How to Smash Personal Records Every Workout

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Editor’s note: This article by Nick Smoot originally appeared at Machine Muscle.

One of my core beliefs is that a personal record should be set in every training session. Not each week, month, or year, but every single workout.

Now many people are going to fall prey to the “I can’t” mindset, and this is probably because they only associate a personal record with increasing a one rep max. I agree that you will not be able to add weight to the bar every week, but progressive overload does not only come in the form of increasing load.

Setting a personal record, PR, in every workout is far from impossible. An athlete just needs a variety of ways to make it happen and the mindset to get the job done.

Enter Periodization

Dumbbell PressI am not the first to have said this, but I have said it 1000 times and I will say it again, if you fail to plan you plan to fail.

The first step in setting a personal record every workout is to keep track of your progress. We all know recreational lifters who go in to the gym and just “wing it.” We do not remember them because of the progress they have made, but because their strength and physiques stay the same year after year.

How are you possibly going to walk into the squat rack and set a personal record if you have no idea what you squatted the previous training session?

My training programs and the programs that I design for my athletes are all a form of periodization. Simply put, periodization is strategically manipulating training variables (load, reps, sets, rest time, tempo, frequency, exercise selection) to bring about different adaptions, and separating training phases into various periods or blocks. The forms of periodization (linear, undulating, concurrent training, the conjugate method etc.) will be discussed in another article.

Related: 8 Signs of Overtraining & What to Do About It

For now I want everyone to understand that periodization forces you to keep track of your progress, as each subsequent block is built off of the results from the previous one. If you can look back and see your results from the previous training session, you will always have an opportunity to set a PR next time around.

The Importance of Mindset

Before we get into the various ways of setting a PR, or personal record, I want to touch on mindset. It does not matter if you have the most detailed plan in the world, if you do not have the mindset to push yourself past your limits, you will not set a PR.

When you enter the gym, there should be no question as to whether or not you are going to set a new record that day. If “I’m tired,” “I don’t feel like lifting,” “I don’t have the energy to set a record today,” or any similar thought crosses your mind, you can kiss your PR goodbye.

Almost all athletes start at the same level. The elite begin to separate from the average when their superior mindsets and willingness to work propel them to a level that the majority of people only dream of achieving. Attack every workout like it is your last, and do not leave the gym until you have accomplished your goal.

Perfect Body

If you are going into the gym with a negative mindset, accept that you will always be average. If you do not want to be average, it is time to man up.

Forms of Personal Records

As I stated early in this article, increasing load every week is almost impossible. If it was that easy, everyone would be elite level powerlifters, and we all know that is not the case.

Does that mean that you cannot make progress every day? Of course not, it just means you have to find another way to go about it.

Ways to set a new personal record:

  • Increase load
  • Increase the number of repetitions with a certain weight
  • Increase the number of sets performed with a certain weight
  • Increase time under tension
  • Decrease rest time

To give you an example, let’s take a girl who squats 225 pounds. If her program calls for five sets of six reps and she squatted 225 the previous training session, her first option for setting a new PR is to try to add weight to the bar. If she comes in and squats 235 for six reps, she accomplished her goal.

Now if 235 just isn’t going to happen, but she ends up squatting 225 for eight reps or six sets of six, she set a new PR. She also sets a new record if she increases the time of her descent, pauses at the bottom, or increases the ascent back to the starting position.

Her final option is to decrease her rest time. If she is taking 120 seconds in between sets and then cuts it to 90 seconds, her energy systems do not have as much time to recover in between sets; therefore, she made progress.

Summing Up the Chase for Personal Records

There is no excuse for not setting a personal record in each workout. If you are not tracking your workouts, go out today and purchase a $1 notebook and start writing. If you talk yourself down before every workout, box your ears a few times, head butt the barbell, and snort a line of DS Craze; I was just kidding about boxing your ears.

If you are going into the gym with a negative mindset, accept that you will always be average. If you do not want to be average, it is time to man up.

There are numerous ways you can make progress every time you step foot in the gym: look at your results from your last training session, decide how you are going to set a new record, and then go tear the gym apart!

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