12 is the Best Number for Workouts

As I warmed up for my 12×300 track workout this morning, a thought popped into my head I’ve had many times: 12 is the best number of reps for a workout.

Almost every rep is a new, generally recognizable fraction. Rep 3 (1/4), 4 (1/3), 6 (1/2), 8 (2/3), and 9 (3/4) all bring a new milestone. You really shouldn’t need a milestone for your first or second rep, and once you hit the 10th rep, you only have “one more ‘til one more.” Then you finish the 11th and let the elation of the “last one” carry you to the end of 12.

Working out with a team in college meant workouts full of comradery. There’s something about suffering together that forms solid bonds of sweaty friendship. The phrase “one more ‘til one more” came from that group of girls, and we used to sing (between gasping breaths) Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” once we reached the halfway point.

Now that my workouts are solo, I use fractions and other internal motivations. But sometimes, all you can focus on is the interval you are currently running. There’s a great passage in Once a Runner where Cassidy is running a terribly difficult workout (I don’t want to spoil it for you) and talks about focusing on one rep at a time – to slay it and then it’s brother after, over and over. There are times when it’s rough early – when you’re struggling much earlier than expected – and you have so far to go. If I can only focus on the rep at hand, I use rhymes.

One is for fun.
Two is for you.
Three is for free.
Four is a lore.
Five I’m alive.
Six is for kicks.
Seven I’m in heaven.
Eight is great.
Nine is mine.
Ten is (almost) the end.

Sometimes – everything goes well, and the rhymes are just for fun. Those are the best days.

Oh – and one more reason 12 is the best number? This guy wears it.

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