When lifting weights, one thing that drives me bonkers is seeing people – both men and women – religiously sticking to a rep count during training. Stopping at 10 reps because that is what is written in your program, when you are capable of doing 12, is selling yourself short and that should never happen, ever.
Numbers are merely figures and the figure you should be concerned about is that of your body – its shape and body fat percentage.
Too often people have some sort of '3 sets of 10 repetitions' mantra set in their mind and that is what they stick to, as if it were law, even if their muscles are capable of more work. Muscles, however, have their own law, and that is that they must be trained hard to the point of overload in order for them to grow. Only an unusual amount of stress will force your muscles to grow and male or female, muscle growth should be your ultimate goal. When you have more muscle in your body your weight may go up or stay the same, but you turn into a fat burning machine because muscle is alive and needs to be fed (calories). More muscle means a lower body fat percentage, better looking body, increased strength and has you burning more calories even while at rest.
It is my belief that the key to looking good and feeling good is a muscle growth, leading to a lower percentage of body fat. And for muscle to grow it must be forced to work beyond what is considered “normal” for you at this point in time – that is it it adapts to the stress and is forced to grow in preparation for more. Your body gets to “talking” about how this guy is adding all this hard work, heavy weight and stress, so in order to agree we better get together and build more muscle to be able to do what is being asked. Stopping at rep 10 (using 10 as an example, the number of reps varies by program and goals) when you are capable of completing 12 reps with good form is stopping short of the muscle growth stage of your workout, only during the last few reps of a set does the stress occurs to force growth. Completing 10 reps is mere putting your body under the same stress and you probably did the previous workout. Without progress to more reps there is no growth.
Once you embrace pushing yourself through this mark, the next step is getting back to 10 reps while overloading the muscles at the same. So if you are capable of nailing down 12 repetitions, the next phase is to add weight, 5-10% more weight is a good starting point as the amount of actual weight you add to a bench press will be more than what you add to bicep curls. When we are able to complete 12 reps again, we repeat the process. Progressing by overloading = muscle growth.
Understand that when working the chest, for example, you may be doing 8-10 sets of total work – such as 3 sets of incline barbell press, 3 sets of flat dumbbell press, 2 sets of decline press. So in this case progressively overloading does not mean that you have to add weight or reps to every single exercise. Perhaps one week you add a rep or two to the bench press, the following week the bench press holds the same as the previous week but you add 5 pounds to the dumbbell press, etc. Some phase of your workout should be progressing every week or so.
One final point, when actually settling down to complete a set of a particular exercise, mentally push the previous number of completed reps out of your head. Too often people remember that last time they completed, say 8 reps with good form, so this week they have that 8 rep number in the back of the head kind of as a mental roadblock to competitiveness more reps. Play the mind game of putting that figure out of you head and do the best you can that day, that exercise, that set.
More muscle translates to a better looking body that becomes more efficient at burning fat, this applies to women as well as men. Too often females avoid weights because they “do not want to get big”, but for the ladies it is difficult to get big, unless you are genetically predisposed to packing on muscle and lift “big”. A testament is to look at so many natural guys at the gym who would love to be bigger yet struggle to do so – it is not as easy as we think. Overloading muscles is the action which causes them to adapt, and they react by growing.