What are AMRAP sets?
An AMRAP set is a set of a particular exercise where you perform as many reps as you can possibly complete with a given weight. AMRAP sets should also be done with correct and safe technique, even under fatigue. Do not sacrifice form for a couple more reps. We don’t want to completely fail on an AMRAP set either. Stopping shy of major technique breakdown is recommended to ingrain correct motor patterns and stay healthy.
What are the benefits of AMRAP sets?
Within a training program it is important to have an understanding of the state of adaptation that an athlete has currently achieved. The reason this is so critical is so you can further make adjustments based on a need rather than a predetermined adjustment which may or may not be needed at that point in time. I will preface this by saying more often than not a beginner and early intermediate lifter will be able to make consistent progress with a pre-set progression scheme without necessarily requiring week to week adjustments. For the more advanced lifter it becomes more of a balancing act between maintaining recovery abilities and accumulating the work required for them to progress.
For many of us who have dieted down, whether in a mini-cut to lose some body fat or during a contest prep for a physique based sport we have the ability to make nutrition adjustments based heavily on a measure such as a bodyweight scale that provides us with a state of adaptation which can inform whether you’re losing or gaining weight. If we see the scale going down we can regulate our intake up if the goal is to gain weight. Conversely if the scale is increasing week to week and the goal is to lose weight we adjust by reducing intake or increasing activity, or a combination of the two.
In the context of a training program it is not quite as simple. How do we know if more stimulus in the form of volume, intensity, or frequency etc is required when we don’t have a tangible measure to base the increase or decrease on? This is where AMRAP sets can play their part. Let’s say an athlete is adding reps to their AMRAP sets or at least achieving the same reps with a heavier load. Here we can see that the athlete is making positive adaptations. If the athlete stalls for a week or two we can utilize an increase in stimulus to ensure continued progress. In this example the AMRAP set is analogous to a weight scale and our stimulus in the form of training variables such as volume, intensity, or frequency is analogous to regulating food intake.
How to implement AMRAP sets.
Since we are basing our assumption that increases in AMRAP set performance are indicative of improvements in our chosen goal over time it is important that the target intensity (percentage of one rep max) of the AMRAP set closely relates to the end result. You wouldn’t necessarily give a powerlifter who is 4 weeks out from a meet an AMRAP set in the 65-70% intensity bracket because they will more than likely achieve well over 10 reps, hence not specific enough to their goal of a one rep max. On the same token it probably wouldn’t be ideal to have a bodybuilder predominantly using 95+% on their AMRAP sets because it’s not very specific to their end outcome.
With the above taken into consideration it’s also worth noting that these are general guidelines to follow and not something that needs to be adhered to as a solid rule. Periodization can and should be structured such that volume and intensity phases occur throughout the year and this goes for both bodybuilders and powerlifters, so context is important when determining what intensity to use on an AMRAP set.
AMRAP sets are best utilized when they are done after the preceding sets. The reason for this is because the volume accumulated in the sets leading up to the AMRAP set is what will cause the adaptations to be made in the first place, so don’t miss the forest for the trees by letting the AMRAP set take centre stage. Volume is still key.