Let's face it, the sea of gym equipment at the fitness center can be a little intimidating, especially when it's populated by people who actually know what they're doing. Before you take a spin on the exercise ball or pump iron with a leg press, it's important that you understand the concept behind repetition. Counting out your reps should be about more than getting closer to the end of your workout. Repetitions actually have a purpose in helping you get the most from each piece of equipment.
Load the correct weight in the machine before you start. If you're not sure how much weight to add, err on the side of a lighter weight. It's easier to add some weight when you're lifting too light than to try and struggle through lifting too heavy at first.
Begin counting the number of reps that you can do with a specific weight or level. If you can get to 15 without feeling tired, you need to add some weight. If you can't even get to eight reps without petering out, you need to lighten the load. The sweet spot is between eight and 12 reps, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Any less or more than that range and you'll need to adjust your weights for more effective reps.
Count reps as part of a set. When you've reached eight to 12 reps, you're not done. You'll get the most out of your workout if you complete two or three sets on each piece of equipment to completely fatigue the muscles. By the end of the third set, you should definitely be tired -- or at least wishing you were at home watching "The Bachelor."
Maintain proper form through each repetition. Repetitions are ineffective if they're done improperly. Not only can they be less effective, but also they can be dangerous. If you're not sure how to use a piece of equipment, ask for a demo or read the instructions before hopping on to make sure that every bit of effort really counts.
Track your progress for each piece of equipment. If you can do 12 reps on Level 1 one for one week, try moving up to Level 2 the next and going for eight reps the next week. Tracking your progress helps you push yourself for more reps at a higher level, but only when you're ready. It can also help keep you motivated -- hello, swimsuit season!
- Reps are typically used on exercise equipment that allows you to isolate each movement, such as crunches on a stability ball or lat pulldowns on a pulldown machine. When using cardio equipment or equipment that requires continuous motion, track your progress using the level of resistance, speed and time spent on the equipment rather than reps.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.