Ugly Reps

So the hubs is trying to get back on the proverbial exercise wagon. He’s drug out some old P90X CDs of yore and navigating a forgotten trail back down to our basement gym. The other day he asked me a question that I thought was worth noting here. He wanted to know if he should try to push through the suggested number of reps called out to him or stop short when his form was starting to fade.


It’s a legitimate question and my response is an emphatic, “Tony Horton is not the boss of you. :)” Listen to your body. In this case, his last rep, or your last rep, though certainly more fatiguing, should still feel mechanically like the first. When you can no longer maintain that same level of stability or proper movement pattern, it’s time to stop. When we start pushing out ugly reps, not only are we setting ourselves up for injury, but we are also priming ourselves for greater muscle imbalances. Our strong muscles take over and get even stronger, and our weaker muscles check out and become even lamer in comparison.


I know for many competitive spirits, “giving up” early can feel defeating, so here’s a way to continue to develop your strength safely and effectively. If/when you start to notice the first inkling of form change as fatigue sets in, do a “drop set”. If the workout recommends 15 reps, and you can only effectively eek out 10, immediately drop the weight and finish your last five.


It’s a strategy that’s especially effective when you’re trying to make incremental gains. For example, as a beginning strength enthusiast, you might be starting out with 5 lb dumbbells in your own basement gym. When those become too easy you’ll probably want to crank up the resistance. Your next option available might be 10 lb dumbbells. Though that’s just a five pound difference, it’s actually a huge percentage jump. A 100% jump, in fact. However, you don’t want to stay with 5 lbs forever. So jump to the 10’s for maybe even just a couple of good reps at first, then finish out the rest with the 5’s. You’ll gradually increase the number you can do with the heavies and eventually graduate away from the fives entirely. Make sense? Alright. Now, go get ‘em, Hercules.  

Erin Henry