If you could peer inside the heads of most people at the gym, you’d probably see that their minds were doing one of the three things during their workout—stewing about work, singing along with the lyrics coming through their headphones, or counting to eight, 10, or 12. Set after set after set.
I may listen to Eminem or let my mind wander, but I can tell you one thing I don’t do: Stress about my reps.
The reason is simple: Strictly structured workouts – such as doing 3 sets of 10 reps because a piece of paper says so —is an archaic way of training. I’m not saying it doesn’t work; I’m just saying that you’ll make more out of your time in the gym if you forget the must-hit-a-number doctrine and learn to lift by more feel –and to suit your personality.
The old school of thought was that performing three to four sets of 6-10 reps was good for muscle gain. If you wanted to burn fat, you’d do more reps with a lighter weight, and move quicker. But the fact is that life’s more complicated than a strict program. Your kids get sick, your boss makes you pull a double-shift, or your homework takes several hours more than you thought it would. There are simply some days when you’re not firing on all cylinders. On those days when you come to the gym stressed, ill, or exhausted, pushing for 10 reps for three straight sets may actually be counterproductive in the long run.
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