Using Math to Win at Workouts!

This is your brain on math.

I am definitely not a math-minded person, generally speaking. Math was a subject I struggled in during school, as opposed to English, where I could just fly by without blinking an eye. I prefer words over numbers any day of the week, but the more I work out, the more I realize that my brain is secretly plotting against me to become more math oriented out of desperation and necessity. It plays games with me.


Because when I work out, math is constantly a focus! I make little deals with myself throughout each workout. “C’mon, just 5 more reps!” or “No worries, only 3 minutes 23 seconds left, push yourself!”

So I decided that this week of Boot Camp, with Miss Tina Reale


I would harness the power of math to push me further in each rep and each minute of my workouts. It’s amazing what I can do by overcoming my mental obstacles with the distraction of a little math! Games are fun right? In all honestly, the only time I enjoyed math was when I made games out of the problems. So why not apply that to working out? Makes sense to me, so I might as well do it…

I have decided to share my evil new devices of mathematical brain trickery below. (And for my own future reference).

So here goes!

Increasing the Burn…

1)      A Game of Pounds:

When selecting a weight for each weight training exercise, I select the weight I think I can do based on past experience, and then I select a weight that is the next dumbbell, kettlebell, weighted ball, or barbell disc up from that. I start with this higher weight until I am near fatigue, (or as long as I can go with proper form), and then switch to the lighter weight when I have to. For example, if I am performing a dumbbell curl, and I know I have 10 reps, I figure I can normally use about a 12.5lb weight. So I grab a 12.5lb weight, and then also a 15 lb weight. I use the 15lb weight until approximately rep #7, then I see that my form is slipping a bit, so I switch to the 12.5lb weight to finish off the reps. Bonus: If I feel like I can add an additional 3-5 reps at the lower weight, I do! (Math skills used: Addition + subtraction=workout win #1!)

Increasing the Endurance.

2)      A Game of Reps:

With the boot camp workouts, there is either a set number of reps, or an allotted time to complete as many reps as possible. There are definitely games to be played here!

Game #1: (set number of reps)

As I go through the reps, I tend to divide the reps into fractions as I go. This is based on the knowledge that a certain number of reps equals 1 whole set. I use this to trick my brain into both getting through the set, but also adding more reps if I can. For example, if I have 10 reps, I know that at 3 reps I am 3/10 done, and 5 reps I am ½ done. But my brain wants simpler fractions, because it doesn’t like weird ones that you have to figure out least common denominators…too much work! But if I up the reps to 12, I have use beautifully simple ¼, 1/3, etc. Much happier! And 2 reps added!  Beautimous. I love my lazy brain sometimes…so easily manipulated into simpler fractions! (Math skills used: fractions + addition = win #2!)

Game #2: (reps in a set amount of time)

For this one, I usually try for as many reps as I can do with good form for the first set. Then for the second and third sets (and so on) I try to beat that number of reps from the first set. For instance, if I complete 20 pushups in 30 seconds, I then try to do 22, then 24, and so on. (Math skills used: Addition = win #3!)

Tuning In…

3)      A Game of Tunes:

For this game, I use my trusty Itunes and knowledge of time signatures to aid in my training. Music can be a very powerful tool of gameplay when completing workouts. It works for both cardio and weight training. Not only does it provide a beat to move to and entertainment to keep you going, it also provides a mathematical web of power to utilize.

You see, the majority of rock and pop tunes are in 4/4 time, meaning there are 4 beats to a measure, and a quarter note gets 1 beat. As a result, stanzas are usually 8 beats (think back to any dance related class you’ve ever taken…the music’s counted as 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8). So now say you’re pumping iron to the beat, counting in your head, but the music is mid-stanza when you finish your reps…doesn’t it make sense to just go ahead and finish out those last 4 reps to complete the stanza? Of course it does!

Now say you’re on the treadmill and your timer is almost up…but you’re only mid-song! Doesn’t it make sense to just go ahead and finish out the song as strongly and with as much gusto as possible? Of course it does! (Math skills used: Time signatures + additional beats= Win #3!)

Fair and Square…

4)      A Game of Evens over Odds:

In this game, time is on my side. Or at least, my OCD sense of odd and even numbers is on my side. In general, I like even numbers over odd numbers. I like things to be fair and equal and even, yada yada…but I use this to my advantage when working out. If the number of reps is 15 on each side, I instead try to do 16. If I log 3 miles on the elliptical, I complete 1 more to make it an even 4. If the number of sets is 3, I try to do four. If the interval splits on the treadmill turn out to be 5 sets of full pace and recovery, I do 6 instead. Believe me, the increments add up! (Math skills used: Increments + Even Numbers + additional reps/minutes=Win #4!)

Mixing it up…

5)      A Game of Circuit Multiples:

In this game, I utilize equal sets of multiples to complete multiple exercises for a given number of sets. I have to do each move or use each machine for an equal number of minutes…why?   Because fair game play is good game play. Everybody knows that! ;) For example, I like to sometimes break up my cardio into different machines. Say I’m using the elliptical, the Stairmaster, and the rowing machine. I commit to an equal number of minutes at each machine so I can’t slack off on the last machine due to fatigue. If I have 45 minutes for cardio, I’ll do 15 minutes of each machine. Fair and square. For circuit training, I’ll do an equal number of reps and/or an equal number of reps for each move. Example: 20 mountain climbers, 20 burpees, 20 high knees, 20 jumping jacks. Or, 40 seconds of each if going for time. (Math Skills used: The Math Property of Equality + addition=Win #5!)

So there you have it…my brain is reeling from all this math now, so i’d better go back to reading more blogs…






  • November 2, 2012 - 10:56 pm | Permalink

    haha I loved this! i’m in BBB as well and I do the same thing, always just 5 minutes more!

    • Christin Joyful
      November 3, 2012 - 10:13 am | Permalink

      Haha right? Whatever works…its the little things that add up! :)

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