AMRAP vs HIIT – Which Is Better?

Most articles that pit two things, whether it’s diets, people, cities, etc. against each other end up with a clear winner. That’s not the case with this article. I know, it’s titled AMRAP vs HIIT so you think I’d choose one as a winner.

Spoiler alert. I don’t. I did something better.

Instead, I’ve listed the main reasons we work out. You know, things like losing fat, getting stronger, building a little muscle, etc. Then I reveal whether an AMRAP or HIIT workout is best for each goal. So we have individual winners for each goal, but not one for all of them.

I did this because it’s the only way to give you the truth about AMRAP and HIIT. They both have their strengths and weaknesses. This typically makes one better than the other for different aspects of your fitness. Sometimes they are so equal it’s hard to pick one over the other.

But I always choose a winner. If for nothing other than the sake of decisiveness.

By the end of the article you have both te answers and a training program to put your newfound knowledge to use.

HIIT vs AMRAP – which is better?

In the table below you’ll see which of these workouts is the best for a specific fitness related goal. I explain each, and provide workouts for you in this article.

Category

AMRAP

HIIT

Getting Stronger

👍

Building Muscle

👍

Fat Loss

👍

Endurance

👍

Convenience

👍

Before I get into which workout is best, let me explain a little about what makes up AMRAP and HIIT workouts.

AMRAP – As Many Reps As Possible

This is a workout where your goal is to do as many reps or rounds of exercises within a set time limit.

Your workout can consist of 1 or more exercises and be considered an AMRAP session. Doing as many reps of kettlebell swings in 20 minutes as possible is a type of AMRAP workout.

So is this.

  • Kettlebell swings – 10 reps
  • Push Ups – 10 reps
  • Goblet Squats – 10 reps
  • Kettlebell Rows – 10 reps
  • Repeat for 20 minutes

Since they can be very intense they’re often compared to HIIT. In some ways they are. But, as you’re about to learn they have more differences than similarities.

HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training

Unlike a time based AMRAP workout, HIIT is a type of interval training. These workouts are made up of brief bouts of exercise – say running for 60 seconds followed by a rest period of about the same amount of time.

You then repeat this running and resting workout several times.

Here’s an example.

  • Ride all out on exercise bike for 1 minute
  • Rest between 1-3 minutes
  • Repeat for 10 – 20 minutes

If you like to train with kettlebells, here’s a great HIIT workout from coach Dos.

Since the exercise intervals are brief and done as hard as you can work and the rest intervals are short, HIIT workouts are very intense. Lungs and muscles on fire, sick to your stomach intense.

HIIT workouts get their benefits from this intensity. In a fraction of the time it takes to do something like jog 3 miles you can do a HIIT workout that’ll get you into better shape, burn more fat, and better improve your health.

Okay, enough about what these workouts are, let’s get into which is best for the goals you want to accomplish.

man battling ropes

AMRAP vs HIIT. Which is best?

1. Is AMRAP or HIIT better for building strength?

AMRAP workouts are hands down the better choice for getting stronger.

HIIT helps other types of strength for sure. But when it comes to being able to lift heavier weights, AMRAPs are the better choice.

Why are AMRAPs better? Well, first of all HIIT workouts have you doing way more than the 3-5 reps per set you do when your goal is to get stronger. You’re typically sprinting or lifting for 30-90 seconds. This builds endurance, not strength.

Second, the very brief rest periods of a HIIT workout don’t allow for the recovery time your muscles need to lift heavy weights.

This isn’t the case with an AMRAP. Sure, your workout is timed and you want to do as many total reps as possible but that doesn’t mean you can’t do sets of 3-6 reps with heavy weights. You can rest a little longer too.

Here’s how to do a strength-focused AMRAP

  • If you want to build strength – each set is done with the heaviest weight possible for 3-5 reps.
  • When more power is your goal – do 8-10 sets using 1-3 reps per set. Here it’s important to move the weight as fast as possible. Using a weight you can lift pretty easily for 8-10 reps in whatever exercise you’re doing works best.

When doing an AMRAP for strength you’ll do exercises like squats, rows, chin ups, bench press, and overhead press. They train the largest muscles and allow you to use the most weight which helps you get stronger, faster.

AMRAP workout for building strength

  • Front squats – 6 reps per set
  • Floor presses – 6 reps per set
  • Bent over rows – 6 reps per set

Repeat for 20 minutes. Do one exercise after the other, rest only as much as needed.

Here’s another strength building AMRAP from trainer Meghan Beatty’s Instagram account.

2. AMRAP vs HIIT for building muscle

AMRAP workouts also win when it comes to building lean mass and getting bigger. You can build muscle with HIIT but as I explain below, it isn’t the better choice.

Why HIIT isn’t as good for building muscle

Since you’re most likely doing 12+ reps per interval, your HIIT workouts aren’t going to be as good for building muscle. Sure, you can build some, research shows it happens (cite/link), but it won’t be as effective as a properly designed AMRAP.

Plus HIIT workouts are done using cardio machines, running hills, etc. Not the types of exercise you want to do to build muscle.

What makes AMRAPs a better muscle builder

Okay, you know why HIIT isn’t so great for gaining muscle and looking fit. But what makes AMRAPs any good? Well, you can easily design one for building muscle while shooting to do as many reps or rounds as possible.

All it really takes is choosing the best exercises and doing the correct number of reps per set. Since we want to build muscle, we’re talking about 8-10 reps per set. With the heaviest weight you can lift.

As long as your workout is at least 10 minutes you’ll be able to get in the 2 or more sets of each exercise required to make the gains your muscles need to look their best.

You can split your workout up any way you like. I prefer doing total body workouts, so 1-2 exercises per muscle group (legs, chest, back, shoulders, and arms). Other combinations like push/pull or workouts where you train just 1-2 body parts will work as well.

The key is to pick a time between 10-30 minutes to train and then get after it, doing as much work as you can in that amount of time.

Here are 2 AMRAP workouts for building muscle

The Super Simple Squat AMRAP.

  • Do as many rounds of barbell, kettlebell, or dumbell squats for 8-10 reps per round. Start with 10 and work up to 30 minutes total. Just don’t blame me if it hurts to sit down the next day.

Total Body AMRAP workout 

  • 2 Kettlebell Split Squats – 10 reps
  • 2 Kettlebell Overhead Presses -10 reps
  • 2 Kettlebell Bent Over Rows – 10 reps 
  • Do one exercise after the other. Rest as little as needed. 
  • Repeat for 15-30 minutes. 

3. Is an AMRAP or HIIT workout better for fat loss?

This one is pretty equal. When done the right way both AMRAPs and HIIT will help you burn a lot of calories, both during and after your workout. Afterward especially. How so? The heavy breathing you do during these workouts keeps your body burning off stored fat for several hours post-workout. That’s the fat burning magic long, slow exercise like jogging doesn’t have.

But, if I have to pick one, I’d go with HIIT.

Here’s why.

With a HIIT workout, it’s easier to get your heart rate up to 80-90% of its max on a bike or rowing machine for the 10-30 minutes you need to make the workout effective. It’s possible with AMRAP and weights but not as easy to do.

Plus, it’s far safer to ride a stationary bike as hard as you can pedal for 30-90 seconds off and on for 20 minutes than it is to do sets of 20 more barbell squats as an AMRAP for the same amount of time.

When it comes to fat loss, use a 1:1 exercise to rest ratio for the best results. That means if you run, ride, or row for 60 seconds, you rest for 60 seconds. If you’re just getting into shape you may need more rest. That’s okay. Just decrease your rest period as you get fitter.

When a 1:1 ratio gets too easy. You can either increase the time of the HIIT session or decrease your rest periods to make it more effective. Believe me 1 minute minute sprints with 15 seconds will help you get lean. They’re also brutal. If you haven’t ever felt nauseous during a workout, get ready.

How much fat can you lose with HIIT? Research shows guys and girls doing 2-3 HIIT workouts a week can lose 5 or more pounds of body fat. Without changing their diet.

Here are 2 HIIT workouts for fat loss

Run, row, or ride HIIT workout

  • Ride, run or row for 1 minute
  • Rest 1 minute

Repeat for 20-30 minutes

Kettlebell swing HIIT for fast fat loss

  • Kettlebell swings for 30 seconds
  • Rest 15-30 seconds
  • Repeat for 10-30 minutes

AMRAP workouts for fat loss

Since they can be, in my experience, equally effective I want to give you an AMRAP workout for fat loss.

Just like when you exercise for any other goal, you just need to do them the right way. Again, it boils down to the way you structure the sets, reps, and intensity of your workout.

Here’s how. A fat loss focused AMRAP workout should be done for 10-30 minutes using 10-15 reps per set. Only rest when absolutely necessary. You want to be breathing heavily and make your muscles burn. Start with a weight you can do for 15 reps. That’ll go down closer to 10 as you become fatigued.

Again, choose ‘big’ exercises. By this I mean movements that train the large muscles of your body (legs, back, chest, shoulders). So, this means all types of squats, rows, pull ups, and presses. You want to work really hard and these exercises ensure you will. Biceps curls and calf raises won’t.

Here’s an AMRAP workout that’ll help you lose body fat

  • Squats 12 reps
  • Floor Press 12 reps
  • 1 Arm Row 12 reps
  • Stiff leg deadlift 12 reps

You can do this workout with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells or whatever equipment you have. Just make it as difficult as possible. Alternating upper and lower body exercises here makes the workout more challenging, and effective.

Each exercise is to be done one after the other with little to no rest between each. Start with 15 minutes and add time, doing more reps and rounds as you get fitter and stronger. The longer you can go, the more fat you’ll lose.

4. Should you do AMRAP or HIIT for endurance?

Just like fat loss, it’s too close to call. So close I really don’t want to pick one. They each have more pros than cons. But, I told you in the beginning of this article I always choose one over the other so here it goes.

Since I have to, I’d say HIIT is the better type of workout for endurance. Why? Well, probably because it’s safer to do lots and lots of reps, cycling, rowing or running on a cardio machine or track than it is barbell squats, thrusters, or deadlifts. I know, I’ve used this reason before and it’s not the greatest. But, they’re both so effective, and safe to do when done properly that it’s all I’ve got.

If you have a better reason, let me know and I’ll add to this article, giving you full credit.

Let’s take a look at how you can use both types of workout to build your endurance. I’m going to cover both cardiovascular and muscle endurance.

HIIT Workouts for endurance

Just like your fat loss workouts, doing HIIT for endurance is best done using a cardio machine or outside running or riding a bike. You sessions can go as long as 45 minutes here. 10 minutes is a good place to start. If you can get to 45 minutes with a 1:1 rest to work you’ll have awesome cardiovascular and muscular endurance.

Endurance Focused HIIT Workout

  • Ride, run, or row for 2 minutes
  • Rest for 2-3 minutes
  • Repeat for 10-45 minutes

AMRAP Workouts for endurance

When you do this type of workout to build endurance, choose 1 exercise for every major muscle group. If you need more endurance in specific muscles for a sport you play, add them to your workout. Let’s say you’re a distance runner, you may want to add calf raises. If you surf or play tennis, you may choose to do lots of lateral raises so you can paddle and swing harder, longer.

As far as reps go, you want to go higher here. Between 15-20 works best. You want to do more reps per set. 12-20 is perfect. This builds your endurance fastest. Work up to 30-45 minutes for these workouts. The longer you can go, the more endurance you’ll build.

Endurance Focused AMRAP workout

  • Lunges – 20 reps per leg
  • Push Ups – 20 reps
  • Bent Over Rows – 20 reps
  • Calf Raises – 20 reps
  • Lateral raise – 20 reps

Start each exercise with a weight you can do for 20 reps. Use your body weight at first if the added weight is too heavy.

5. AMRAP vs HIIT – which requires more equipment?

I think AMRAP workouts win. Sure, you can do a HIIT workout with no equipment. Just run. The problem is not everyone can run at the intensity you need to get your heart to 85% of its max. Plus, the risk of injury from running this hard is too high.

That’s why HIIT is best done with low impact cardio machines like a bike or rower. Most anyone can go hard on them without a big risk of getting hurt. But, it’s not always feasible to own or get access to these things.

AMRAPs on the other hand can be done with your own body weight or a single kettlebell, dumbbell, etc. By anyone. With a low risk of injury.

It’s hard to think of something that can’t be used for AMRAPs. Except maybe the Shake Weight (link). Just throw that thing right in the trash.

AMRAP VS HIIT. Which takes is more convenient?

Since I didn’t want any ties, I’m going with AMRAP workouts. Only because they’re easier to do as a body weight exercise no matter where you are. HIIT requires some equipment or space to do which can take time to get to or set up. I’m really splitting hairs here.

Both AMRAP and HIIT workouts can be done in less than 10 minutes.

That’s right, you can do either in less time than it takes to drive to the gym. And build strength, endurance, and new muscle. While getting leaner and improving your health.

Conclusion

Since you’re at the end of the article you should feel like you know when it’s best to do an AMRAP or HIIT workout. If you’re not sure about anything in this article, send me an email. I’ll get back to you within 1 business day with an answer.

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