Many strength training programs are designed with an improvement of a 1RM (1 repetition maximum) as the goal. In other words the program is designed for you to increase your capacity to move a load, just once, of a desired lift.
While establishing 3, 5, or even 10 rep maximums should be a goal of an individual who is looking to increase their overall strength. They are simply not as bad-ass as a 1RM. When people ask, “whatcha bench?” they are not asking about your 5 rep max.
The classical strength sports also revolve around a single repetition. The athlete who performs the most amount of weight at a given movement, just once, wins that event. Powerlifters bench press, deadlift and back squat. Weightlifters Snatch and Clean and Jerk.
The feeling we obtain from increasing a 1RM of a lift is unmatched. Gym-goers often use that number to define them. Hitting a Personal Record (PR) will make a lifter’s, day, week, month or even year.
Failing to “PR” can also have an opposite and negative effect. Failing to increase a previous maximum can often leave a lifter emotional and upset at their performance and even themselves. Especially if they put a good amount of effort and time in to trying to achieve a bigger lift. A dip in confidence can infect us like a virus. We’d always love to PR every time we grab a barbell but that is unrealistic and the expectation to is dangerous and will leave you disappointed more often than not. [insert sad emoji face]
Strength is not consistent. Even when a strength program is designed for you to “peak” and increase a previous maximum it is never guaranteed. Strength is unpredictable. Strength and Conditioning Coach, Bret Contreras, touched on this in a recent Facebook post.
“It would be much simpler if progress was linear, but unfortunately it’s not. One out of every four workouts will suck, one will be awesome, and two will be mediocre. One week out of every month will suck, one will be awesome, and two will be mediocre. The body adapts in waves, so don’t let the low points get you down. Trust that you’ll steadily improve every few months as long as you’re training hard and eating well.”
Even at my best attempts as a Coach, taking in to account all my knowledge and experience, I can not guarantee a “PR” for a client on a given day. There are too many factors that can take affect on your performance. Here are the ones that come to mind. These are the reasons that on a given day you were unable to PR, even if your program was ideal.
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of recovery
- Poor nutrition (constantly poor or even just that day)
- Mood or emotional state
- Menstrual cycle
- Lack of focus
- Lack of technical execution (especially Olympic Weightlifting)
This excludes the fact that strength undulates like Bret mentions above. Improvements in strength often come in bunches. I can also say that the closer a lifter gets to their capacity to move a load (elite lifter) the less often a PR will come. At the same time improvements in technical ability, understanding and body awareness for a beginner will keep them in “PR City” for a longer period of time.
Either way, cheer up. The fact that you are healthy enough to work through a strength program and have the opportunity to “PR” can’t be forgotten. Approach your workouts as if you will have a long career of lifting and everything will work itself out. Limit your expectations and your strength will surprise you at times. Stay patient and keep training hard.