Increase Your Workout Intensity with AMRAPS (As Many Rounds As Possible)

A soldier competes in a push-up contest.
A soldier participating in Operation Sustainment Warrior (OSW) competes in a push-up contest during the Sustainer Olympics, the final event in OSW at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Aug. 15, 2013. Operation Sustainment Warrior was a training event hosted by the 77th Sustainment Brigade. (Staff Sgt. Terri Q. Reece/U.S. Army photo)

Intensity is not a feeling or an emotion. Intensity is effort level. Use the fitness principles FITT (Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type) to create changes to your usual workout by simply changing one of the FITT variables.

If you want to create a workout with fewer rest periods, AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible) is a great way to do it. Typically, an AMRAP workout is a series of exercises (or a circuit) with an added short and fast cardio segment.

Consider this a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout, especially if you use an active rest as your rest period. HIIT is a way to burn more calories because you increase the speed of cardio events and minimize rest or, if you're an advanced athlete, make the short rest period an active rest and never stop moving. This way, you can make any workout "more intense."

AMRAP increases the intensity in the workout detailed below. Notice how two workouts with the same exercises, repetitions of calisthenics and running can look the same but yield separate results by comparing the AMRAP version with the standard 8-set circuit.

Pull-Up and Push-Up Pyramid 1-10 with 100-meter Run Between Sets

This is just one way to warm up. If you are not yet great at pull-ups and push-ups, you can finish the warmup at set 5 and accumulate 15 pull-ups and push-ups with short, easy runs to get the blood pumping.

If doing sets 1-10 of the pyramid (55 pull-ups and push-ups) is not overly challenging to you, keep going up to set 10 as you warm up.

Run 1 Mile Timed

Depending on your abilities, you can use this mile as a warmup jog or challenge yourself with a timed event to learn your timed run mile pace. Can you do a 6-minute mile or a 7- to 8-minute mile?

Death by Push-Ups: 10 Minute Plank with 5-10 Push-Ups EMOM

A 10-minute plank pose is challenging for anyone, and even advanced level athletes find it uncomfortable. It is fine to build up to this challenge. First, try it for 5 minutes and then add a minute every other week for a few months until you get to 10 minutes total.

Since the military is now testing plank poses in many fitness tests, you should make it a staple of your workout. Adding push-ups is a no-brainer, since you'll also be tested on them, no matter what your military branch.

30 minute AMRAP | Circuit: Repeat 8 times

Pull-ups: 10 | Pull-ups: 10

Push-ups: 20 | Push-ups: 20

Abs of choice: 30 | Abs of Choice: 30

Dips: 10 | Dips: 10

Run: 200 meters fast | Run: 200 meters fast

As you can see, a workout can be made tougher with a 30-minute time limit.

We recently did this workout, and most people were at the 7-8 set range in 30 minutes, with a few in the 9-10set range. However, if we were to do the circuit option with added rest breaks, the workout will be easier, but longer, even with the same number of repetitions and distances run.

One of the problems with AMRAPs is that many start to fatigue and the form and quality of each repetition deteriorates.

Which One Is Better?

Preference and ability usually reveal the best answer for that question. However, from a goal of improving fitness performance, having recovery built into the workout prevents a person from redlining (maxing out) for 30 minutes.

You will burn more calories in a shorter period with the AMRAP, but the level of stress placed on the body may require greater recovery in the next 24-48 hours. Put it this way: I would not recommend a week of daily AMRAP-type workouts as your training schedule. Limit them to 1-2 a week at the most.

1-Mile Run Cooldown

After you are done with either option of the workout, follow with an easy cooldown run or other easy non-impact cardio option. The goal here is to focus on deep breathing with a lower heart rate for the next 10 minutes.

Stretch as desired afterward with a continued focus on breathing deep inhales and exhales to relax. If you are not going to have recovery periods in the meat of your workout, you need to actively pursue recovery throughout the rest of the day and night, with increased focus on nutrition, hydration, electrolytes and sleep.

-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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