Counting Magic: The Secret to More Reps & Exercise Volume

by Justin David Carl

Counting magic is a secret I have been using for years to maximize my exercise repetitions and volume. Whether I am lifting super heavy weights, going for high volume (lots of reps), or doing any type of exercise that involves more than one repetition this little trick pays off huge over time. Even in the course of one workout it can make a big difference. Used throughout a few months or years it is revolutionary.

The idea behind counting magic is pretty straightforward. It is purely a mental trick with numbers to get your body to do more than it thinks it can. Or put into other words, you are tricking your mind into thinking your body has less to do than it really does. There are a few types of counting magic that I regularly use. These are the most common counting strategies I use:

Chunking: This version you just break the overall number of repetitions into two or more smaller groups. Together they add up to the total number of reps you are trying to reach. You still do all the reps in one set, but in your head or out-loud you count in chunks. If you workout with a partner and he/she counts for you just have them count this way for you. I.E. You have twelve reps in one set that you are trying to reach. Instead of counting from one to twelve, you would count from one-to-six twice. Or one-to-four three times. Or one-to-three four times. This sounds more complicated than it is. Just count out loud “one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three.” Add that together and you have twelve reps. Easy-peasy.

Counting-down: As simple as the name suggests. Instead of counting to eight by counting one… two… three…four… five… six… seven… eight. You count down eight…seven…six…five…four…three…two…one. This tricks your mind into thinking you have less to do even though your body is getting more fatigued as you progress through the set. When you are pushing yourself to go as heavy as you can repping out that sixth, seventh, and eighth one seems extremely hard from a mental perspective. For your mind it just seems easier when you think three reps left, two reps left, and almost there, just one more rep!

Topping-off: This one is a variation of chunking. Say I have a set of twelve reps to do. First, I will count to eight from one. Then I’ll say to myself, “only four more” and I’ll count in my head “one…two….” then I’ll say to myself, “okay, only two more” and again count in my head “one…two!” And again I reached a total number of twelves reps but broken it down into mentally smaller pieces.

There are other variations and you can combine all the ones listed here together. Maybe you already have some counting-tricks of your own (please share with me if you do). Or maybe you will come up with some new ones of your own (please share with me as well). Email me with your ideas [].

I mix and match in different ways every workout just to confuse the hell out of my mind and maximize my physical capacity. This gives your brain mental exercise, makes you better at arithmetic, and keeps you from getting bored (especially if you have the same daily/weekly routine). I mostly use these strategies for weightlifting, plyometrics and body-weight exercises, but have also used them for cardio-intervals when I needed the help to get through grueling sessions or on days I am just more tired than usual. For example, you can use chunking to break your 30 minutes of cardio into three sets of 10 minutes (maybe even do three types of cardio). Or four sets of 5 minutes to reach a total of 20 minutes. The combinations are truly endless.

This all seems almost ridiculous but I encourage you to give it a shot. You will be surprised at how much easier this will make reaching your intended reps or cardio goals. Your mind almost always gives out before your body. You are much stronger than you think.