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Numbers or feelings? What road should you take?

Tiresome workout

In the fitness community, you will often find conflicting views when it comes to repetition tracking. Some people find the pain and their inner voice being the sole guide of the set, and others believe in counting every single rep.

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There are also people who count every rep on one set, and then completely forget about it during the other. The possibilities are many, as you can see.

Now, there is no simple way one can say that either one of these methods is right or wrong. It would be unfair to simply discriminate one group or the other. Why? Because both of them have valid arguments as to why they believe their method to be the right one. Let’s see where their strong points lie.

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Counting reps

First, let’s talk about those who like to count their reps. To begin, let’s take Dorian Yates for example. He is one of the most successful bodybuilders of all time, and one of the first ones who used to count literally every single rep of every single set, EVER. He has it all on paper too.

“… last week I did X amount for seven reps, so that’s today’s goal – beat that. Get eight reps. That’s the goal.”

Dorian Yates

So, as we can see, he is clearly a proponent of the counting method, and there is a strong reason why. Dorian, just like any successful bodybuilder, was extremely goal-oriented. He knew exactly what he was looking for every single time he did a workout. That is what separated him from the majority of others.

Counting every single rep will keep your progress in check at all times. You will know how much you lifted last week, what your numbers are today, and also what to look forward to next week. That way you will be on your toes at all times, ready to make progress every time you’re in the gym.

There are a few possible downsides to this method too. For example, some people find it difficult to track and count the reps while they perform their workouts. It’s just annoying and they lose focus of their task. Now, that’s understandable, especially if lifting weights isn’t the only thing on your mind. Busy with work, under constant stress, you name it.

People in gym
If you wanna count all the reps it is absolutely impossible to do so without a strict journal. You simply cannot remember all the necessary information…

The other objection one could come up with is that the number could mislead you if you don’t use them correctly. Let’s give an example. Let’s say it’s chest day and you’re doing the bench press. You feel comfortable lifting 100 pounds for 10 reps. Awesome stuff. So, you come again next week and you expect yourself to lift 120 for 10, or even more. You end up failing and you are disappointed. Shout out if this ever happened to you?

Regardless of that, for this method to actually work you need to be two things. One is patient, the other is constantly on the grind. You have to push yourself almost every single workout session if you want to make constant progress. Otherwise, it makes no difference if you’re going to count or not. You’re simply stagnating.

Now, let’s hop on the artists of the gym. Let’s see what those who revolve their workouts around body intuition have to say about the matter.

Feeling-based method

The feeling-based method as we like to call it is nothing more than finishing the set when you feel like your body had enough of it. When you feel your muscles fatiguing you drop the weights. Pretty straightforward.

Tons of people like to work out like this. If you ask them about the rep count they’ll just say “Oh, my set ends when I feel like I’ve had enough”. Interesting indeed.

Now, is there any credibility to it? There might be. Unfortunately for the majority of the lifters out there, this method will mostly work for very experienced lifters. Athletes such as Mike Thurston have spoken on the topic. Unless you’re an advanced lifter you will have slower progress with this methodology.

fitness bodybuilder works out pushing up excercise in gym
Artistic people will by default be more drawn to finishing their set based on what their bodies tell them

The reason behind that is that most of the time we stop our set when we feel pain. The problem here is that every person has a different pain tolerance level which then implies some people will go bonkers with their set every time (which is also not good) and others will underperform the set, nine times out of ten.

But, experienced lifters can make this method work wonders. If someone knows his or her body then it’s a person who has spent 10+ years sweating their ass off. They know the sweet spot of every single set pretty well and they are the ones who can get away with relying mostly on their intuition. That being said, it’s not impossible for an average lifter to make this method work.

Middle ground?

If you use the first method to temper a bit with the second one you could easily swap between the two. You could use your journal to approximate the number of reps that you’re looking for during that set. However, you can still rely on your intuition to actually finish the set.

Let’s say you know for a fact that you can get easy ten reps on the lat pulldown. That is your minimum for that set. You can stop counting after you perform 10 reps and focus on squeezing the most out of those few last reps. No matter how many of them you end up performing.

This is also an interesting method. It uses a little bit of both in order to perfect every set. Not bad if you aren’t quite sure what you are to expect for an exercise or if you’re only starting to get back to your workouts after some time.

Also, some people like to focus and count every rep at the beginning of their workout, while they’re still fresh, and later focus on the pump or feeling for guidance. That too can be highly efficient if you feel like using only one method isn’t the right way for you. This brings us to the conclusion of this article.


If there is something to be gained from this little article on repetition methodology it is this – every person is different. We all have our own natural way of starting a set. Some believe in counting and some in their own body. No matter to which group you belong you ought to be conscious of your progress!

If you’re making progress over time with either one of the methods then stick to it! Why would you switch something that seems to be providing you with results? But, if you see your workouts running dry then be honest with yourself and take the hard way. Start counting the reps if you don’t usually do it. If you see yourself obsessing over numbers and not getting anywhere then just stop counting and lift more.

The point of the matter is that both methods can be deceiving, even though a lot of people like to believe that there is no mistake with always sticking to the numbers. Therefore, use the advantages of both methods and avoid the disadvantages if you want to perfect your workouts.

Just like always, thank you for reading!



Why I Lived Like a Monk for 12 Years – DORIAN YATES – YouTube

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