“How many do you want me to do?” During a session I hear this question so much. I understand that the human brain is looking for a goal to achieve. So a number sets the standard. Its kind of built into our psychology to approach challenges in this manner. I would like to rock the boat and challenge conventional wisdom a bit. Lets take a look at a few reasons why you might want to change how you establish those rep goals in the gym.
1. You are only as good as your last rep.
Often times we misuse the word “training”. Some people go to the gym to socialize. Some go to “get a sweat”. If you are training, you are practicing a skill with intent to improve the performance of that skill as time goes on. If you are training your body to complete a task you don’t want to compromise form for completion. For example, during a bench press you might be trying to accomplish 10 reps at 135. If you get to 7 reps and your form on the last 3 are horrible. What do you think your body will remember? Of course, the last 3 horrible reps. So you are building a bad movement pattern. Better to stop at 6-7, rest and then continue.
2. Training to failure.
This is one I see often and actually used to partake in myself. Conventional wisdom would tell you to push the muscle to failure so that way it can grow back stronger and handle more of a load. Tried this method of training for almost 2 years with minimal result. Then I learned the crucial point made above. The body is in training! If you are training to failure, essentially you are training your body to fail. You are developing a bad movement pattern through fatigue. Remember tension is strength, but its work. Relaxation is weakness, but its rest. You want use BOTH at the right times for perfect performance.
This isn’t a one size fits all fact. Just something I have noticed the more I train people. If I walk in on a session and see someone doing 15 deadlifts, I instantly ask them what are they training for? If its a continuous deadlift competition or something, then I encourage them to keep going. Otherwise, I offer the magical number of 5. Once I can do something 5 times I either need to raise the weight or make the movement more challenging. Almost any exercise performed 5 times with strict form would be sufficient. This is more for grinds and strict lifts. Ballistic movements can have a higher rep range. Again, what your training for has a lot to do with this, but the average human in the gym could use the rule of 5 and be very successful.
All in all I never proclaim that there is a wrong way. If you are moving in a safe manner, ultimately I’m happy. I will say there are more efficient ways to get where you may desire to go. I have found that shifting a clients focus from “how many” to “how correct” is monumental! It can take your training from 0-100! Train smart and train safe.