When personal bests become few and far between…
When you first start training, you can pretty much expect to hit a personal best nearly every day you show up, and sometimes they’re huge PRs.
Two years later, personal bests might only happen once a week. A year after that, once a month. By the time you’re 5 years into training, you may only be celebrating a meager 1-lb increase.
The reality is, the better you get, the harder it is to PR. It’s not uncommon for world-class weightlifters to go a couple years or more without seeing a single gain in their numbers.
And if you’re at all interested in personal improvement, it’s only natural to feel discouraged when it seems like you’re not improving anymore.
If you’re at that point, there’s hope for you. The answer: Shift your focus to quality versus quantity PRs.
Here are four examples of what I mean by “Quality PRs”:
4. You can move a higher percentage of your 1RM for more reps
Often times people measure strength improvements based entirely on their 1 or 3-rep max. Even if your 1-rep max hasn’t improved, it doesn’t mean your relative strength hasn’t improved. Have you thought about how your body weight or composition has fluctuated? If you’re 10lbs lighter, and can still lift the same amount of weight, then guess what…your strength relative to your body weight has improved!
What about your 5, 10 or even 15 rep max? Being able to hold a higher percentage of your 1 rep max for multiple reps is as—or even more—significant than improving your heavy single. If you used to be able to do 5 back squats at 225 lbs, but now you can hold 225 lbs for 10 reps, that’s a significant improvement worth getting excited for!
3. You move better
Let’s consider a gymnastics movement—because improving gymnastics is about so much more than just numbers.
Let’s say your best consecutive muscle-ups is 6 and you have been chasing 10 consecutive muscle-ups for two years to no avail. You might feel like you’re stuck and haven’t improved.
Although you still haven’t hit your goal of 10, maybe you can hold doubles and triples and quads with less rest at an easier perceived effort. Maybe you’re catching your muscle-up higher because your kip is more efficient. Maybe you can do them without a false grip now. Maybe you’re better at muscle-ups when you’re fatigued and your 30 muscle-ups for time has improved considerably.
How about that commonly referenced back squat again…Yeah, big deal that you’ve plateaued a little bit…but what’s your movement quality like? Are you sitting deeper in the squat with a more upright torso position, and not feeling any range of motion restrictions with a weight that would usually give you trouble? Well, chalk that up as a movement quality PR also!
There are so many ways to measure improvement than just looking at hard numbers.
2. You’re less injured
This is a big one, especially for people who have had ongoing and repeated injuries—things like a shoulder that used to flair up every time you snatched, or that nagging knee that would bother you during a high volume METCON.
Now, you move more effectively, your mobility is better and you have ironed out muscle imbalances that were contributing to your chronic pain and you no longer deal with those issues. Though it’s hard to celebrate this like you would a personal best, it’s probably a much more valuable improvement to your life than adding 10 lbs to your clean.
1. You’re more conditioned
This is a big one. Let’s say, for example, a 3-minute Fran used to obliterate you. Though your best might only be 2:52 now, you can complete it, not feel crushed, and even continue to train afterward.
At a certain fitness level, it gets hard to continue to shave off time. The difference between your athletic potential and your current fitness level becomes less pronounced. That’s just the way it is and our bodies can only do so much, but if your old 100 percent effort is now your 80 percent effort, then you have improved your capacity even if you feel like it’s a marginal improvement.
Even if you’re not on a plateau yet, if you stay the course and commit to fitness for life, you will hit a plateau one day. We all do, but when it happens, take the time to note your QUALITY improvements: They’re as valuable as any!