Most people understand that to have stronger muscles you have to exercise, but did you know that you also have to count? I've run into a few folks who lift weights or use some type of exercise machine until they feel tired. Their argument is that as long as each time you exercise you feel tired, well, who cares how many repetitions you do? What matters is that your muscles are tired. Right?
Not quite. Yes, exercising until you're tired is better than not exercising at all but why not get the most out of your time every time? Why waste it? Counting the number of repetitions is important for a few reasons and I'll cover one of them today: fatigue.
What is fatigue? "The inability to continue functioning at a prescribed work rate in the presence of an increased perception of effort." The key word in this definition is perception. Fatigue is not just a physical phenomenon resulting from insufficient energy. It also occurs when you think you're tired or you feel tired or you feel disinterested. It's your perception of the effort that determines the degree of fatigue. Have you ever tried to exercise when you're in a foul mood or bored? What normally is an invigorating thirty minutes on the elliptical or jogging trail turns into a dreary, drawn out, will-this-ever-end session. You feel or you perceive that you're more fatigued than you actually are. If, however, I start yelling at you, "Get your butt in gear! Come on! You got more than that!" (just imagine me doing that - it will bring a wide grin to your face), you will suddenly be much less fatigued. Your perception has changed. This is why counting repetitions (or having other objective measures like revolutions per minute) is so important to getting the most out of your exercise session (even if you work with someone who yells at you). Keeping track of repetitions forces you to produce consistent levels of effort and yields the best results.
For those of you who have been to Sports Center, you know all about fatigue. We rate fatigue on a 0 to 10 scale where 0 is no fatigue and 10 is extreme. When you're training your muscles, you want a fatigue level between 6 and 8 on a scale of 10 that occurs between 15 and 30 repetitions. Training at this intensity will give you increased strength and endurance which most of us need in everyday activities (getting bigger muscles is a completely different training regimen).
If you exercise without keeping track of your repetitions and fatigue level, one day you might perform 20 repetitions and another day 10, or 30, or 6 because you quit when you feel tired instead of pushing yourself to reach at least the level of performance you achieved in a prior session. Inconsistent training yields inconsistent results. Each session you should push yourself for one more repetition, at least. Write it down along with your fatigue level. Week by week, your repetitions will go up. Then, one day, you'll discover that you can perform 30 repetitions of a drill with a fatigue level of 4. This tells you that you're ready to increase the resistance or weight. When you do, your repetition level will drop closer to 15 or 20 repetitions. That's okay. You're in the right zone; the right combo of reps and resistance or weight.
So, who's counting?