential. This starts deep inside your body with your mitochondria, the hardworking powerhouses of your cells. An energizing supplement can benefit your entire body and help your mitochondria work more efficiently so you can stay on top of your game.

Is AMRAP good for you?

You don't have to be built like a CrossFit athlete to successfully complete an AMRAP workout. This style of training is good for almost anyone, and the benefits are far-reaching. Actor Keanu Reeves even used AMRAP workouts to get himself "John Wick" ready!

Here are some of its benefits:

Saves you time

—The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly to promote heart health. In other words, you don't need to invest as much time in higher intensity workouts as you do in steady state cardio. For many people, time commitment is the major obstacle keeping them from sticking to a regular exercise routine. The fact that you can accomplish the same health benefits in less time is what makes AMRAP-style training so attractive.

AMRAP workouts can be a very effective workout strategy if you're in a time squeeze. You can literally fit in a workout on your lunch break at work, during your kid's soccer practice or while waiting for dinner to bake in the oven. The key factor, though, is intensity. You have to be willing to give near-maximum effort to achieve "vigorous" intensity in a short amount of time.

Serves as a benchmark for progress

—Benchmarking is another way of saying "measured performance." Measuring performance is a way to track your fitness progression and keep you accountable to your routine. A simple and common benchmark workout is the one-mile run. This is a good measurement of cardiovascular fitness, but it's not the only type of benchmarking.

AMRAP workouts are easily measured because they track the total number of completed repetitions (or rounds). If you want to track your cardio and strength gains, consider repeating a specific AMRAP workout every eight to 12 weeks. Don't forget to count your total reps or rounds and record the results so you can see the progression over time.

Supports brain function

—Cognitive decline is a normal part of aging, but what if you could fight back with regular exercise? Research has shown AMRAP workouts can support brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is involved in the growth, survival and plasticity of neurons in the brain.

Changes to neuronal plasticity are associated with learning and memory adaptations, which means AMRAP workouts may help keep you sharp as a tack. In fact, just a single session of AMRAP supported BDNF concentrations in trained men.

Adapts to any fitness level or goal

—Yes, there are specific components you need in order to develop an AMRAP workout. However, the definitive "AMRAP workout" doesn't exist. There is a lot of room for adaptation and introducing this style of workout at your own pace in order to suit any fitness level or fitness goal. While these were originally designed for high-intensity efforts, AMRAP-style training can also be used with low-intensity exercises.

The AMRAP method doesn't even need to be your main workout. You could complete a five-minute AMRAP as a warm-up for your powerlifting routine. Adapt this workout however you need to achieve your individual fitness goals; the options are virtually endless!

When to do AMRAP

The timing of your workouts is a personal preference, though there are some factors to take into consideration. For example, when was your last meal and what did you eat? Your pre-workout nutrition can make all the difference in a good sweat session. Even though AMRAP workouts can be short, their intensity necessitates adequate fuel. In other words, don't attempt one of these training sessions on an empty stomach.

You may also want to think about your sleep needs. For some people, exercising later in the evening stimulates endorphins and makes it harder to fall asleep at their normal bedtime. Others find working out at night helps them drift off into dreamland.

Bottom line: there is no wrong time to do an AMRAP workout. It depends on your schedule and your body's natural response.

What does the "R" in AMRAP stand for?

The "R" in AMRAP typically stands for reps, but it can also stand for rounds, as in, "as many rounds as possible." That can mean, for example, cycling through a circuit of exercises at various rep counts for the set length of time. When your goal is "as many repetitions as possible," you only work on one exercise for a set period of time. However, you can build the "rep" workout with several segments.

Example of As Many Rounds as Possible:

  • 20 burpees
  • 15 push-ups
  • 10 mountain climbers
  • 5 squat jumps

Complete as many rounds of these four exercises as you can in 15 minutes.

Example of As Many Repetitions as Possible:

  • Burpees for 1 minute
  • Push-ups for 1 minute
  • Mountain climbers for 1 minute
  • Squat jumps for 1 minute

Complete as many repetitions of burpees as you can for one minute, and then move on to push-ups for the next minute. Repeat until the four minutes is up. If desired, repeat the four minutes two or three more times.

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How does AMRAP work?

By now, you should have a solid grasp on AMRAP workouts and how they can contribute to your active lifestyle. You're ready to dive in, so let's discuss how to set up your own AMRAP workout. It starts by following these simple steps below:

  1. Decide on a length of time

    – Because AMRAP workouts are high-intensity, they are generally meant to be shorter in duration—these routines can be as short as a Tabata workout or as long as 60 minutes. The best part is the timing is flexible, so you can make these workouts fit into your busy life.
  2. Decide whether you're going for "rounds" or "repetitions"

    – Would you rather do a circuit of 3-4 exercises, repeated for a set period of time, or repeat a single exercise multiple times?
  3. Select your exercises

    – The selection process largely depends on your accessibility to certain equipment. The good news is almost any exercise can be incorporated into an AMRAP. You can do bodyweight AMRAP with chin-ups, burpees and double-unders. Or you can try weighted movements, like a bent-over barbell row and dumbbell lunge. Many AMRAP workouts include a mix of both.

    Most cardio-focused AMRAP sessions utilize explosive bodyweight exercises. But if you'd rather work certain muscle groups on certain days, you're better off picking exercises that require weights or resistance of some kind.

The best AMRAP workouts

No matter what type of equipment you're using, there are certain characteristics that make one AMRAP workout better than another. Look for these components when searching for your routine:

  • The best AMRAP workouts…progressively overload the body—If you're doing AMRAP workouts as a primary fitness routine, make sure the exercises get progressively more challenging. Progressive overload is the only effective method to building strength and lean muscle mass. To achieve progressive overload, you need to change the resistance, volume or tempo of your AMRAP exercises at least every two weeks.
  • The best AMRAP workouts…increase your heart rate quickly and keep it elevated—The whole concept of AMRAP is to provide cardiovascular conditioning with weight-bearing movements. Using compound exercises that engage your entire body at once (for example, squat bicep curls) puts a larger demand on the heart than single-muscle movements. While you can work on certain muscle groups, full-body exercises will result in a higher heart rate response.
  • The best AMRAP workouts…feature fluid transitions between exercises—AMRAP is all about efficiency. If you're having to unload and reload weight plates on a barbell during a workout session, you're wasting time. The order of exercises should be cohesive, so that transitions are smooth from one thing to the next.
  • The best AMRAP workouts…can be scaled to any fitness level—Gymnastics is one of the foundations of CrossFit. Unfortunately, not everyone can walk across the gym on their hands or perform a skin-the-cat on the rings. These are technical moves that take years of practice and are not suited for AMRAP training—in fact, they could be dangerous. An effective AMRAP routine incorporates exercises that use foundational human movement patterns (squat, hinge, lunge, rotate, push, pull). These types of exercise can easily be adjusted to suit any athlete at their current fitness level.

Looking for a more complete guide? Try one of the AMRAP workouts below.

Best Bodyweight AMRAP (No Equipment Needed)

As many rounds as possible in 20 minutes:

  • Push-ups x 10 reps
  • Squat jumps x 10 reps
  • Bicycle crunches x 20 total reps
  • Speed skater hops (lateral bound jumps) x 10 total reps

Best Barbell AMRAP:

To perform this routine most efficiently, use the same barbell for all five exercises. The weight selection should be based off the limiting exercise, which is likely the high pulls. Complete as many rounds as possible:

  • Sumo deadlifts x 21 reps
  • High pulls x 18 reps
  • Bent-over rows x 15 reps
  • Power cleans x 12 reps
  • Thrusters x 9 reps

Best Mixed-Equipment AMRAP:

Complete as many reps as possible in 7.5 minutes (or complete two rounds for 15 minutes total):

  • Barbell snatch x 1 minute
  • Barbell walking lunge (barbell on your back) x 1 minute
  • Dumbbell alternating plank low rows x 1 minute
  • Dumbbell box step-overs x 1 minute
  • Pull-ups or chin-ups x 1 minute
  • Kneeling to squat x 1 minute
  • V-sit hold x 30 seconds

How to recover after an AMRAP workout

What you do to recover from high-intensity routines is equally as important as the workouts themselves. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) defines recovery as "the return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength." To achieve this seemingly blissful state, the experts suggest a five-"S" protocol:

  1. Space out your workouts.

    When you're giving it your all in an AMRAP workout, your muscles are working near their maximum effort, which can eventually lead to muscle fatigue. To ensure your body fully recovers, rest days should be encouraged. Alternatively, if you want to perform an active recovery workout, choose a light-to-moderate form of exercise following an AMRAP session.
  2. Sleep on it.

    Sleep is an essential part of the exercise recovery process—getting restful sleep helps your muscles and tissues enter build-and-restore mode. Individuals who don't get adequate sleep lose out on this key restorative period, which can make future workouts much more challenging—both physically and mentally.
  3. Stretch it out.

    Both dynamic and static stretching promote blood flow. Increased blood flow leads to a steady supply of nutrients to muscles, thereby speeding up the recovery process. Best of all, stretching is free, easy and can be done just about anywhere.
  4. Sip some water (or electrolytes).

    "Water regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, and transports nutrients," according to NASM. When the body is not adequately hydrated, these natural processes are negatively affected and can make it harder to achieve optimal muscle recovery.
  5. Supplement.

    When nutritional intake from food is lacking, supplements can step in to support the cause. When it comes to muscle recovery, a tart cherry supplement should be your top choice. This potent antioxidant can also encourage healthy blood flow, support exercise endurance and healthy uric acid balance, and even promote a healthy inflammatory response.

Interested in more supplement ideas? Take our quiz to find the best formulas for your fitness goals.

About the Author: Liz Lotts is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer. She has a passion for helping people achieve their health goals through personalized nutrition and effective fitness programs. In her free time, Liz enjoys running, lifting weights, watching live sports with her husband and traveling to new places.

Credentials/Degrees: RDN; NASM-CPT; Certified Orangetheory Fitness Coach; TRX Qualified Coach; Bachelor’s in Advertising, Marketing & Communications; Master of Science in Dietetics.


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