We All Want Huge PRs, But Buyer Beware

Written by: Kevin Cann


I had another topic that I was actually going to write about today, but we will get to that one next week. This topic is fresh on my mind coming off of a competition and writing the training blocks for my lifters after we have competed.


Every competition every lifter wants to hit the biggest personal records (PR) that they can possibly hit.  Of course, they want this, and they absolutely should.  However, in doing so we may be forgetting about the bigger picture.


When I test my lifts 3 weeks before a competition, Boris Sheiko, gives me 102-103% for 1 set of 1. Even if this weight is easy, I am supposed to stop there.  This never really made sense to me over a long period of time.  I just trusted in the process and did what I was supposed to do.


I had also read that if an athlete of his hits a large PR (over 15-20kg) that he will actually have them use percentages for half of that increase for a few weeks first.  For example, if the lifter’s previous best squat was 600lbs and hit 640lbs at a test, for the first few weeks that lifter would use 620lbs as the max and then after that period 640lbs.  There was an easing in process to using the new maxes.


This makes a lot more sense now since I have been analyzing the acute: chronic work ratios (ACWR) of my athletes.  Dave Rocklage has added over 100lbs to his total from Nationals in October.  He added 20lbs to his squat, 25lbs to his bench press, and 60lbs to his deadlift.  These are big jumps in a short amount of time.


When I was analyzing his ACWR it became very difficult to keep his ratio between the .80-1.30 that we want.  Remember, anything less than .80 or more than 1.30 can actually increase injury risk. Keeping Dave’s number of lifts roughly the same, the ACWR would jump up to 1.4-1.5.  This is the danger zone.


Dave was not prepared to handle those increases in volume.  We had to build it up over time.  His post meet block had to look very different than the other lifters that increased their totals by smaller margins.


Nick Santangelo increased his total by 30kg and his ratio was hovering between 1.20-1.30 for the number of lifts that I was looking for in the post competition block.  This really made the words of Sheiko, Dietmar Wolf, and Matt Gary really click with me.


They all talk about adding 2.5kg-5kg on each lift at each competition.  When we look at the athlete’s training and analyze the ACWR we can see why these recommendations make sense.  They allow the athlete to build volume safely over their lifting careers.


You can get really strong really fast by pushing training.  I see this with friends and fellow lifters all of the time.  My social media is inundated with it as well. To be honest it is really hard to see at times.  I am an extremely competitive person and a very good athlete.  I know I am capable of doing much more than what I have so far.


I went through a few weeks of really pushing my training because of this.  I quickly came to my senses though.  I am in this for the long haul and steady progress is all that I am looking for.  This steady progress is what is going to keep me healthy so that I can continually increase my total for my lifting career.  A career I am hoping extends well into old age for me.


Increasing my total too quickly would lead to my ACWR being increased beyond what I am prepared to handle in training.  I could get away with this for a period of time, but eventually it would catch up to me.


This may explain why we see such a large drop-off in performance after around 27 years of age. Seems to be that most male lifters peak between 23 and 27 and then there is a drop-off in performance.  Could this perhaps be a result of increasing lifting numbers too quickly?


It is not like you just get injured the first time the ratio is over 1.30.  Also, oftentimes someone will suffer a minor setback that requires them to decrease training volume and intensity for a period of time.  This helps keep the ratio in check.  However, over time these small setbacks become larger and more frustrating and we can see performance never fully return.


At the other end of the spectrum we have David Ricks, Ls McClain, Marisa Inda, Jennifer Thompson, Kim Walford, Andrey Malanichev, and many others.  They are all well over 30 years old but are at the top of the sport.  This is not just one anomaly, but many lifters.  Could this just be a result of good training over a long period of time?  I happen to think so.


I know there are ways to get really strong really fast.  I choose not to take that route as an athlete or a coach.  I am looking for everyone to progress steadily over time and stay healthy. It is hard to see the bigger picture sometimes, but if you stay the course and stay with the sport you will have a much larger total at the end then if you get injured and fade out after a few years.


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