Written by Deanna Rosemarie
When the average gym-goer decides to learn more about powerlifting and starts to run their first specific program, they typically progress very quickly and see great results from linear programming (for more information on picking a powerlifting program, see our article here) and frequent attempts at new 1 Rep Maxes (Personal Records.) New lifters typically use the 1RM as the only marker for strength in their training. They max often, because they can, and they see results from increases in their 1RM almost solely based on neural adaptation – your body’s proficiency or “muscle memory” in performing the lift over actual strength and muscle mass gains. AKA “Beginner Gains.”
As a lifter progresses in their training, they are unable to add 10-20 lbs. to their one rep max in a single training cycle. They can’t add weight to the bar every time they go to the gym, and instead of getting frustrated, it is important to focus on different markers of progress in addition to the 1RM as they grow as an athlete. The intermediate lifter needs to track reps, volume, and quality PR’s in addition to their 1RM to judge increases in their overall strength and proficiency as a lifter. This article will discuss the different types of personal records that should be tracked in addition to the 1RM.
Using rep PR’s progress is measured by increases in the number of reps at the same weight or hitting the same number of reps at an increased weight. For my clients, I prescribe multiple “AMRAP” or “As Many Reps As Possible” sessions to encourage rep PR’s and progress. John Phung is the king of Rep PR’s. You can read more about his philosophy here http://www.johnphung.com/blog/6813/how-i-hit-prs-all-the-time-and-how-you-can-too/
Understanding How Rep PR’s relate to your 1RM is easy. By using a rep calculator like the one available at EXRX.com you can understand how to translate rep and volume work to your projected 1RM. (http://www.exrx.net/Calculators/OneRepMax.html) Please note that this is not the end-all be-all for any lifter. The higher the rep-range, the more room there is for variation, however, this is still a helpful tool that many intermediate and advanced lifters use in their training.
- A client squats 225 lbs. at five reps (225x5) which projects 253 lbs. as their one rep max using the above calculator.
- At a later session, the client lifts 230 lbs. for five reps (230x5) which projects 259 for their 1RM.
- Or the client lifts 225x7 adding two reps in the later session which projects a 1RM of 270lbs.
This represents a 6-17 lb. projected increase in their 1RM by training at a sub-maximal weight. They are increasing their intensity without such large jumps in the actual weight on the bar.
Volume PR’s – Weight x sets x reps. Volume judges how much weight you moved overall in a single session. It is important to track your workouts so you can make sure that you’re accumulating more volume throughout your training. Volume is the primary driver of progress in powerlifting. I use Excel to track my volume. There are many applications online that can do this as well. One of the most successful powerlifters of all time, Blaine Sumner the Vanilla Gorilla explains volume PR’s in this Juggernaut article: http://www.jtsstrength.com/articles/2014/08/08/understanding-volume/
- A client squats 190 lbs. for 3 sets of 5 reps (3x5@190#) which is a total volume of 2850 lbs.
- At a later session, the same client squats 190 lbs. for 4 sets of 5 reps (4x5@190#) that is a total volume of 3,800 lbs.
- At the same weight on the bar, the clients has been able to lift almost 1000 lbs. more during their session, which is a very large increase in volume by only adding one set.
Quality PR’s – Another way to track progress is by considering quality PR’s. I always ask my clients to focus on getting video of their sets. Judging form breakdown, bar path, speed, and other quality markers points toward an increase in strength. There are different ways to track quality. Some ideas are below:
- Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT): CAT training judges the success in a lift by speed. For example, a lifter performs 5x5 @165# squats applying maximum speed to every rep. The lifter would stay at this work weight until the 25th rep has the same speed as the first rep performed. The ability to maintain the same speed quality shows improvement in strength and proficiency. http://breakingmuscle.com/strength-conditioning/compensatory-acceleration-training-speed-up-your-strength-gains
- Bar Path Consistency: While filming your lifts keep track of your bar path in your videos. There’s an app available called Iron Path which is quick and easy to use and track the path your bar takes. Consistency in bar path demonstrates technical quality and form mastery at a work weight. http://www.theironpath.com/
- RPE or Rated Perceived Exertion: Tracking the level of exertion, or simply rating how hard the weight is to lift on a scale of 1-10 is called RPE training. Rating a lift at an RPE of 10 means you lack the capacity to have any reps “left in the tank.” 9 is one rep left, 8 is 2 reps left, and 7 is three or more reps left. Mike Tuchscherer has popularized the use of RPE in his training. http://www.elitefts.com/education/training/rate-of-perceived-exertion-rpe/