It’s Not a PR If It’s Not Personal

Let’s talk a little bit about the “Personal Record,” or PR.  It’s an important component of training, and of life.  We thrive when we see one accomplishment drive us to reach the next.  As we all know, not all PR’s are created equal.

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The popularity of Personal Records depends on the training system or philosophy that you hold yourself accountable to.  Some rely on setting a small PR every day, physically or mentally.  This is akin to MFF’s “1%” mantra.  Other systems, often heavily periodized, have you waiting 12-16 weeks before attempting another personal record.  Both systems have worked for me, and both philosophies have worked for countless other lifters.  We’re not going to discuss the differences today.  We’re going to discuss what they have in common.

I believe that there is an indisputable rule for all personal records.

A personal record must be worked for.  You must approach it with purpose.  It must mean something.  At the risk of sounding like a crochety old man, probably named Harold, I believe that most of what we do in fitness is not a personal record.  It might be a personal first, but it is not a personal record.  Let’s examine that difference.

Meaningful new experiences are an integral part of a fulfilling life. I don’t think anyone would argue against this.  Just because somethings new, however, doesn’t mean that it’s a personal record.  It’s a personal first.  While a personal first should surely be enjoyed, I don’t believe it carries the same weight or wait as a personal record.  A PR comes with the stipulation that there was time in the making, and that you were working towards something more.

The more may have been in weight, or reps, or speed, or time, but it is always relative to the last time you did it.  There’s nothing to compare to if it’s the first time.  That Personal Record is only a PR when you compare it to what came before, and without a baseline, you haven’t invested time.

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Celebrating new experiences is important.  It maintains our desire to explore, to learn, and to have firsts.  Celebrating new experiences as if they’re personal records, does a disservice to the mental and physical energy that we must invest to see progress.  If we haven’t worked to improve on what we’ve already done, it’s not a PR.

I want us to have firsts, and I want us to have PR’s.  I want us to appreciate the difference.

That first workout after a year off, that first week of nailing your diet, that first 5k, powerlifting meet, or gran fondo are all things to be proud of.  They’re moments of passion and performance to be celebrated.  Enjoy the living hell out of your firsts.  I know that I sure as hell do. Just don’t confuse them with Personal Records.

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Were I to participate in Mountain Creek’s King of the Mountain Enduro again, I could set a PR.  Thing is, I have to wait until September, so for the time being it’s just a personal first, not a personal best.  This is often what happens when we succeed in our first attempt of something new.  Perhaps it’s our first pull-up, our first time front squatting after a month of goblet squatting, or our first push-up.

You’re not in a relationship after the first date, and you don’t set a PR when you try something new.  It’s surely exciting, and we should enjoy that, but it hasn’t grown with your mental and physical energy.  Cherish, but don’t confuse.

The celebratory first-timers are so well-intended, and in no way do I mean to rain on the parade.  You should be proud of hell for what you’ve done.  Take one more moment to hug yourself, alright?

Now, let’s move to the next step, planning how to do it again.  You can do it better, you can make it feel easier, and you can make those personal records to build on top of your personal first.  Getting from the first time to the second time can be far more taxing than trying it out, and that is where we would benefit to focus our mental energy.

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The “Personal Record” culture tends to celebrate first attempts rather than best attempts, and we fail to appreciate the time invested in between. That is where the magic happens.  That mental and physical energy, that struggle, doubt, and belief, is where we learn the most and grow the most.  That is a requisite of celebrating any personal record.

Personal Records and Personal Firsts are both essential to our fitness success, and living fulfilling lives.  We often confuse them, leaving room for us to be let down.  Appreciate the difference, pursue both, and you’ll learn and grown in the process.

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