I don’t know exactly when I started doing it. One day I just grabbed an orange marker and began to highlight my personal bests. It may have been during my more serious attempt years ago at Olympic weightlifting. I figured that only setting personal records on my 1RM snatch and clean and jerk might be a bit demoralizing. After all, the 1 rep maxes weren’t changing too often after I exhausted my introductory gains. I stalled, like most, and wanted to keep going. I started highlighting any and all personal records, things that were similar to the main lifts. My best triple on the clean, best snatch double, stuff like that. As the highlights increased, my momentum increased, and I kept myself moving forward. My strength was trending upward. I could see progress. And, eventually, the 1 rep maxes went up too.
I’ve got lots of little notebooks with all my training data. I recently decided to put my all-time best lifts in one spot. 1 rep maxes, 3 rep maxes, 5 rep maxes- I looked back on a variety of lifts: cleans, snatches, front squats, presses, incline presses. In compiling this data on my main lifts I realized it had been a while since I had hit any personal records. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. It could have been a lack of focus. Maybe I lacked a goal? But, as I wrote down my best lifts, something jumped out at me. “I’ve got a 1 rep max deadlift, a 3 rep max, and a 5 rep max. What about 6 and 4? What about a 2 rep max?”
I went into the gym the next day, put a heavy 6 rep load on the bar, and deadlifted it 6 times. A thought crossed my head: the beauty of training, at all stages of advancement, is the opportunity to do something you’ve never done before. When you’re a novice, each workout is a personal best. You literally can do something new multiple times per workout, every workout, for quite some time. And as you progress, the PRs slowly get tougher and tougher. But maybe this mindset is just as important for the intermediate/ advanced trainee as it is for the novice. Being able to do something you’ve never done before is rare the longer you stay in the iron game. But if you look closely, the opportunities are there.
I didn’t realize I’d never done a heavy PR set of 6 before. Nor had I ever done a PR double on the squat (I hit a personal best 2RM recently, for the record). For the more advanced trainee, these opportunities to grab the orange marker and get a “win” underscore the importance of the process. We’re in this game for the long haul. And yes, while the numbers themselves aren’t always the most important piece of the puzzle, showing up and putting in the work is. For those who need some extra motivation, for those who haven’t hit personal records in a long time, do something you haven’t done before. Go for a new rep range you don’t normally do. Do a heavy double, or even, dare I say, a set of 4. Find some spark of progress to reassure yourself that you are in fact moving forward. Try a new lift-maybe an incline bench or a deficit deadlift. New lifts equal new personal records. You don’t need to go out and dramatically change your entire program. But try making a small change. And, most importantly, highlight your wins. See the accumulation of PRs. It’ll add new excitement to your training that it just may need.