A Problem with Counting Repetitions

Like most of my meditations on exercise.

They come during that calm and surreal interim when the muscular burn is building up to near unbearable levels.

I will discuss Unbearable levels and how to handle them in a later article.

A problem with repetitions can be in chasing the number.

The goal of the exercise is to get stronger, fitter, healthier, etc.

We all know that (although not all display that knowledge in the gym).

So the goal, therefore, is to constantly strive on a macro level, too increase the stimulus.

Without an ever-increasing stimulus, there will be no demand upon the body to super compensate.

So where does the problem lie?

The problem lies specifically in form.

It will manifest itself when trainees start focusing on numbers or ego, instead of focusing on form.

We’ve all been there.

You’re at repetition number 10 for example, last workout you did 12.

You’re already feeling like you might not make 11, your ego is screaming at you to man up and push through.

Beat your maximum from the last workout.

So you start grinding your teeth and focusing less on form and more on numbers.

You see…

As you progress in a set.

You require a greater degree of concentration.

Your muscles are continually being depleted of strength but the task upon them is constant.

Subconsciously, your body will seek ways to complete the task at hand.

Which in your mind is beating your previous effort.

A greater degree of concentration in the later stages of the set is essential.

This is where you’re most likely to comprise your form.

Reduce the range of motion, for example, change the posture thus completing those last 2 reps to take you from last times 10 to this times 12 repetitions.

As always, with performing a task at a high level. The problem lies in the details.

Because you changed your posture and compensated you cannot count those two repetitions as a success.

You compensated with other muscles and muscle actions.

Exercise Dilution

You diluted the stress of the exercise.

Accuracy is obviously essential in your workouts.

Otherwise, you have no way of knowing if you are progressing on a micro level and whether the program is working.

Note: Looking in the mirror and taking physical measurements is considered an analysis on a macro level.

The above point about ensuring your form is constant.

So that you can avoid compensation by neighboring muscles.

It requires a category of its own.

Which is exactly what I am working on so subscribe below to stay in the loop.

But to give you an example.

Towards the end of a set when you are chasing those last 2-3 reps to beat last times performance. 

The fatigue and ego set in and divert your attention.

Say you were performing a seated pull-down.

This fatigue and distraction could mean you pulling the bar down a shorter distance than all the previous reps.

It may only be by an inch.

But this reduced range of motion could be the difference between squeezing out another 2 reps.

Or hitting failure with the perfect form you have successfully maintained throughout the entire set.

Remember Work = Force x Distance.

The inaccuracy of performing an exercise and recording said exercise.

Is that you perform another 2 repetitions and beat your last performance.

But in actual fact.

Those 2 repetitions don’t count.

Because the set was not consistent and you comprised the form.

Whereas last time you performed perfect form consistently throughout each rep.

Or at least I hope you did.

But if you were oblivious to this level of accuracy.

You would believe you have made progress and your program is spot on.

When in actual fact your program may be too physically demanding or your rest and recovery may not be sufficient.

Choose a possibility and fill in the blank.

Of course, it would be too early to jump to such conclusions from a single workout.

But over a period of workouts say 2 or 3.

You should see some progress, and if not, then you need to sit down and figure it out.

Not bury your head in the sand like most trainee’s

Don’t Chase the Reps

My advice to you would be not to chase the repetitions.

But instead, focus on keeping your posture as perfect as possible.

And just as important, maintaining that posture until form failure.

So how then do I Record my Set Performance?

Good question.

So by now, it may seem like a problem to accurately count your repetitions.

Whilst simultaneously focusing all your attention on ensuring perfect form.

So you can have a consistently accurate and effective set.

Indeed, it will be very difficult.

Trust me I know from experience.

If you miscount by 1 repetition it will a huge problem.

Say for example you carry out 6 perfect reps.

Well actually you did 7 but you miscounted due to fatigue and distraction.

Well you miscounted by 16.666..%

Given that most intermediate and advanced trainees will only increase strength by 5-10% per workout.

You have grossly cocked up your numbers and are now thinking you are not as strong today and questioning your program.

Which in actual fact, on a micro-level, is not true.

A 16% improvement in an exercise is excellent!

Use A Stop Watch

My recommendation would be to use a stopwatch if you do not have access to a reliable and mildly intelligent training partner.

This later requirement will eliminate many bodybuilders, unfortunately.

So here’s how you will do it.

I recommend that you choose and use a specific cadence (tempo) during your repetitions.

Practice ensuring that this cadence is consistently applied to all repetitions.

One of my favorite cadences is 4-2-4-0 or 3-2-3-0


4 seconds UP (Concentric Contraction)

2 Second squeeze and Peak (Isometric Contraction at the fully contracted position)

4 Seconds Lowering (Eccentric Contraction)

0 Seconds in the fully stretched position.

And then you simply start the stopwatch at the beginning and stop the stop watch at the end.

Minus off the seconds it took you from start/stopping the stopwatch and starting.stopping the exercise.

With this total time, you can estimate how many reps you have done if you were sticking to the tempo.

Simply divide the total time by the total seconds to complete a full repetition.

So if yours using 4-2-4-0 it will be

Total time / 10 seconds.

I will talk more about measuring your workouts with seconds vs reps in a later article. But I have covered this topic in my article build-muscle

The Moral of the Story….

Chase perfect form and all the many ways in ensuring that. Not beating your previous best by any means possible.

I.e: Leave the ego outside.