How To Break Your Personal Records In The Gym... Every Day
If you're like most lifters, you think much too narrowly about breaking personal records (PR's). If you ask the vast majority of lifters and physique athletes, "What's your personal record?" they instantly think of one thing - their one rep max. I believe that this kind of mindset - having only one type of personal record - can actually dampen your motivation, limit your progress and hold back your muscle gains. There's another way to approach personal record breaking that can boost your motivation and blast your gains into new territory - and keep them coming for the rest of your life.
My New 10 X 10 PR
I was going to write more about the famous (or infamous) 10 sets of 10 program today, having just completed 10 sets of 10 barbell back squats in my last leg workout, but something during that last session prompted me to write about personal records instead.
I was due for a change in workout, but I didn't want to stop squatting, so I decided to simply make a radical switch in my set and rep parameters. It's been quite a while since I've done 10 sets of 10, so I figured that's an old faithful, sure-thing type of growth stimulator, so off to the squat rack I went.
I loaded the barbell with 225 pounds, which was a safe guess for where to start. I've done more than 225 lbs for 10X 10 before and last week I did (one set) of 225 X 35 reps. Two plates on each side seemed perfect for workout #1. Like any other program, I add weight with each subsequent session for as long as I can.
When I finished set 10 of 10, I thought to myself, "Not a personal record - I've done 225 X 10 X 10 before - but not bad." Then it occurred to me that I had never done more than 10 sets of 10 X 225. So I added one more set. 225 lbs X 11 sets of 10 went in my personal records (PR) journal. That was a new lifetime personal record.
Most people would be thinking, "That's not a record, you've squatted 225 lbs for 10 reps before. Heck, you've squatted 405."
That's precisely my point...
Most people have a one track mind and think totally inside the box about personal records. The point is that there are an infinite number of other personal records besides 1 rep maxes to be broken - and when you break them - it works wonders for your confidence and motivation. Usually, it works wonders for your muscle growth as well.
The PR Journal
I believe everyone should have two training journals. One is your regular workout journal, the other is your PR (personal records) journal. Some people have "victory journals" or "achieved goals" journals - same idea. And a great idea it is.
I also believe that if you want to, it's possible to break some kind of personal best almost every time you're in the gym. Obviously, you're not going to best your 1 rep max or even your 10 rep max every time, but if you start thinking out of the box, you realize there are many other records to be broken.
Let's stay with the squat example. Believe it or not, I don't even know what my one rep max is. I have always shied away from 1 rep maxes because I'm not a powerlifter and I felt the risk to benefit ratio wasn't in my favor, considering my history of low back injuries (ruptured L4 and related complications; sciatica, strains, muscle spasms, etc).
Instead of 1 rep maxes, I started setting squatting goals in all kinds of other rep brackets. I haven't attempted a 1 rep max squat in years, but my PR journal is filled with all kinds of personal rep records.
Glancing through my PR journal I see my personal bests are 405 X 6, 325 X 20, 275 X 32, 225 X 54, among others. My thinking is that at any given poundage you can have a repetition PR and you might at various times in your training career, boost your motivation levels by going after a new PR.
One thing I've always liked about this approach is that I've never injured my lower back with only 225 lbs on the bar. But I have injured my back with 365 on the bar. Contrary to what many people believe however, I can make my legs grow with 225 pounds even though I'm probably capable of lifting twice that. That's because there are other ways to apply hypertrophy-stimulating progressive overload.
My recent workout was a volume record. I had never done 225 lbs for 11 sets of 10 before - ever in my life. Not because I wasn't able, but simply because I never tried. Now that I am trying these types of things, I'm setting personal records ALL THE TIME!
What's especially motivating is that when finishing that workout, I realized I had room for more. I'm quite certain I can break my PR for poundage for 10 X10, but I also know I have room left to beat my volume record.
This is not only motivating, but also, don't you think my quads will be MUCH bigger when I hit 255 or 275 lbs for 10 sets of 10?, having worked up from 225 X 10 X 10?
What if I decide to not increase the weight - can I still grow by simply adding volume? What if I get up to 12 or 15 sets of 10 at 225? Is that a crazy amount of volume? Is it too many sets? Is it over-training? Maybe. But I know increasing volume is a form of overload and I'll never know the effect it will have until I try it. Even if I try it only once and it never becomes a regular routine, it's another motivational entry in my record books - without having to max out.
Just as food for thought - read (or re-read) Arnold's Autobiography: The Education of a Bodybuilder. According to Arnold's account, he and his buddies hauled weights out into the woods and squatted all day once -- 250 pounds for 55 sets. No one in their right mind would train like that on a regular basis. Even if you could hack it and grow from it - it's not practical. They may have only done that once in their lives. It was by definition, "a shock workout." But guess what - it was another entry in the record books and now, part of the "Arnold Legend."
Why not create your own legendary achievements?
The importance of all these different possibilities for hitting new PR's is that as your training age increases, it gets harder and harder to keep breaking your 1 rep max. People start to feel frustrated about that because they've been taught their whole lives to keep adding weight, but obviously, you CAN'T keep adding weight forever. But you CAN keep breaking records of one kind or another.
As you begin to think about what kind of new PR's you can set, get out of the box! Get out of the traditional bodybuilding parameters. Forget the rules once in a while. Did you ever wonder how many times you could squat 135? 100 times? 150 times? How about getting REALLY out of the box? How about how many minutes you can squat a certain weight nontstop without racking the bar? Isn't that a completely separate PR listing? Tom Platz once did 225 lbs X 10 minutes.
Why not try something different? you could have a new PR in the book today simply because you never tried it before.
How about personal records for training density? I took my time on those 10 sets of 10 squats with 225 lbs. If it took me 38 minutes to get through all 10 sets, then what if I did that same workout in 35 minutes next time (by way of decreasing rest intervals between sets). New PR!
What if then I get the same 10 X 10 X 225 lbs in 29 minutes? Another new PR! 20 minutes? another one!
Increasing density is a form of progressive overload without an increase in the weight.
I hope the wheels in your head are turning already, but rest assured, I haven't even scratched the surface and we're still talking about straight sets of one exercise. What happens when you start doing exercise combinations (supersets or adding other techniques into the mix?)
What about variations on the exercise? So you have a book full of squat PR's a year from now. Switch to the safety squat bar and start all over again. Switch from a bodybuilding (high bar) squat to a power squat. Switch to a front squat. How about a squat with or without knee wraps and belt? Are each of those separate entries in the PR journal? I reckon they are.
The possible combinations of exercises and acute training variables are infinite, therefore your potential to set new PRs is also infinite.
When you start thinking like this, you'll never have a shortage of goals to pursue, you'll never lose your interest or motivation and you might discover some things about how new (and even "crazy") workouts can stimulate new growth.
-Train hard and expect succcess,
Tom Venuto, author of
Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
PS For more information about the classic 10 X 10 program, visit: Ten_Sets_of_Ten_Workout
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