There’s something about exercise that scrambles your brain a little. I know I’m not the only one who stops being able to count accurately after about…set two. So if you have multiple sets of an exercise, or rounds of a circuit, try giving yourself some physical tokens to help count.
For example, if I’m doing six sets of pull-ups on the kids’ swing set (I’ve installed rings where one of the swings would normally go) I’ll set a rock on the picnic table after each set. When I have six rocks in a row, I’m done.
I can’t claim credit for this idea. I first learned about it when I would drop in to Crossfit classes sometimes. One day we had to do something like ten rounds of three different exercises and the coach opened up a tiny suitcase in the corner of the room, revealing rows of multicolored poker chips. We each grabbed a stack, and used them to count our rounds.
If you have a goal to do an exercise in large numbers—hundreds of pushups, say—you can take this a step further. For a while I was doing 300 kettlebell swings every day. I kept losing count until I remembered a set of poker chips I’d received as a promo, and brought them to my garage the next time I was doing swings. Ten swings was a chip, six chips earned me a hash mark on the wall, and five hash marks meant I was done.
Even if you’re usually pretty good about counting your sets, give this a try. It’s a horrifying feeling to not know if you’re on your fourth set or your fifth, so if you know exactly what I mean, grab yourself some poker chips or pebbles.