Have you ever experienced training days where your previous 3-rep max feels impossible to lift, even for just one rep? It happens. Not every PR (personal record) attempt is going to be successful. You will have days where your body isn’t capable of performing optimally, it happens! This doesn’t mean it’s a bad day, instead it’s another training day with more data.
Factors that Affect Performance
There are a lot of factors that affect strength training performance:
Sleep and recovery
Stress levels (mentally and physically)
If any of these are out of whack, then your performance may suffer. Think of hitting a squat 1RM after having 3 hours of sleep vs. 8 quality hours of sleep…you can only imagine how much more “fresh” you may feel with those extra hours.
Training Age & Plateaus
Training age is the amount of time you have been training in strength and conditioning. When you are new to strength training, PRs come left and right. Every max-effort attempt is a PR, and it’s exciting. In the “newbie” phase, you experience progression of all kinds: you are progressing in weights and your form is also becoming more refined. It’s extremely motivating and oftentimes helps get people into strength training more regularly because they have increased confidence and know they will smash records as long as they follow the plan.
The unfortunate part is, as you become more experienced in strength training (thus having a higher training age), you may hit a plateau and/or it takes longer to hit a PR. This is where you have to be strategic with your training and become more specific. As you gain experience in strength training, you’ll probably need to make your training plan more specific/tailored to you. For some people, it may take years to reach this point, while others may get to this plateau a little quicker. This is all based on the individual.
What to do when you don’t hit a PR?
First, do not beat yourself up. It is part of the process. It can be very easy for one to be psyched up about attempting a 1RM for a lift; and if they fail it, it can be very easy for that person to be in the dumps all day.
Second, if you consistently see that you’re stuck at a certain max PR and cannot go above that weight, try to find the culprit. Is there a technique flaw? Have you approached your current limit and need to re-evaluate your training plan? Do you have a weakness in a muscle group involved in the lift? Do you just need more time performing the lift and the strength will follow? The most likely case would be the latter.
Third, approach the bar consistently every time. Before performing a one-rep max (or any rep-maxes in that case), your body will react a certain way: you’ll get nervous, the heart rate will elevate, stress hormone levels will shoot up. It’s important to create a ritual before your heavy attempts so you can relax your mind and body, and approach the bar consistently every time you make these attempts.
Fourth, note how you were feeling before the lift but do not let it determine your potential! It’s easy to think– “I got one hour less of sleep last night so today will not be a good day.” Once you tell yourself you’re going to fail a lift, you probably will. Instead, note any metrics you usually track but do not let it interfere with your thoughts and confidence.
Lastly, PRs come in multiple forms, not just the amount of weight you lifted. You may have the same 1RM squat/bench/deadlift from a few months ago, but does the technique look better? Is the bar speed/velocity of the lift faster? Did you feel more confident with the weight? These are all improvements and PRs that indicate you’re going in the right direction. Just keep training.