When you first start training, you can pretty much expect to hit a personal best nearly every day you show up. And sometimes they’re huge PRs.
Two years later, personal bests might only happen once a week. A year after that, once a month. And by the time you’re 8 years into training, you’re celebrating meagre 1-lb. PRs once a year the way you celebrated your 50-lb. PR in month two. Fortunately for you, at Forge Valley Fitness we factor in Strength Focus's in order to focus on a certain lift or movement so you get proper exposure and have a better chance at improving that focus.
Now the truth is, the better you get, the harder it is to PR. It’s not uncommon for world class weightlifters to go a couple years or more without seeing a single gain in their numbers. Personally, my strength numbers have barely budged over the last 2-3 years. Partly because they don't necessarily need to for my current goals, but it also takes A LOT of focused work to increase even by 1-2%
But when it does !
And if you’re at all interested in personal improvement, it’s only natural to feel discouraged when it seems like you’re not improving anymore.
If you’re at that point, there’s hope for you. The answer: Shift your focus to quality versus quantity PRs.
Here are four examples of what I mean by “Quality PRs”
You can move a higher percentage of your 1RM for more reps
Often times people measure strength improvements based entirely on their 1 or 3-rep max. Even if your 1 rep max hasn’t improved, though, doesn’t meant your strength hasn’t improved.
What about your 5, 10 or even 15 rep max? Being able to hold a higher percentage of your 1 rep max for multiple reps is as—or even more—significant than improving your heavy single. If you used to be able to do 5 back squats at 225 lb., but now you can hold 225 lb. for 15 reps, that’s a significant improvement worth getting excited for.
You move better
Let’s consider a gymnastics movement for this—because improving gymnastics is about so much more than just numbers.
Let’s say you’re best consecutive muscle-ups is 6 and you have been chasing 10 consecutive muscle-ups for two years to no avail. You might feel like you’re stuck and haven’t improved.
Although you still haven’t hit your goal of 10, maybe you can hold doubles and triples and quads with less rest more easily. Maybe you’re catching your muscle-up higher because your kip is more efficient. Maybe you can do them without a false grip now. Maybe you’re better at muscle-ups when you’re fatigued and your 30 muscle-ups for time has improved considerably.
There are so many ways to measure improvement than just looking at hard numbers.
You’re less injured
This is a big one, especially for people who have had ongoing and repeated injuries—things like a shoulder that used to flair up every time you snatched, or a rib that slipped out in your back every time you put heavy weight overweight.
Now, though, you move more effectively, your mobility is better and you have ironed out muscle imbalances that were contributing to your repeated pain and you no longer deal with those issues. Though it’s hard to celebrate the latter like you would a personal best, it’s probably a much more valuable improvement to your life than adding 10 lb. to your clean.
You breathe better
This is a big one. Let’s say, for example, a 3-minute Fran used to obliterate you. Though your best might only be 2:52 now, you can complete it, not feel crushed, and even continue to train afterward.
At a certain fitness level, it gets hard to continue to shave off time. But if your old 100 percent effort is now your 80 percent effort, then you have improved your capacity even if you feel like it’s a marginal improvement.
Even if you’re not on a plateau yet, if you stay the course and commit to fitness for life, you will hit a plateau one day. We all do. When you do, take the time to take note of your QUALITY improvements: They’re as valuable as any!