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When I do weighted pullups with the heavy rock it takes a lot out of me. I can 5 reps in a row, but then I need to pause for a couple of seconds on the ground before each successive rep.

So if P represents "pullups" and the number given represents "seconds of rest", it looks like this:

P-P-P-P-P-2-P-4-P

Should I count this as 5, 6 or 7 reps? Also after this first set of my workout I can't ever get to back to 7 in subsequent sets even with minutes of rest so I don't know if this is training strength so much as whole body fatigue.

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If it's literally only a few seconds, I'd count it as one set, but probably still strive for being able to do them without the rest.

However if you begin pushing it up to 10 seconds or more, then you're getting in to rest-pause training, which is a technique where you effectively extend a set beyond failure by taking a very short rest, performing more reps, and repeating. Although it's usually seen more as a way to compress multiple sets into one, rather than getting more reps into a single set. Rest-pause training is more effective for hypertrophy than strength1, and is popular both for bodybuilding and just for saving time in the gym.

As for not being able to repeat the same number of reps on subsequent sets, this isn't surprising. Pull-ups are quite fatiguing and I think not being able to repeat a set performed to or close to failure is quite common. It's still training strength though, it's just that the systems responsible for performing strength work (the phosphagen energy system and possibly the central nervous system) have been diminished by the first set. If your subsequent sets are seriously diminished, then it may be worth considering backing off a little earlier on the first set so that you can get more high quality sets in. I.e. 4 sets of 5, rather than sets of 7, 4, 4, and 3.

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  • Thanks for the detailed answer! The study seems to confirm my suspicion that it doesn't even matter what program you do GTG or the Norwegians lifting 6 days a week, the only thing that matters is volume, volume, volume. (although I wish the studies would do more than n=9) Nov 20 '20 at 15:02
  • Personally I don't even count reps after the first set anymore. I just do circuit training going from one exercise to the next until I'm exhausted and then I go home. Seems to work. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Nov 20 '20 at 15:03
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If we're being strict about it, any time you come off the bar it's the end of that pull-up set.

But for training purposes, of course those reps still count and their proximity should be recorded somehow. So how you count it is up to your own preferences. Personally I record things like this in my training log as 5+1+1 or something like 5, (micro-pause) 2.

If you're doing a lot of these micro-rests then it might be useful to drop sets entirely from your log, and track only total reps. Sometimes I do this with tick marks, for instance when I'm working under a total time cap like "max pull-ups in however many sets I feel like in 20 minutes".

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    Something else to consider might be the fatigue you get anyway from staying on the bar, but resting. You may be resting the muscles you're trying to target, and get a brief ability to continue, but your secondary muscles and body systems are still engaged and may take away your ability to complete the set. I realized this mostly watching fear-factor where the contestant had to hang from a helicopter, and realizing most could not hold on for more than a minute or two. Also see this on Ninja warrior when the arm starts to straighten out.
    – Dan Chase
    Nov 20 '20 at 16:26

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