You know that feeling when you walk into the gym and everything just seems to fall into place? The weights that you have attempted countless times in the past feel like a warm-up, and personal records (PRs) are set and eclipsed with ease!
The PR is an integral component to your short and long term success in the gym. PRs allow you to measure progress, configure goals, and serve as a tremendous motivator. When you hit a PR it literally creates a feeling of euphoria.
A PR need not be defined as your 1 repetition maximum. It can be anything from running a mile in under six minutes, to finally hitting that 225 lbs x 10 bench press, to completing 50 chin-ups in only 4 sets.
Setting a PR is not just a matter of getting lucky or “having a good day” – there are 5 main factors that you can control to help drive peak performance:
Consuming the right nutrients can be crucial to your success.
- Days Leading up to PR – Increased protein intake becomes a focus. Most trainees find it easiest to ramp-up their protein intake via the use of supplements. My personal choice is Nitrean Protein by AtLarge Nutrition which consists of a unique blend of 3 fractions of whey, casein, and egg proteins. A generalized surplus of calories is also important. From my experience, the window of opportunity for dietary manipulation begins 3-4 days out from the PR attempt.
- The Day of the PR Attempt – On this day it is crucial to take in a surplus of total calories with an emphasis on carbohydrates and fats for energy. Do not eat unusual foods that may upset your stomach.
- Pre-Workout Meal – Instead of a meal with regular foods, I recommend a high calorie shake (I use MAXIMUS Weight Gainer by AtLarge Nutrition) be consumed 2-3 hours prior to the attempt. Depending on how I feel and the nature of the attempt, I may have a simple carbohydrate source such as dextrose or fruit after the shake in the intervening time prior to the attempt. Some trainees like to use a pre-workout supplement containing stimulants to get “up” for the attempt. This is fine so long as care is taken to make sure the supplement does not interfere with your warm-ups, focus, or your stomach (common problems noted with the use of many pre-workout supplements). I recommend a banana, a couple of spoons of honey, and 200 mg of caffeine as an effective pre-workout “stack”.
Sleep is integral to optimal physical performance. You must be well rested prior to PR attempts. Eight hours of sleep per night is the generally accepted benchmark, but some people may require more depending on factors such as total physical activity (ex: if they have a physically demanding job) and stress.
Central Nervous System
If your PR attempt is going to involve heavy loads, you want to have your central nervous system (CNS) “primed” for the event via proper training in the preceding weeks.
Heavy resistance training is a tremendous stressor to the CNS and one must take care to both allow for adequate recovery time, and to train as heavy as possible as often as possible. This balancing act can be tricky, but the protocol listed below is one that has worked very well for me:
- Week 1: Heavy (75-85%)
- Week 2: Light (65-75%)
- Week 3: Maximal Effort (95-105%)
- Week 4: De-load (50%)
The above load schedule does not detail set and rep recommendations. For clarity, below you will see specific loads (based upon a previous best of 275 lbs x 3 reps), sets, and reps:
- Week 1: 245 lbs x 3 sets of 3
- Week 2: 210 lbs x 3 sets of 5
- Week 3: 210 lbs x 3, 245 lbs x 3, 285 lbs x 3 (PR)
- Week 4: 155 lbs x 3 sets of 10
Immediately prior to the PR attempt, a proper warm-up is crucial. Care must be taken to gradually warm-up the musculature and then move on to heavier loads which will do the same for the CNS. The use of relatively heavy loads during this process must be tempered with the fact that one does not wish to fatigue the body such that the PR attempt is compromised, rather a gradual increase in loads used which both stimulate and do not overly fatigue is ideal. Isolation movements can also be incorporated to prime specific muscles which are to be used in a compound exercise PR attempt.The following sample warm-up is based upon a PR attempt of 300 lbs in the bench press:
Generalized Warm-up: 5 minutes walking on elliptical trainer at low resistance.
Light Stretching & Dynamic Warm-Up: 2-3 minutes of upper body stretches, arm swings, shoulder mobility, etc.
Isolated warm-up for involved muscle groups:
- Pushups – Body weight x 2 sets of 10 reps
- Triceps Pushdown – 50 lbs x 15 reps
Movement Specific Warm-up & Work Sets: (using Bench Press as an example)
- Empty Bar (45 lbs) x 10 x 2 sets
- 95 lbs x 10
- 135 lbs x 7
- 185 lbs x 5
- 225 lbs x 2
- 255 lbs x 2 **
- 275 lbs x 1
- 300 lbs x 1- PR!
- Attempt 305-315 lbs assuming clean lift @ 300 lbs.
**This is the first “work set” where you should add chalk, put on wrist wraps, flip hat backwards, or do whatever else you plan to do on your max attempt.
Note: Some athletes may utilize neoprene sleeves and or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen for problem areas like elbows or knees. Please discuss any medications or injuries with your doctor prior to moving forward in your routine.
The mental aspect is a major factor in setting PRs. You simply cannot optimally harness your physical abilities without the capacity to 100% focus on the task at hand. Heightened mental focus and physical arousal are keys to setting PRs. While there is individual variance in how to best achieve the requisite state, there are certain methods that work for nearly everyone:
- You must attempt to block all distractions from your mind. A sound technique involves taking a few moments prior to the PR attempt to close your eyes and mentally rehearse the lift. Visualize yourself successfully completing the PR. Try to see, smell, and feel all that you will during the actual attempt. In short, make the mental attempts as realistic as possible.
- Build up your adrenaline prior to the big attempt. For some people this means getting angry or “fired up” while for others it is just a calm focus of energy. Stay in control and do not expend any valuable energy with anything unnecessary.
Wrapping things up
It is generally recommended that you go for heavy PRs (using loads greater than 80% of your current 1 repetition maximum) no more than once per month. With that said; remember that PRs can take nearly any form and need not be 1-3 repetition lifts. These other types of PRs can be attempted with greater frequency.
As you can see, PRs are a must for any dedicated trainee. Follow the guidelines set forth in this article and you will be well on your way to your personal physical goals.
Now, go break down your barriers and set some new personal records!
Written by Tom Mutaffis
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