Unlimited Reps

We like to count things. Some of us count money, or the gray hairs on our heads, or the number of miles on our cars.

When we’re in the gym, in the pool, or on the track or treadmill, we count the reps of our workouts. Personal trainers do this, too. They design workouts based on reps, and then spend the session with their client counting those reps. I did this myself early in my career when I worked as a personal trainer in a gym. But why?  

Despite what many believe, there’s no magic in the number of reps in a workout, and there is no specific number of reps a trainer or coach can tell his or her client or athlete to do that will get the best result. Whether you do 3 sets of 10 biceps curls or run 6 half-mile reps at VO2max pace is arbitrary. Why not 11 reps or 14 reps or 7 reps? When you do a workout, what matters is causing sufficient fatigue so your body responds and optimally adapts.

Going into a workout with a preconceived number of reps limits full adaptation because adaptation occurs in response to a threat that a workout imposes and a series of threats from repeated workouts over time. But, more than that, a preconceived number of reps limits your limits. We often can do more than what we think we’re capable of. But we won’t know what that limit is if we decide beforehand how many reps we’re going to do. If the workouts is 10 reps, you start feeling fatigued at rep number 8 because you think you’re supposed to start feeling fatigued.

So do as many reps as you can. But don’t keep doing reps until you throw up or can’t move. You should always feel in control of the workout and finish the workout feeling like you could have done one more rep.

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