Junk Reps

The main programming factors for strength athletes are intensity (weight), volume (sets x reps), frequency, and recovery. If the athlete wants to increase his strength optimally, he must follow a program with a specific arrangement of these factors. The volume of a particular exercise includes both effective reps and junk reps.

A junk rep is a repetition of an exercise that has little training effect. That is, because of poor form or execution, it does not significantly contribute to muscle growth or strength gains. Muhammad Ali famously noted that:

I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting…

The idea here is that when the reps start hurting is when he knows that they are effective reps. For a good example of a junk rep versus an effective rep watch a video of a crossfitter performing kipping or butterfly pullups and contrast it with an athlete performing strict pullups. The kipping pullup is minimally effective for strength gains, therefore, compared to the strict pullup we can call them junk reps. Junk reps are inefficient at making you strong.

Homework and study are very much analogous to strength training. Successful study requires intensity (appropriately difficult problems), volume (number of homework problems worked), frequency (how regularly you’re working homework problems), and recovery (adequate sleep and nutrition). Although many students consistently complete their homework assignments, often times their work is mostly junk reps!

You get your assignment and immediately dive into it with the goal of completing the assignment as fast as possible. You’re not focused and you do not commit a conscious effort to understanding what you’re doing. You’re on auto-pilot. The result is a completed homework assignment but a sub-optimal quiz score (training effect).

If you want to become intellectually ripped, swole, and jacked then you must focus on effective reps when completing your assignments. Follow these tips:

  1. Ritualize your study time.
  2. Digest the assignment before beginning. Do this by surveying the problems and taking note of the different types of problems that the assignment contains. For example, an assignment on graphing linear equations might contain problems focusing on plotting points on the coordinate grid, identifying the slope and y-intercept from an equation in slope-intercept form, graphing a line from an equation in slope-intercept form, and graphing a line from an equation in standard form. These are the main skills that the assignment is helping you to master. Make note of this.
  3. Focus on accuracy and not speed. Speed comes from familiarity, and familiarity comes from volume and frequency. Do not try to rush through problems, instead sit with each problem and identify the potential challenge or lesson in the problem and then solve the problem accurately.
  4. Check your answers once you’ve completed the assignment. If the assignment is not online and does not offer immediate feedback then get with a classmate and check your answers against theirs. Where you have differing answers go back and check to see if you can find a mistake.
  5. Rework any missed problems and try to find your mistake. If after reworking the problem a couple of times you are still unable to arrive at the correct answer then ask your teacher or tutor for help.

Now get to work!

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