What is a new PR worth to me?

As most of you reading this will know I am a Therapist as well as a CrossFit Coach and Personal Trainer, however, my time is largely spent in the clinic helping people restore pain-free movement. So, as much as I like to see people push and achieve new feats of strength, I find my inner therapist constantly battling with my inner coach about pushing people or encouraging people to stay within their limits - particularly in the case of deadlifts! 

I work with athletes of different levels, with different training ages and from different backgrounds. Programming their max strength lifts is completely individualised on their goals and if they have a strong enough foundation to move well without any loading. In the area of social media where ‘the more you suffer in your post the more likes you get’ gives validation to wanting to go to your max. But the truth is, there is very little benefit to moving poorly in a max rep attempt and posting it. I get caught in the middle, between a therapist and a coach. But I ask myself:

“How is my clients life going to benefit from having a new deadlift/back squat/bench press PR?”

For the majority of gym-goers, it doesn’t. You will get stronger by progressively loading higher volume and lower intensity across bigger sets, focusing on moving well. That’s why we test compound lifts against higher rep ranges in our group CrossFit class. We program “find a 5rm back squat”. This forces the weight down, intensity down (but volume up) and requires better squat mechanics. 

There is a continuum when it comes to the fitness “spectrum” and James Fitzgerald - founder of OPEX and one of the first men to win the CrossFit Games - said it best:

If you are training for health and fitness, you are at one end of the spectrum, in the middle you have balance and longevity and, at the other end you have elite sporting performance which is closely followed by death.”

You’d have to do something pretty extreme to reach “Death”, however, he is quite right that when you are working towards reaching the peak of your physical capabilities you are in fact putting yourself at greater risk of injury and are shortening your overall lifespan due to increased stress on your body. There are not many professional athletes who ‘live long and proser’ after short careers. So the general population should not glorify their endeavours and try to replicate training patterns, as they don’t want the same thing. If they did, they would also we a professional athlete.

This also got a few of us coaches talking about who testing is actually suited to. For example: if you have a new athlete who has never done any strength training before, an athlete who has been training for a year or two and an elite-level athlete with 10+ years worth of training experience - who’s most suited to 1 or 3 rep MAX testing? 

The new athlete may be able to push themselves to a true 1 rep max because they don’t know what it feels like to get close and not want to push it harder. The elite-level athlete will more than likely know when they have reached their max as they will have a number in mind and will know on the day how easy that number (or numbers shy of it) are feeling and will gauge if it is a “new PR” day or not.

The ones who may struggle and will probably be most likely to cause an injury will be the people who have had a moderate amount of exposure to heavy lifting but haven’t quite done enough of it to truly know their bodies yet. It doesn’t mean that they won’t get to that stage but, they have had some exposure to movements and weights but don’t actually know where their limits lie - and their desire to improve is still sometimes greater than their body awareness, which increase risk of injury. 

For the competitive athlete who is looking to compete in the sports of CrossFit, Olympic Weightlifting or any competitive sport for that matter, dealing with niggles and injuries is part of the journey. They are always flirting with creating the greatest stimulus, balancing training loads and volume.

Here at MVMT42, our class approach is that we want our athletes to see good movement patterns as a preliminary goal, so that we can then coach them safely towards improved strength and stability for the long term. Correct movement patterns and full range of motion will have a greater impact on improving your quality of life and unlocking your full athletic capabilities.

Our goal is to help you move perfectly without loading, before you can do that, you shouldn’t be adding load. That’s a very basic statement that makes a ton of sense but it’s completely ignored in the typical gym environment. At MVMT42 it flows through the DNA of everything we teach as professional coaches. If in doubt on what you should do, then do exactly what you are doing currently. Attend class and be coached by the team through our great program.

Coach Ian

Smart Performance