As a lifter, this is one of the most painful situations you will be in. Emotionally painful, that is.
And with the deluge of social media, it has become even worse! Everyone and her dog is dying to tell you about their latest Personal Best.
It feels like the whole world is rubbing your miserable failure in your face.
Now, I know that you know that it is not doing you any good to worry about it. But that’s easier said than done, right?
I feel ya!
I was the same in years gone by. Yep, not any more, and I’ll tell you how in a moment.
I’ve been lifting weights for over a decade. By which I mean, gone into the gym with the intention of getting stronger and performing well in a strength sport like powerlifting or olympic weightlifting.
And I’ve gone for years without a personal best in certain lifts. I last PB’d my snatch in March 2012. As I write this, it is May 2015. So just over 3 years. And I could say the same about a couple of other key lifts.
This isn’t a ‘mine is longer than yours’ pissing contest. I just want you to understand that, not only do I know how it feels, but I’ve had plenty of time to figure out how to deal with it.
In fact, I don’t like seeing other people so miserable about their lack of PBs. Lifting is an amazing, enjoyable activity and I want people to love it.
What I’ve learned about the elusive personal best
The longer you train, the harder personal bests will be to come by
In the beginning you were PB’ing practically every session. Then it dropped off to every few weeks.
By the time you’ve been consistently training a lift for a couple of years, you’ll be lucky if you PB once or twice a year.
As a beginner you are tapping into potential that is just sitting there, waiting to be used. It’s easy. But once you’ve exhausted that potential, you have to build new strength and that is difficult.
If you are at this point now, you have already come further in your lifting than many people, who drop out or switch focus once the inital PB shower dries up. Welcome to strength training!
Ignore personal bests on social media
People love to post their PBs on social media, and if you follow a lot of fitness people, it can seem like a PB deluge every day.
Do your best to feel happy for people. I say this as someone who used to get feelings of jealousy and resentment seeing other people doing well.
But the only person this hurts is yourself.
And if you can’t feel happy for them, ignore them. Turn it off, unfollow, whatever you have to do.
Young people will generally PB more often than older people
Once you are in your late thirties, you are doing more to stave off decline
than to increase your numbers.
In fact, if you can still hit your current PB year after year, that is progress, since your numbers should be going down.
I’m not saying you can’t PB as an older lifter, just that the odds are not as good as they were 20 years ago.
That’s why we have masters competition categories 😉
The older you are, the more life stress you have to deal with
Older lifters – say, mid thirties onwards – have to be smarter about their training. Young lifters can go into the gym, chuck some iron around and still get stronger just doing the basics and being reasonably consistent. Older lifters need to hone in on their weaknesses and limitations and work hard on those.
I coach a number of clients in their forties and older. The biggest challenge is being able to train consistently and with energy, while working full time, managing a family and so on.
Having a coach – whether personal or as part of a club – makes it a lot easier to stay on track, make progress and keep making subtle changes to elicit improvements.
Find new lifts to PB
It doesn’t always have to be your squat or your clean & jerk. How about a PB overhead press? Or a weighted pull up? Or a one rep max turkish get up?
Find different ways to challenge yourself. Go for rep PBs as well as one rep max. All of it makes you stronger by taking your body into areas it hasn’t been before.
I’ve found that giving clients different ways to achieve a new best helps them to feel good about their lifting, and this in turn increases the work rate, enthusiasm and motivation for training – leading to better results in the long run.
The extra work and enthusiasm you put into your assistance lifts will eventually show up in the ‘big’ lifts that really matter to you.
Focus on success in other areas of your life
Don’t tie your self worth to any one aspect or achievement. You have many skills and talents. You are probably taking some of them for granted right now.
If your lifting isn’t making you proud right now, what is? What are you absolutely nailing right now? Where are you growing and developing?
Train your mind as well as your body
Often the PB barrier is a mental barrier. Getting under that snatch, dropping into that squat. You must train your mind to handle this as well as your body, and this takes time.
I’ve struggled with the mental aspect of lifting in the past and I’ve worked successfully with a sports psychologist to overcome it. (How A Notebook Helped Me Win An Olympic Lifting Medal) It really does make a difference. Most people I meet have never done any structured mental preparation around lifting, and this is a huge area to tap into.
I’ve seen my lifters bust through plateaus just with a change in mindset or some mental preparation work for a few weeks. Sometimes your limitation isn’t physical.
Stay the course
It’s very tempting when things aren’t going well in your lifting or you feel that you are not making progress, to find something to distract you. You can take up another sport and start experiencing those exciting beginner gains again!
It’s like the serial monogamist who is addicted to the early days of a relationship but doesn’t want to stay the course.
Hey, if that’s you, it’s ok. I can understand that busting a gut for 12 months simply for a 5kg increase on your deadlift might not be the most motivating thing ever.
However, if you do want those PBs then you need to stay the course and train consistently.
I’ve dropped off my training in the past and tried new sports. There’s no denying that feeling of making easy gains is amazing! But I’m still drawn back to lifting and there’s a deep satisfaction in making progress when you know you’ve been at the game a long time.
You can still make personal bests
Despite the time that has past and the fact that I’m not getting any younger, I still believe I can PB in all my lifts.
Part of dealing with the issue is not to give up on PBs ever happening again, especially if you took up lifting later in life. Your best lifting is potentially ahead of you but you’ve got to keep putting in the work.
I’ve spent the last year changing my snatch technique in a way that I believe will help me to bust that plateau. This takes time to embed and requires me to increase my strength in key areas. I’ve also had the odd injury along the way that has set me back. But I know that I’m closer than I was a year ago.
When the big PB comes, it will be sweeter
There are few things better than finally achieving a personal best after a long drought.
We live in a world where so much is easily and quickly accessible. You can buy anything from anywhere in the world and have it shipped to your door. You can press a button and binge-watch an entire season. You can be a personal trainer in six weeks. You can be a social media ‘celebrity’ in a matter of days, with just a few photos.
Isn’t it good that there’s still something we need to work our butts off for, for years?
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