Personal records, PRs, or personal bests, PBs, (we go with the former) are something that everyone chases. Weightlifter, powerlifter, runner, etc. are all interested in performing better. Managed properly, personal records and PR attempts reveal both short term and long term progress. Great information on training comes from them. Managed improperly, they are an exercise in abject stupidity.
Larry Lifter shows up for training and his coach tells him that the plan, or program, calls for PR attempts in each lift. Coach tells Larry that he has been working hard for 6 weeks and that this planned set of PR attempts will give them both good feedback. From the day’s training session, they will get some good data. Larry gets ready to put forth maximum effort. He has been training in the 2 and 3 rep ranges as well as the occasional excursion down to a single. All weights have been at or above 80% or previous tested maximums. Without going into excruciating detail, training has been building toward these attempts.
Larry gets ready, warms up, and chases new PR in snatch and CJ. He hits a new PR in snatch, about 3-4% more than his previous, and coach tells him to do it again, but this time, “Do it more perfectly.” So far, a good day. Larry is hungry for more in the snatch after hitting a more perfect second snatch.
Larry then goes after CJ where the C has always been his problem. He goes after a PR that is the 5% above his previous best, his timing is off, and he misses. He tries it again, the lift is ugly, and coach tells him to start squatting. Larry protests and asks if he can go one more time or put more weight on because, “…I know I can get it, coach.”
Larry and his coach both get important info from this session as well as having an injury free lifter who is hungry for more PR. Not a bad day and a good example of properly managing PR attempts.
Now, the other side of the story.
Louis Lifter comes to his gym, ready to go. Perhaps he has a coach, perhaps he does not have one. No matter, he has been training hard, doing many sets of many reps of a wide variety of exercises. From pulls to dead lifts to rows to push ups to you name it, if you need 50 reps done in under 2 minutes, Louis is the guy. So, he decides that today’s session calls for a maximum lift in clean. He has not trained for even a few days let alone weeks in anything close to 80% or above, has not trained a one rep max in months, yet decides that today is a good day for a max attempt. Why not? Lots of others are in the gym today going after max attempts and he should, too, he thinks. He thinks, “I want to show everyone how strong I am.” Ego has crept in and that usually means that Rational Thought, like Elvis, has left the building.
He warms up, gets ready, slaps weight on, and starts heading toward PR territory. He hits a PR by 5 kilos and is quite pleased. The goal of today’s session was to PR and he accomplished it. In theory, he should stop and go about his other business. Remember Ego? Ego tells Louis to add 5 kilos which he does.
He misses and misses badly. No matter to Louis as he just revs up the testosterone, damns technical form, and rips the weight from the ground to his shoulders. He still misses. He adds another 5 kilos. Unfortunately, he repeats the above testosterone increasing sequence and, with the room yelling at him a la a High School football weight room, he makes the lift. “Crap, I am on a roll, ” he thinks, “that is a 15 kilo PR. I am going up.”
He is tired, thinking all sorts of meaningless thoughts (“I hate this music.” “Why is he here?”, etc). He goes for his next attempt. It is slow from the ground, he can barely move, barely expresses any power, and his elbow whip is renamed to “elbow lackadaisical”. He tries to move under the bar, but he is so slow. One woman onlooker is able to get her hair French braided during the time Louis is moving under the bar. Then, he goes for the rack and BOOM! his wrist explodes.
Ligaments, tendons, bones go every which way and Louis writhes in agony. During his recovery period away from the gym, Louis can muse about his training and how he will recover from this, most likely career ending, injury. He got no quality feedback from his PR attempts.
Meanwhile, Larry adjusts his program, boosts his training weights, and launches himself into a new 6 or 8 week program. At the end of it, he will again attempt some PR after patiently working up to them. He gathered data for training, is hungry for more PR, and is uninjured so he can continue on that path. A perfect example of a well managed training day targeting PR attempts.
Contrast this with Louis who mismanaged his PR attempts as well as the training leading up to them and now has weeks or months of time off due to injury. His case is an example of wasted opportunity and a lesson in stupidity. Don’t be Louis.