Beat The Clock

Here's how to make time your most valuable asset in the gym.

By Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CSCS | August 10, 2015

Physical progress is often measured in pounds and your rep-spangled mastery thereof. While it’s fair to say that defying gravity repeatedly is a vital component of physique building, doing it against the clock is quite another matter. The simple use of a clock or timer can alter the complexion of a workout and provide what every self-respecting lifter craves: a new challenge.


AMRAP can stand for “as many reps as possible” or “as many rounds as possible.” Both are effective at taking the focus off poundage and increasing workout density for a more productive training session. To do the former, pick your favorite exercise, set a timer for 90 seconds and, using a weight you can handle for 10 reps, do as many reps as possible in that time. For a rounds-based application, perform a small circuit of exercises for a set amount of time. One example: 10 pull-ups, 10 dumbbell overhead presses and 10 jump squats, as many rounds as possible in 15 minutes. Mark your round total and aim to increase it each time you do that workout.


Sprints on a treadmill can be awkward and even dangerous. A better bet might be to hit the park, trail or pavement with a portable timer like a Gymboss ( to run precision intervals, all with less risk and to greater effect. Early in the week, try a session of four to six 30-second sprints with four minutes of rest. Next time out, run 10 sets of 10- to 15-second sprints, each followed by 45 to 50 seconds of rest. This varied approach helps tap different sources of fuel within the body and extends fat-burning well beyond your last stride.


Much has been made over the journal-affirmed effectiveness of Tabata training for increasing power output in elite athletes. It’s also used as a deep-burn approach for taking muscles past failure to encourage new growth while also causing a serious uptick in your metabolism. Use your timer — or dedicated smartphone app — to set up eight 20-second segments of work using your exercise or activ-ity of choice, each followed by 10 seconds of rest. 


You count the time it takes to complete each rep, right? While we wait for your answer over a chorus of crickets, we’ll remind you that rep speed does matter because of the cumulative benefit of time under tension. Athletes, for example, use explosive training (one rep per second) to build power. But slow, timed negatives (five to 10 seconds) with heavy weight can break down more muscle tissue, which leads to greater growth. A timer is ideal, but you can also eyeball a clock or just use the old “one-one-thousand” approach.


If you like to log a few miles around the neighborhood each week as part of your training routine, the timer can be your best friend. It can be easy to get comfortable with your usual A to B, but the only way to keep making progress is to cover that distance in less time. This also works over short distances: Try running from one stop sign to the next and see whether you can beat that mark at least once per week.

About the Author

Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CPT

Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CPT

Eric Velazquez, CSCS, is a veteran health and fitness writer and editor. Over the years, he has carved a niche int he realm of participatory fitness journalism, often putting himself through the paces of the programs he writes about. Notably, he trained for 12 weeks with professional boxers, spent six weeks immersed in the world of CrossFit and went hand-to-hand with (and against) mixed martial artists from Spike TV's The Ultimate Fighter. Velazquez lives in Southern California with his wife and two daughters.