You’ve probably encountered this acronym before (if not, you’ve almost definitely encountered the concept behind it): As Many Reps As Possible, or AMRAP.
The idea is to push yourself to do as many reps of a particular exercise as humanly possible in a given time frame.
AMRAP is often seen in the context of CrossFit or other high intensity workouts, usually tacked on to the end of class as a “finisher.” The result? Lots of sweaty, tired people, banging out rep after sloppy rep.
It’s time to stop the madness and take a different approach to AMRAP, aiming instead for As Many Reps As Pretty.
The Problem With AMRAP Training
Why is the traditional approach to AMRAP so enticing? Because it results in the two parts of training many people find most gratifying:
- Feeling really tired.
- Bragging rights about how many reps you did.
And I get that appeal–I really do. When you workout you want to feel like you accomplished something, and what better way to get that feeling than by wiping yourself out and being able to brag about your achievements to others?
Here’s the problem: This approach is a pretty inefficient and ineffective way of achieving whatever you might be trying to accomplish.
If you’re trying to get better at a skill–let’s say a push-up–all you’re accomplishing with the AMRAP approach is reinforcing improper body mechanics and leaving yourself vulnerable to injury. You will not improve your push-ups in this manner, and can only hurt your push-up progress.
Maybe you don’t really care about learning skills, and your only goal is conditioning. Well, banging out reps with terrible form will just cause you to waste a lot of energy. There are far better ways to improve conditioning.
While the AMRAP approach can be tempting, you’ll get a whole lot more from focusing on doing As Many Reps As Pretty.
With AMRAPretty, your focus will be on making each rep of an exercise as “pretty” as possible. This means aiming for perfectly executed form, with your body working as a smooth and controlled unit. Do one beautiful rep, then if you can, do another, and another. And so on until your form starts to break down.
If you can only do two reps like that, that’s totally fine. Just do As Many Reps As Pretty, and then stop.
Make it Pretty: An Analysis of AMRAP BurpeesTo see our alternative AMRAP (AMRAPretty) in action, let’s look at the most common example: the burpee.
Burpees are almost always done in this fashion: Do as many as you can, as fast as you can, or die trying (okay, that last part might be a bit of an exaggeration… at least in most gyms).
In 99% of cases, by the end of the timed set, almost everyone in the class is doing some variation of a weird, sagging push-up, followed by something that looks like a dying frog hopping its last hop before collapsing in a field.
The problem, of course, is not the burpee.
There’s nothing wrong with burpees. There are many types of burpees, all stemming from the basic push-up, followed by a jump. Those are both great exercises with tremendous benefits. The problem is when you focus on pumping out reps, without regard to form.
Let’s take a look at the differences between practicing these kinds of skills with the AMRAPossible approach vs. the AMRAPretty approach.
GMB Lead Trainer Junior Vassiliou demonstrates three exercises in the video:
- AMRAPossible Approach: It won’t take long before your body starts to get tired and your form gets sloppy. Your torso will sag, your elbows will be flared out, and you’ll land with a thud after jumping. Add a whole lot of impact to those pretty egregious form errors, and you’re leaving yourself wide open for injury.
- AMRAPretty Approach: Here, you’ll slow down and focus on form. Keep your body tight and do a perfect push-up, lowering yourself with control, then pressing your body back up. Moving with intention, hop your feet up toward your hands, then jump straight up, making sure to land softly. Then, use the same mindful movement to set yourself back up for the next rep. Stop before you think your form is going to break down.
- AMRAPossible Approach: Strength and skill will go out the window, as you muscle through the movement. Your back will arch, putting a lot of strain on your low back. Your body will jerk around the rings, putting a lot of pressure on your shoulders.
- AMRAPretty Approach: You’ll focus on the three parts of the movement, and doing them as smoothly as possible: the pull, the transition, and the push. You won’t be able to do the movement as quickly, and you certainly won’t be able to do as many, but with this approach, each part of the muscle-up will be making you stronger.
- AMRAPossible Approach: Your body will start moving like a collection of parts, with your torso sagging, your arms flaring out, and your butt up in the air (or any number of other form fails). Your range of motion will start to break down as you try to bang out more and more reps.
- AMRAPretty Approach: “Tighter is lighter” is the name of the game here. Keeping your body tight and moving in unison will help you build incredible pressing strength. And stopping before your form breaks down ensures your joints stay safe, and that you’re not reinforcing poor body mechanics.
You can see that in all three of these exercises, there’s a big difference between banging out sloppy reps vs. focusing on making your form as pretty as possible. You won’t get much benefit from the former approach (and you may hurt yourself), whereas the latter approach comes with a huge upside.
Good Exercise Form & Technique Will Help You in Everything
One of my favorite questions is, “how many push-ups should I be able to do?”
My answer? “One.”
Just do one perfectly executed push-up. And then another. And another. Then here’s the kicker: Stop before you think your next rep won’t be pretty anymore.
For people coming from the mindset of doing AMRAPossible, that’s an uncomfortable answer. If you can currently do 50 push-ups or burpees or muscle-ups (or any exercise), and suddenly I’m telling you to drop that down, you might feel like you’re moving backwards. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Someone who can do 50 sloppy push-ups may not even be able to do one solid push-up–so what good are those 50 push-ups then?
The more time you spend training your body to do exercises with shitty body mechanics, the more your overall performance will suffer. When you shift to the “just one perfect rep” mentality, you’ll start making amazing progress in your strength, skill, and overall physical capabilities.
Emphasize Proper Form and Reap the Benefits
Of course, the AMRAPretty concept can–and should–be applied to whatever training you do. Every exercise you work on, and every activity or sport you practice will improve by focusing on making your form as beautiful and technical as possible.
Shift your focus to making every rep count, rather than counting every rep, and you’ll get a whole lot more out of your training.
A great way to see this in action is by working on our free Strength & Mobility Kickstart. It will show you how focusing on the quality of your movements will help you improve much more efficiently than focusing on the quantity of reps.