The Power of the Personal Record

PRThe personal record is one of the most powerful tracking tools in our arsenal when it comes to measuring progress.  Are you utilizing it to its fullest potential?  When used properly it can set you up to stay on track to hit your goals and can provide a source of motivation when the going gets tough.

So why are so many people underutilizing such a powerful tool?

This January thousands of people will flock to the gyms with vague goals of “losing weight” or “getting in shape.”  They will stick to this awhile and ultimately many of them will give up because of their perceived lack of progress.  Part of the problem is that they did not set concrete measurable goals. Losing weight is always kind of ambiguous because things like body recomposition can be going on. Even so, something like lose 10 pounds is more specific and measurable.

How do you measure getting in shape? That depends on what you’re getting in shape for.  When I was strictly a runner I could run for long periods of time, but I could hardly do a single pull up.  I was in great shape for running a 10k, but horrible shape for participating in something like a Crossfit competition. For someone wanting to “get in shape” a better goal might be run a 400m sprint in less than 1:15 and do 10 strict pull-ups.

For the examples I’ve thrown out there is a common unifying theme in that the goal is specific to your personal ambitions. This is where the concept of a personal record becomes such a powerful tool.

Let’s break down the word, shall we?

Personal: relating to, directed to, or intended for a particular person.  Something that is unique to you. Something only pertaining to you.  Something whose relationship to others is inconsequential. Notice the word, You, the individual, is what is important here. It’s not what somebody else is doing. I’ve always loved this quote by Jim Conroy:

“Just remember: somewhere in China a little girl is warming up with your max.”

Just a reminder that unless you are an elite powerlifter, there is always going to be someone stronger than you. They may have been lifting for years to get where they are at so it’s unfair to compare yourself.  Instead use it as motivation to get to your specific goals.

The second word, Record: the highest or best rate, amount, etc., ever attained, especially in sports. Not much else to say here other than note that this is a quantifiable amount.

Put together in its simplest form, a personal record is the highest amount ever attained by you.  In terms of lifting this is especially simple. It’s the highest amount of weight ever lifted by you, in a particular lift.  But this can also be construed in other ways. It could be the highest number of reps ever achieved in a particular lift at a certain weight.  Or the highest number or reps of a certain weight achieved in a certain time interval. Or the amount of time taken to complete a certain number of reps. You see, it doesn’t have to be a one rep max all the time, which is a good thing because chasing those one rep maxes week in and week out is going to beat you up.

This concept can also spiral out into life and other areas of health.  Things like tracking the number of days in a row of walking at least 20 minutes. The most time spent in a day playing with your kids. The number of books read in a month. The number of consecutive meals eaten with at least three servings of veggies.

The possibilities are endless and the benefits enormous.  If you have set specific measurable goals, the personal record then becomes a measuring stick for progress. Let’s go back to the pull-up example.  You want to do 10 strict pull-ups, but as of right now you can only do one. That’s your current PR and 10 is a good goal to shoot for.  You follow a good workout plan and the next week you test again and you do two pull-ups. That’s a new PR! That’s progress and should get excited about that. You’re not at your goal, but you have improved and that measurable progress is a sign that you are on the right track and should keep doing what you’re doing.  Without that measurable progress how do you know if you’re progressing and that the workout plan you’re following is effective?

You don’t.

And that’s why the most effective workout programs incorporate some sort of way to track your progress.  If you have checked out my free workout plan (available to anyone who signs up for the newsletter) you’ll see that there is a challenge workout to start the program where you set some baseline values in timed sets of certain bodyweight movements.  From those baseline numbers you can set some goals to achieve by the end of the program and when you retest at the end of the four weeks you will be able to see the measurable progress you have made.  In addition you will be repeating several workout finishers each week and you’ll be able to watch your time drop each week as you improve.

I’ve found that this sort of tracking is highly motivating and keeps me excited to workout. If I’m not excited to workout, the likelihood of a workout occurring drops significantly.

I found myself earlier in the fall following a plan without any specific goals in mind.  I was spinning my wheels, not making progress, and worst of all my excitement for banging out a workout was at an all time low.

I needed to re-energize myself so I took a step back and developed some goals that I could progress toward by the end of the year.  Once I had those goals in mind I chose a training plan tailored to get me to those goals. With all that in place I began chasing those personal records and found excitement getting into the gym again.  For what seemed like four or five straight weeks I was setting a deadlift PR. In the last couple of months I put 80 pounds on that lift, culminating in hitting my goal of a double bodyweight pull (330 pounds) by the end of the year. You can see how excited that got me below:

In contrast, there were several goals I didn’t hit, and that’s okay too.  Looking back to where I was in October and comparing that to recent results it’s easy to see the progress. For example, I wanted to hit 20 consecutive dead hang pull-ups by the end of the year. Today I hit 15. That was a new personal record for me.  Short of my goal, yeah, but far better than the 6 I did during my first test in early December.

That’s the power of the personal record. There’s always an old record to compare to and a new record to shoot for.  It’s persistently striving to better yourself.  It’s embracing the process, the struggle, the challenge, day in and day out.

So I encourage you to set some goals for the New Year, both in and out of the gym.  Make sure they’re measurable and quantifiable, something you can track as the year progresses.

Then get to work chasing those PR’s. I guarantee you’ll see some powerful results.

Snatches and Burpees - A Friday "Fun"isher
Friday "Fun"isher - Direct from Athletic Reboot

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