Pumping Iron: What Should I Do When I Can’t Complete My Reps During a Workout?

What should I do when I can't complete my reps during a workout?

Pumping Iron: What Should I Do When I Can’t Complete My Reps During a Workout?

You’ve been there before…the sweat dripping from your brow, the muscles screaming for mercy, and just as you’re about to complete that last rep, your arms give way.

Don’t worry, it’s not just you. Struggling to finish your repetitions during a workout is a common situation that even seasoned fitness enthusiasts encounter.

The important thing is knowing what to do when faced with such a hurdle. But before we delve into the solutions, let’s explore the basics.

After reading this blog post, you will have a complete understanding of what to do if you can’t complete your reps during a workout.

What Should I Do When I Can’t Complete My Reps During a Workout?

When you find yourself unable to complete your reps during a workout, it’s essential to adjust your approach rather than push your body beyond its limits, risking potential injury. First, if your form starts to falter mid-workout, lower the weight, rest a bit longer, and then resume your exercise. If you’re at the end of your last set, you can either decrease the weight to finish the remaining reps, or you can use a spotter to help you with forced reps. However, if you’re unable to complete your reps early in your workout, it may signal that your chosen weight is too high, and you should consider reducing it. It’s better to perform an exercise with good form and proper breathing at a lower weight than to force a heavy weight with bad form or excessive momentum. You can also try switching to a lower weight, gradually increasing your reps, or even training to failure wisely. If you continually struggle to complete your reps, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice from a certified personal trainer. They can assess your form, suggest modifications, and provide a personalized workout plan based on your goals, strengths, and limitations. Remember, every workout is a learning experience and an opportunity for growth.

Understanding the Basics

Fundamentally, ‘repetitions’ or ‘reps’ serve as the cornerstone of all strength-building or bodybuilding regimes. Each instance of performing a specific exercise counts as a rep, while a collection of reps constitutes a ‘set’. Executing your reps in the correct manner is essential for targeted muscle growth and avoidance of injuries.

Let’s shed light on some more relevant terminologies. ‘Correct form’ means performing an exercise in a way that optimises effectiveness while reducing the risk of injuries. When you’re unable to finish a rep independently, and someone assists you, that’s known as a ‘forced rep’. The strategy of ‘training to failure’ involves choosing a weight that’s sufficiently heavy, making the last rep a challenge to complete.

What to Do When You Can’t Complete Your Reps

Visualise this scenario…you’re in the middle of your exercise session when you suddenly notice your form is deteriorating. How should you respond? First and foremost, don’t jeopardise your health by overexertion. Rather, reduce the weight, take a longer rest, and then return to your exercise routine.

Contrarily, if you’re approaching the end of your final set, you’ve got a couple of alternatives. Either reduce the weight to round off the last reps or enlist the assistance of a spotter to finish them – these are known as forced reps.

Suppose you’re ambitiously bench pressing, and you find yourself unable to lift halfway through. This situation is ideal for a spotter to intervene, providing minimal assistance to help you lift the weight while ensuring you’re still maximising your effort.

However, if you encounter difficulties early in your exercise routine, it’s a surefire indication that the weight you’ve selected is excessive. In such a scenario, it’s of utmost importance to scale it down slightly. Indeed, preserving good form and proper breathing at a lower weight is preferable over lifting a heavy weight with improper form or excessive momentum.

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Significance of Spotters

The presence of a spotter during workouts, especially for challenging and heavy exercises like squats or bench presses, can significantly improve your exercise experience. Spotters not only guarantee safety but also foster confidence, enabling you to push your boundaries while offering the assurance of support should things not go as planned.

It’s important to remember that the objective of a spotter isn’t to lift the weight for you but to provide just enough assistance for you to complete the rep independently. Effective communication between you and your spotter is essential. They should understand when their intervention is needed and how much help they should provide.

Switching to Lower Weights

If the phrase ‘go big or go home’ has been your workout mantra, it’s time for a slight tweak. When you can’t complete your reps, switching to a lower weight can be an effective strategy. This doesn’t mean you’re compromising your workout, it just means you’re training smarter.

Think about it. If you’re doing bicep curls with a 10-pound dumbbell and struggling to reach ten reps, try switching to a 5-pound dumbbell instead. You might find that you cannot only complete your ten reps but also squeeze in a few more, increasing the volume of your workout.

Lower weights also help you focus on your form and muscle engagement. For instance, if you’re doing a deadlift with a weight that’s too heavy, you might find yourself compromising your form to complete the reps. But with a lighter weight, you can ensure your back is straight, your core engaged, and that you’re driving the movement from your hips – all important components of a well-executed deadlift.

The Concept of Training to Failure

Training to failure is a hot topic in the fitness world. Essentially, it involves choosing a weight that’s heavy enough so that the final rep challenges you to the point where you can’t complete it without compromising your form. While some view it as an effective way to stimulate muscle growth, others see it as a route to unnecessary fatigue and potential injury.

The trick here is to apply this strategy wisely. It can be particularly beneficial for those last sets when you’ve already completed most of your workout and want to push your muscles just a bit further. A word of caution, though: always prioritise form over weight. A failed rep with good form is far better than a successful one with poor form.

Increasing Reps Gradually

In your workout journey, progression is key. But that doesn’t mean you need to start bench pressing a small car overnight. Small, incremental changes can have a big impact over time.

Let’s say you’re working on push-ups. Today, you managed to do ten in a row. Next time, aim for eleven. The time after that, shoot for twelve. This gradual increase not only helps improve your strength and endurance but also keeps you motivated by continuously setting and achieving new goals.

Related: The Pros and Cons To Lifting Everyday

The Psychological Aspect of Workout

Working out is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. It’s normal to feel a bit down when you can’t complete your reps, but remember, every gym-goer has been there. The key is to not let one tough workout affect your motivation.

Take a moment to remind yourself of how far you’ve come, and view these struggles as opportunities for growth and learning. Set realistic expectations, keep a positive mindset, and remember that progress, not perfection, is the goal.

The Importance of Rest and Recovery

There’s a popular notion in the fitness world that more is always better – more reps, more weight, more time in the gym. But what’s often overlooked is the importance of rest and recovery.

Rest periods between sets allow your muscles to recover and prepare for the next set. These breaks can range from a few seconds to several minutes, depending on the intensity of your workout. Not giving yourself enough rest can lead to fatigue, reduced performance, and increased risk of injury.

Sleep and days off from training also play a crucial role in recovery. This downtime is when the real magic happens: your body repairs the micro tears in your muscles caused by exercise, leading to muscle growth.

Consulting a Professional

If you consistently find yourself unable to complete your reps, it may be time to seek professional advice. A certified personal trainer can assess your current fitness level, help correct your form, and suggest modifications to your workout routine. They can provide personalized guidance based on your goals, abilities, and limitations.

Choosing the right professional can make a world of difference. Look for someone with proper certifications, positive reviews, and a training philosophy that aligns with your goals and preferences.

Related: Why Do Shoulders and Chest Recover Faster Than Biceps and Triceps?


Is it OK if I can’t finish a workout?

Yes, it’s perfectly fine if you can’t finish a workout. The key is listening to your body. If you’re feeling overly fatigued, it’s important to rest and avoid potential injuries. It’s better to have a shorter, effective workout than to push beyond your limits and risk hurting yourself.

Is it OK to not finish reps?

If you’re struggling with completing reps, it’s a signal from your body that you need to adjust the weight or take a longer rest. The primary focus should always be on maintaining proper form and ensuring safety. If you can’t finish reps with good form, it’s perfectly acceptable to stop.

When should you go to failure in reps?

Going to failure can be a useful strategy for building muscle, but it’s crucial not to overuse it. Training to failure can be beneficial when done occasionally, usually at the end of your final set. However, regular training to failure can lead to overtraining and increased risk of injury.

Is it OK to take a break during reps?

Yes, taking a break during reps is fine and can be beneficial. If you need to pause for a bit to regain your energy and maintain proper form, then it’s definitely acceptable to do so.

How long should a rep take?

The time a rep should take can vary based on the type of exercise and your specific goals. However, a general rule of thumb is to use a 2-1-2 tempo. This means you take 2 seconds to lift the weight (concentric phase), pause for 1 second at the top, and take 2 seconds to lower the weight (eccentric phase).

Does it matter if I take long breaks between sets?

The length of your rest periods between sets can have a significant impact on your training. Short rest periods (about 1-2 minutes) are often used for endurance training and fat loss, while longer rest periods (3-5 minutes) are typically used for strength and power exercises. However, these durations can vary based on your personal fitness level and goals. Always listen to your body and give it enough time to recover between sets.

Final Thoughts…

In your workout journey, there will be days when the weights seem heavier than usual, and the reps seem almost impossible. It’s okay. Remember, it’s not about how many times you stumble, but how many times you get back up.

Don’t let the fear of not completing your reps keep you from pushing your limits. Use the strategies we’ve discussed here, whether it’s adjusting your weights, using a spotter, training to failure wisely, or gradually increasing your reps. Stay patient, keep a positive mindset, and remember that every rep takes you one step closer to your fitness goals.

But also remember, your body is not a machine. Rest and recovery are just as crucial as the workout itself. Listen to your body’s signals. If it’s crying out for a rest, don’t hesitate to give it one.

Lastly, never shy away from seeking professional help. Personal trainers or fitness coaches can offer invaluable insights and guidance tailored to your individual needs.

So, the next time you hit the gym and find yourself struggling to complete your reps, don’t be disheartened. You’re not failing; you’re growing. With each struggle, you’re becoming stronger, both physically and mentally. Embrace the journey, and keep moving forward. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a fit, strong body. Keep pumping that iron, and soon enough, you’ll be powering through those reps like a pro.

Remember, it’s not just about finishing the reps. It’s about the journey, the effort, and the determination you put into each and every workout. So go ahead, give it your all, and most importantly, enjoy the process. Because at the end of the day, it’s not just about the destination, but the journey that gets you there.

Have you struggled to complete all your reps during a workout and have these tips helped? Let us know in the comments below.

If you enjoy sport and use CBD to help with your recovery in between gruelling workouts, then you are in the right place. Here at Sport CBDs, we train hard and recover the best way possible…

We have regular workouts (check out the YouTube channel), CBD news and CBD products to help you gain that edge! 

If you wanted to check out the reputable CBD we have on offer here at the site, then please head to the Sport CBDs Store (CLICK HERE). We also do fitness clothing and yoga accessories too. 

Until next time, all the best…

Beginners Upper Body Kettlebell Workout


Founder – Sport CBDs

Featured Image Attribution – Image by stockking on Freepik

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