How and Why So Many PR's?

Yesterday, Friday July 29th, culminated a month-long cycle programmed by Coach Jim where the one goal he set out with was to improve your back squat.
In other words – move more weight and PR!
There were 42 people that logged their scores on Friday.
Of those 42, 32 of them went home with a gold start next to their name.
For a squat cycle that truly only lasted 4 weeks, that is very impressive.
So how did that occur? 
Quite simple really – it boils down to volume, intensity, and the principle within the strength and conditioning field known as “specific adaptation to imposed demands” – aka the SAID principle. What it basically means is that your body will adapt (read: get better at) whatever demands you place upon it.
Looking back over the month of programming, I counted only five days where we did no formal squatting. Having said that, one could make the argument that a squatting motor pattern was still grooved as most of those days (where we didn’t “squat”) saw us do some rowing and/or heavy box step-ups. So, that takes care of the SAID principle and the volume aspect.
In terms of intensity, I can tell that was taken care of by all the whining…I mean “feedback”… that we get from you all on a regular basis. When you experience loading that is greater than what you’re used to, that is a form of intensity being ratcheted up. It wasn’t just your feedback that I rely on (that wouldn’t be very scientific,  sorry), but more so the pure numbers – we increased either the amount of weight you lifted (as a % of your 1RM) or the amount of repetitions that you performed at a given weight. Or we did both. In either case, we made you do more work, thereby increasing intensity.
But what about the why?
Well, strictly speaking from a physiological background, the ‘why’ is essentially the same as the ‘how’ reasons I gave above – we challenged you over the course of the month with greater increases in volume and intensity than you’re accustomed to during a normal month, and we also did an obscene amount of squatting. Done.
But it goes much deeper I think, and this is far more fascinating to me as a coach and the Director of Training at CFG.
I’ve long told you that, for lack of a better phrase, you all are little guinea pigs for us and the gym is our lab to find out what works in terms of increasing peoples fitness.
Traditional strength and conditioning texts have proven that to get people stronger, you must do the things that we did (volume and intensity increases + SAID). Cool, check that off.
Those same texts also tell you that folks who are brand new to training experience monumental progress when they first start simply because more motor units are firing since they are finally being stimulated. Cool, check that off – our new people still see greater gains than our veteran people, we know that to be true.
And then finally those same texts will tell you that folks with more advanced training histories need a lot of stimulation to make even minuscule gains in the gym. Its the law of diminishing returns essentially. For the most part, yes, this holds true. However, what we found over the past 4 weeks is that new folks and veterans alike saw great benefit in the form of PRs in that short time frame.
Case in point: Eddie Parra. Its safe to say that he’s spent a considerable amount of time under a barbell in his life. Not only did he PR his back squat at the beginning of the cycle, he also did so at the end. Those texts would tell you that shouldn’t happen. So maybe he’s an outlier.
Except he’s not.
He’s not the only one with significant training history who experienced that.
Rob Rivera, Coach Steph, Lydia Parra, Yolanda Cate, Mark Grdovic, Erik Thors, Ana Cate, Kris Perry, Natalie Main, Coach Mark, Andrew Edlund, Pam Z…need I go on??
All of these folks have trained at CFG (or even another gym) for at least 18 months, where they forged a training history that takes them beyond a “novice” weightlifter.
And they all PR’d on Friday!
So what gives?
Honestly, I can’t say with certainty that I have all of the answers. But I do have a few hypotheses:

  1. We squat a lot. We squatted even more this past month. Maybe they all started squatting with even better technique than normal. Better, more efficient, technique allows for greater ability to express the strength you have. Example: how hard was a set of back squats where you let your weight get too far forward??
  2. New exercises like the box step ups and walking lunges tax your body in different ways (namely your GLUTES) and cause those muscles to turn on more frequently.
  3. Mental toughness and resiliency. This cannot be discounted. Pushing yourself through some of the punishing workouts this past month made you mentally tougher, plain and simple. So when faced with just a heavy barbell on your back, you were better equipped to stand up with it.

What about the folks that didn’t PR?
Nutrition, sleep, stress, consistency, travel. All of those things matter.
So does mindset.
If you don’t approach a 1RM attempt with the right mental state, you’re likely to miss it. Or get injured. Trust me, I know. More on that another time.
That’s it for now. Congratulations to everyone for completing this last month, whether you PRd or not! Keep working hard and enjoy every second!
If you’ve got questions about this topic, don’t hesitate to ask!

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