No More Reps

by Brad Pilon

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I’ve started a new experiment.

This one is a workout experiment where I will stop counting my reps for the next 6 weeks.

Why do such a silly thing?

For starters, I’m very attached to analytical training. If you’ve seen Anabolic Again, then you know I rely heavily upon percentage maxes, specific rep ranges, and specific rep progressions in my program design.

However, I’m also a fan of getting the best results possible while doing as little as possible.  Eat Stop Eat is a perfect example. After all, fasting is getting results from doing nothing.

So when it comes to nutrition I’m not a proponent of weighing every bite you eat or tracking your food on some spread sheet, but when it comes to exercise I tracked EVERYTHING.

So in a sense, my exercise approach and nutrition approach are almost polar opposites.

I’ve also noticed a negative to rep counting. I rely on them too heavily.

I have stopped at exactly 10 reps when realistically I know I could have done at least 3 or 4 more before even getting close to failure.

I have also NOT stopped when I should have because the program called for 5, even though I knew 4 was the right amount, I pushed for another rep anyways. This almost always ends in some sort of ‘tweak’, ‘pang’ or full blown injury.

The other problem I’ve encountered counting reps is that I concentrate too much on the counting, not enough on the rep or the muscle being worked.

So the experiment is to simply concentrate on the exercise and keep going until I get the right ‘feel’ then stop.

The idea of paying more attention to the feel than the total rep count isn’t new any means. John Barban has been training like this for a while now, but since he’s my friend and business partner I rarely, if ever take his advice 😉

My buddy Eric Daye also tends to train like this – But again, I’m extremely stubborn with my convictions and did not want to give up the idea of percentage maxes etc.

Then, I started reviewing ‘Vince Gironda – Legend and Myth” by the guys over at critical bench, and it got me thinking…

The one thing almost all high achieving bodybuilders have in common aside from drug use is an understanding of how each rep is supposed to feel.

Arnold made reference to it. So has Mentzer. Yates did the same as did Nubret. And Gironda for sure was a big proponent of the feel.

So a group of high achieving bodybuilders through the ages that have very opposing views on proper training, all tended to agree in one way or another with the concept that the ‘feel’ was important.

I’ve also seen in written that Athletes train movements, Bodybuilders train muscles.

And this got me thinking – there are exercises that I simply DO NOT feel in the target muscle…why is this?

There are some muscles (my chest) that I can pump up and ‘destroy’ in a single set, whereas others (my back) take a lot longer and I rarely ever ‘feel’ it.

Finally, one of the main problems with training for ‘feel’ is how to you write or teach a feeling? You’d have to be a very gifted teacher to get that concept across in written word. Terms like ‘pump’ or ‘burn’ get thrown around, but to me they are completely different feelings. It is much easier to prescribe the approximate amount of reps and weight needed to achieve a feeling. I think this is where our traditional approach to training advice comes from –

The approximate weight and approximate reps to get a ‘feeling’

I know people who make a living off of complicating weight lifting or going to hate this concept,  but it is possible that we rely on specific sets and reps because relying on a feel is too hard to teach.

So as I said, I’m going to try to go without the counting for a couple weeks. I’ve already started and I can tell you it has proven to be very difficult to ‘not count’.

Getting and identifying the right feel has been relatively easy and enjoyable, but NOT counting has been difficult. Even when really concentrating on not counting, I still know how many reps I’ve done. Especially towards the end of a workout. I guess my mind exhausts faster then my body in this case.

I’m getting better with every workout, but still – I did not expect it to be so challenging.

Interestingly, when I announced this experiment on Facebook I received a lot comments from people wondering how I would know when to stop lifting…or would I just go to absolute failure on every set???

The best analogy I can give is as follows:

I’ve been training for a long time, more then twenty years. so for me, I’ve been training about as long as I’ve been driving.

If you were to tell me that I had to drive home from work without using a GPS or looking at any street signs I could do it easily. By feel.

If you told me to drive down a road doing ‘about’ the speed limit without looking at my speedometer, I could do that too.

It’s no like in the odd scenario where my speedometer was broken, my only option would be to put the pedal to the floor and hope for the best.

I could drive by feel.


My uncle had an old truck without a Tachometer…so he didn’t have a readout of the RPMs.

It was a standard and he shifted gears by ‘feel’.

It’s possible. Especially if you’ve been paying attention and if you know your car.

So I hope I’ve been paying attention and I hope I know my body well enough to do this.

Focus on the feel instead of what the tachometer tells me… so to speak.

The other issue people raised was how would I measure progression.

This one is a little more tricky, because first we’d have to define ‘progression’

From (Click to Enlarge)


Of course, this didn’t really help much, so here’s the definition of progress: (Click to Enlarge)



There’s a bit more to this definition.  Basically Progress is growth and development towards a goal or higher stage.

So in this sense the goal (for me) is larger muscles. Increases in total workload measured via reps, sets, volume, etc are all surrogate endpoints to this goal.

Meaning they are ways to measure the goal, but for me they are not the actual goal.

My true goal, and thus true progress, will be measured using DEXA – since my actual goal is an increase in muscle mass, however I’d accept maintenance of muscle mass with an easier approach to be a close second.

I’m hoping that progression just sort of ‘sorts itself out’. Not an ideal or overly logical answer, but it’s an experiment and the basis of the experiment is that perhaps I’ve been over thinking and over analyzing my workouts.

So that’s my experiment. It’s another experiment in simplicity, and in challenging common beliefs. Obviously, I have no idea how it will turn out (might be the worst idea ever..who knows). I’m setting a gain of 2 pounds  in Lean Body Mass as my goal. And setting a loss of 2 pounds Lean Body Mass as a Failure (Lean body mass was 154 pounds last time I measured). I’ll update in 6 or 7 weeks with before and after DEXA’s as well as some notes on how it felt to train without counting reps.


PS – if it goes well and I’m feeling brave I will also stop counting sets in a week or two.




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