Your Own Personal World Records Are The Only Thing That Matter

Your Own Personal World Records Are The Only Thing That Matter
By Charles Staley

When I was still relatively new to lifting, I can remember thinking how incredible it must be to break a World record in sport. I remember in particular watching former Soviet weightlifter Leonid Taranenko break the clean & jerk World record in the late ‘80’s with a monstrous 586-pound effort.

Fast forward to today, and despite decades in the gym, I’ve come nowhere close to breaking any kind of World (or even National) record in any sport, but I can tell you that I have achieved things that I never would have thought possible for myself, and these achievements have brought me tremendous satisfaction, as well as continued motivation to continue my favorite pastime. A big part of why I’ve done as well as I have is that I’ve always been laser-focused on bettering my own “PR’s” (personal records) in the gym.

Sorry, Most People Will NEVER Be The Best 

Now you might think that I’ve been selling myself short my focusing on my own personal records as opposed to setting my sights on actual World records, so allow me to take a moment to explain why I’d vehemently disagree with that notion:

Imagine that you could somehow identify the sport that you had the most potential to succeed at, and then somehow managed to dedicate your entire life to that sport. Further, you also had luck on your side — meaning, you managed to find fantastic coaches, avoid serious injuries, and all in all, the stars aligned perfectly and you managed to achieve the highest possible result that your genetics will allow. In a case like this, what do you imagine your chances are at breaking a World record in that particular sport?

My guess: less than 1 in 100,000.

Some sports, such as bodybuilding, don’t involve World records of course, but there’s only one Mr. Olympia each year, and many thousands of guys gunning for that title. So clearly, there’s a reason that World records (and similar athletic achievements) are held in such high regard: it’s because very few people ever get there.

It Doesn’t Matter Because You Can Be YOUR Best

However, even if you are that special little snowflake, guess how you’re going to arrive at that coveted World record one day? By doing the same thing that I’m arguing for in this article: establishing, documenting, and committing yourself to breaking your own PERSONAL World records. Regardless of your personal potential, this is the only mindset that will take you to your genetic potential, whatever that happens to be.

I’ll re-state this, because it’s important: your own personal records are every bit as noble and meaningful as World records. Your PR’s are the only things that really matter.

You Can’t Master It Until You Measure It

When I was a competitive martial artist back in the Reagan administration, I never felt completely satisfied with the small number of victories that I managed for myself, but it was only years later that I fully appreciated why: winning point karate sparring matches is largely subjective. Much like competitive fencing, the kicks and punches are pulled short of heavy contact, and each clash is followed by a break in the action, where the judges would assess which competitor scored a “point.” The bottom line is that winning and losing had less to do with what you REALLY did and more to do with what the judges thought you did. Further, even if the judges were 100% accurate, it might be that you won because your opponent was having a bad day, not because you were having a good day.

Weight training of course, is far more objective and quantifiable, which is one reason so many people find it so appealing. The first time you hit that coveted 300-pound bench press (just as an example), it’s incontrovertible that you’re a different (and better) person than you were before it happened. You’ve made real progress, and no one can take that away from you.

New PR’s are also indicative of new physicality as well: as I always tell my clients, “when your numbers improve, YOU improve.” Imagine, for example, a novice 18-year old lifter who’s max squat is 225 pounds. Then, 6 years later, he squats 585 — do you think he might be carrying a bit more muscle at that point?

squat

Monitoring PR’s Ensures Progression

It’s called “progressive resistance training” for a reason: while the application of stress (in the form of lifting weights) is a critical component of the equation, it’s isn’t the only thing that matters: constant, gradual progression is the other half of the equation. Think about it: if you brought yourself from curling 85 for 10 reps to 105 for 10, you’d experience a commensurate growth in arm size and strength. However, if you never pushed for heavier weights and/or more reps, you’ll stagnate at that level of adaptation. And trust me, your body is subject to the law of entropy — unless you keep pushing the limits, you’ll always revert back to your former self.

Goal-Specific PR’s

If maximum strength is your game, your attention should be fixed on improving new single rep PR’s for your key lifts, but “rep records” have a critical place in the process as well. Hitting new 3, 5 and even higher rep PR’s serve a few important functions:

• Confidence: Any time you’re able to perform more reps with a given weight, you know you’re on the path to progress.

• The “Bleed-Over” Effect: Even if you’re a powerlifter who only cares about new 1RM’s, new 3 or 1RM PR’s will, in time, “bleed over” into new single-rep PR’s. That’s because new bests in higher-repetition performances create improvements in support systems, such as anaerobic endurance and muscle hypertrophy. Think of it like this: imagine that you needed to create a pile of sand that reaches 36 inches in height. You keep piling more and more sand at the pile’s apex, but as you do so, it simply spreads out in all directions, adding little to the pile’s height. But eventually, if you persist, you’ll get that sand pile to a height of 36 inches. This is what coaches mean when they say that “a peak is only as high as it’s base is wide.”

If hypertrophy and body composition is your primary interest, you still need to focus on new 1RM records, but just as importantly, you’ll need to establish and track higher RM records, and there are at least two ways to approach this:

• Track rep records for a given load. As an example, if your current best with 225 on the bench press is 8 repetitions, you should be constantly seeking 9 or more reps with that weight.

• Track load records for a given number of reps. In this case, you’re looking to increase the amount of weight you can life for a given amount of reps. So as an example, if the most you’ve ever benched 8 reps with is 225 pounds, you’d be trying to lift 230 or more for the same number of reps.

• Track and constantly attempt to improve training density. An important component of body composition training is limiting rests between sets. This creates metabolic stress — an important pre-condition for hypertrophy and, by extension, improved body composition. So while seeking improvements in loads and reps is important, it’s equally effective to seek improved training density, which means increasing the work/rest ratio of your training sessions. This can (and should) be done by attempting to complete all sets of a given exercise in less time, and/or by completing the entire workout in less time.

Put Yourself In A Position To Win

No single method I just mentioned is necessarily superior to the others. Hitting a new 1RM squat PR is just as important to a lifter interested in hypertrophy development as a new 8RM rep record is to a competitive powerlifter. For this reason, and especially the more experienced you are, you need to remain open to hitting any type or new PR you can on a given training session. In fact, the longer you’ve been training, the more important it is to stay open to new “indirect” PR’s. Powerlifters need to enthusiastically destroy existing rep record and training density PR’s, and physique athletes need to push the boundaries on establishing new 1, 2, and 3RM records. Doing so is analogous to pouring more and more sand on that pile, until eventually, it’s height rises to a taller peak.

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

If you last long enough in this game, you’ll get to the point where new PR’s of any kind are harder and harder to come by. As depressing as that sounds, it’s for your own good as it turns out: there are finite limits to your physical potential, and the closer you get to breaching those limits, the more protective your body becomes in an effort to preserve your own safety.

When you get to this stage, achieving new PR’s requires not only patience, but imagination as well. One clear reason for this is that the longer you’ve been lifting, the harder it is to “surprise” your body with new challenges. Now, if you expect to continue your growth (or in worst case scenarios, prevent decline), you’ll need to think outside the box. A few of my favorite tactics include:

• Reducing Creature Comforts: Try to achieve a great performance with less support gear (belts, straps, etc), less advantageous equipment (thicker bars, etc.), on an empty stomach, and/or by using bigger jumps in your warmup sets that what you generally prefer.

• Increase Technical Difficulty: Use more range of motion, implement pauses, and/or use stricter technique.

• Pre-exhaustion: Instead of “saving yourself” during your warm-up sets new a new PR, why not see if you can meet or beat an existing rep record in the face of fatigue? I’ve been using this method lately with satisfying results. A few workouts ago I equaled my 1RM bench press PR after grinding out a very taxing triple with a slightly lower weight. So no, I didn’t beat my existing PR, but I did repeat it under adverse conditions.

The Final Solution: Select New Goals

Look — this might sound like a compromise to some, but if you’re just absolutely stuck in your tracks despite consistent hard work, it probably means that you’re either at your ultimate potential, or as close to it as you’re going to get.

In my own case lately, I’ve been pondering about what it’ll “cost” me, at age 54, to bring my deadlift PR from 510 to 550. Sure, the idea of pulling 550 has a great ring to it, but when I think about it carefully, the time, effort, and risk involved might not be worth it in the long run. My efforts might be better spent in other directions, such as improving my body composition and/or improving my short-term endurance and mobility. And, because it requires far less energy to maintain than it does to gain, I could probably retain most of my pulling strength in the process or pursuing these new goals. This might strike some as a cop-out, but there’s a fine line between reaching your full potential and pushing a bit too far and experiencing a huge setback in the process.

deadlift

Take Control And Make It Your Own

I hope these insights and suggestions have been helpful. The continuous drive for excellence is a path littered with pitfalls, but smart lifters know how to make the appropriate adjustments. If you’ve picked up a few tricks along the way that I haven’t mentioned here, please share your insights below. I look forward to your input!

About the Author

“One of the signs of a great teacher is the ability to make the subject matter seem simple. Charles Staley is one of these rare teachers. After listening and talking to him, you suddenly achieve a new awareness of training. You go to the gym and, suddenly, everything makes sense, and you wonder why you haven’t been doing it his way since day one.” – Muscle Media 2000 magazine August, 1999

Prominent both the United States and across the globe, Charles is recognized as an insightful coach and innovator in the field of human performance. His knowledge, skills and reputation have lead to appearances on NBC’s The TODAY Show and The CBS Early Show, along with numerous radio appearances. He has also authored more than a thousand articles for leading fitness publications and websites, and has lectured to eager audiences around the World.

Charles is not only a thinker, but also a doer: At age 54, he competes in the sport of raw powerlifting, and is a 2-time World Champion (220 and 198-pound weight classes). Find Charles online at www.TargetFocusFitness.com. For distance coaching opportunities, email Charles at charlesstaley@me.com.

charles

The Standing Band Hip Thrust

Here is the standing band hip thrust. It’s sort of like a cable pull-through, with more stability but less constant tension (with bands, the tension is mostly at end-range).

I don’t feel that the standing band hip thrust is as effective as a supine band hip thrust for the glutes due to the knee position (bent legs will involve more glutes and less hammy, whereas straight legs will involve more hammy and less glutes) and the lesser stability (with the supine version, your upper back is resting on a bench). However, it’s certainly more convenient and easier to set up. In addition, the standing pattern might help better groove barbell hip thrust improvements into squat and deadlift variation mechanics.

I performed 3 sets of 8 reps with a 3-second pause and found them to be an effective movement. For glute building, I wouldn’t put them in the same category as hip thrusts, but we’re all unique, and some folks might feel the standing variation thoroughly working their glutes. Give it a try and see what you think.

band standing hip thrust

***Update: My buddies Jim Laird and Chris Duffin just sent me two badass videos. The first is of Jim doing band standing hip thrusts a couple of years ago. Apparently, he used these to train around a back injury at the time, and he felt that they helped him retain his strength while he healed up. HERE is that video – Jim looks much better than I do at these! The second is of Chris doing a combo that involves kneeling cambered bar squats and kneeling band hip thrusters. He calls this movement “The Stallion,” and it looks badass! HERE is that video – I intend on giving this a try over the next week or two. Just some good examples of strong dudes coming up with creative ways to incorporate extra glute work into their training.

Strength & Conditioning Research Questions – July

Every month, Chris and I write the monthly S&C Research review service. The July edition comes out in just a few days. Here are the questions that we’ve created based on the study findings. See if you can guess the answers!

Strength & conditioning, power and hypertrophy

  1. Can plyometrics improve short-distance sprinting in female soccer players?
  2. Is muscular power associated with repeated and single sprint ability in soccer players?
  3. How should strength and conditioning be programmed for soccer players?
  4. What is the role of sprinting speed in soccer?
  5. How do rest periods affect adaptations during explosive training in soccer players?
  6. Can football improve physical performance in elderly men?
  7. Can a periodized resistance-training program improve strength in trained powerlifting athletes?
  8. How fast does muscle size and strength decrease during detraining after BFR training?
  9. Is exercise variation more effective than variety in loading parameters for strength gains?
  10. Do heavy loads lead to similar strength and size gains as light loads in young women?
  11. Does tapering with light or heavy loads have different effects on throwing performance?
  12. How important is physical size for offensive performance in the major league?
  13. Does birth month predict athletic success?

PL

Biomechanics & motor control

  1. Does a weighted vest affect sprint running stride rate or stride length?
  2. Does pattern of joint powers alter with age during maximal cycling?
  3. Does elastic band resistance during squats affect trunk muscle activity?
  4. Does electro-stimulation cause muscle damage?
  5. Can joint torques during sprint running explain the mechanism of hamstring strain injury?
  6. Are functional isometrics better than dynamic half squats for post-activation potentiation?
  7. Is lower-body strength associated with COD and agility in female basketball athletes?
  8. Is lower-body strength and power associated with drive block velocity in offensive line play?
  9. How does drop height affect the biomechanics of 1- and 2-leg drop jumps?
  10. How do joint angle and angular velocity affect force produced during leg extension?
  11. What are the determinants of countermovement jump performance?
  12. Does the kettlebell swing involve more horizontally-directed impulse than the snatch?
  13. Can muscle thickness and pennation angle explain maximal isometric lumbar erector torque?
  14. Does hypertrophy-type resistance-training cause both central and peripheral fatigue?
  15. Does muscle length affect how synergists compensate when prime movers fatigue?
  16. Does central fatigue explain the greater reductions in explosive than maximal strength during fatiguing contractions?
  17. Does afferent feedback keep peripheral fatigue levels at a set threshold?

Swing

Anatomy, physiology & nutrition

  1. How do different dietary proteins and amino acids affect hypertrophy?
  2. Can timed-daily ingestion of whey protein improve your health?
  3. How can natural bodybuilders best prepare for contest?
  4. Are acute physiological response really different between strength and hypertrophy workouts?
  5. How do relative load and metabolic stress affect anabolic signaling and myogenic gene expression?
  6. What are the cellular mechanisms by which omega-3 fats enhance heart health?
  7. Can creatine supplementation prevent strength loss during concurrent training?

Berto

Physical therapy & rehabilitation

  1. What are the barriers to evidence-based practice in physiotherapy?
  2. Is myofascial release effective?
  3. What is the risk of injury in elite bodybuilding?
  4. What is the risk of injury for the club-level road cyclist?
  5. Is the Functional Movement Screen effective?
  6. Are measures of breathing pattern disorders associated with Functional Movement Screen scores?
  7. Are maturation and physical associated with Functional Movement Screen scores?
  8. What do we know about tendon structure, disease, and imaging?
  9. Is hip strength associated with frontal plane alignment during a single leg squat?

sls

You can click HERE to buy this edition as a back issue. Like all our editions, it’s packed with 45 – 50 great study reviews covering a range of topics relevant to exercise and physical therapy professionals alike, and it only costs $10 for the whole thing!

Not interested in these topics? Why not check out our brand new, free hypertrophy resource instead!

The Glutes Can Take a Beating

The Glutes Can Take a Beating
By Chad Waterbury

Bret and I recently had an insightful, hour-long discussion about training more frequently. It’s no surprise that the topic of glute development came up. Bret, as you already know, can pontificate about the glutes more than anyone else.

Sometimes I even hesitate to bring up the subject with him because I know that the next 10 minutes will consist of him outlining the research and experience he’s accumulated, and I won’t get a word in edgewise.

Of course, that’s not a bad thing – unless you have to take a piss. Luckily for me, I was dehydrated that day.

So The Glute Guy and I talked and talked about our experiences with glute training. I honestly wish we would’ve had someone audiotape our exchange, but V. Stiviano wasn’t available. So I’m here to divulge some of what we covered, and discuss how that information can make you add size to any muscle group.

Glutes

First off, the glutes can take a tremendous beating. If there’s any muscle that will grow from high training frequency, the glutes are it. The problem, however, is the way people typically train them.

Take the glute bridge, for example. As the name implies, it’s intended to strengthen and develop the glutes. However, last fall I spent five months under the tutelage of Chris Powers, Ph.D, at this Movement Performance Institute in Los Angeles. For those of you who haven’t heard of Prof. Powers, he’s a guy who’s done more research on the relationship between glute strength and knee pain than just about anyone in the world.

knee

Glute strength and timing is needed to spare the knees

What has his research shown? With certain individuals, training the glutes in the sagittal plane (e.g., glute bridge, deadlift, etc.) works the hamstrings harder than the glutes. The reasons for this phenomenon are speculative, but it bears discussion.

My position is this: the hamstrings are easy for the nervous system to recruit. Maybe it’s because they’re such a large muscle group? The glutes, on the other hand, take up very little real estate in the brain’s motor cortex. This is why it’s often difficult for people to really feel their glutes firing.

Regardless, the hamstrings are stiff in most people because those people often have a spinal disc problem, or a weak low back, or glutes that aren’t strong enough. Indeed, the nervous system stiffens the hamstrings to protect the low back or take over when the glutes aren’t strong enough.

The real problem is that the nervous system doesn’t do what the body actually needs: make the glutes fire harder to take stress off the low back and hamstrings.

The glutes perform four hip functions: extension, abduction, external rotation and posterior pelvic tilt. Their role as hip extensors are constantly worked with the deadlift, squat, lunge, hip thrust and many other sagittal plane movements. The missing links, according to Prof. Power’s research, are primarily in the frontal and transverse planes: hip abduction and external rotation, respectively.

barry

Barry Sanders’ hips knew abduction/external rotation

So, what does this have to do with building more muscle in your biceps or chest?

The key to building any muscle group, whether we’re talking about adding mass or enhancing the neural input, hinges on training more frequently. Take a pair of twins and have one guy practice the guitar for 30 minutes per day compared to the other twin that practices 10 hours a day. At the end of three months you’ll see a drastic difference in each guy’s ability.

The same is true with training. More frequent training will develop any muscle group faster, if you train that muscle the way it’s designed to work while sparing the joints.

If you strive to build your glutes to J-Lo status, pulling multiple sets of a heavy deadlifts each day will be a lesson in futility. Not only will you wreak havoc on your discs from constant spinal compression, but it’s also likely you’ll build the hamstrings more than the glutes.

Jennifer-Lopez

J-Lo Booty

So to get your glutes to start growing, the best approach I’ve found is to challenge them with abduction and external rotation for a higher frequency. To avoid excessive neural fatigue, you must spare the joints and spinal discs. That’s why an iso-squeeze works so well – it hits the glutes without beating up your spine and joints.

Here’s one technique I use with clients that works perfectly for High Frequency Training (HFT):

This is just a sample of how I approach more frequent training. You must maximally stimulate a muscle group while sparing the joints. In HFT2, you’ll be doing other glute exercises such as kb swings, hip thrusts, goblet squats, front squats, single leg squats, deadlifts, reverse lunges, Bulgarian split squats, single leg deadlifts, and step ups.

However, the glute iso-squeeze is performed frequently to hit more fibers and add more time under tension without compromising recovery. The techniques for achieving this with every major muscle group are covered in my latest muscle-building system, HFT2.

Click HERE to Access HFT