“Failure to plan is planning to fail.”
Like most feats, setting a personal record takes proper preparation over months of sport-specific training, nutrition, focus, and practice. Often, beginners and intermediate lifters walk into a gym on any given day and miraculously set new personal records.
As one becomes more advanced in their levels of fitness and training, setting and achieving personal records occur less often, sometimes only once every few months. Preparation for that PR started months before, when training regimens, goals, and timelines were set.
In addition to tapering an athlete’s training program properly leading up to their next competition, coaches and athletes can structure the final 24 hours leading up to a PR attempt to maximize their mental and physical preparedness. By understanding the roles of physiological and psychological factors that affect us all, we can better adapt, set a PR, and evolve.
T-Minus 12-24 Hours
Body: Active rest and recovery will increase systemic blood flow to your muscles and joints. Sound sleep and nutrition will result in big gains. Additionally, be smart about consuming enough water. Although dehydration has the largest effects on endurance exercise and strength training (multiple sets and reps), some research has suggests 3-4% dehydration (of body mass) can decrease muscular strength and power by 2-3%. That could be the difference between hitting a total of 257kg instead of 250kg (over 15lbs!).
Mind: Patience. Start envisioning the day of and mentally prepare for battle. Mark you calendar and understand that what you do now WILL impact your performance to come.
Find time to destress and declutter your thoughts. The extra time you have since you are taking a rest day (or two) should still be you time. Take a bath, read a book in bed, or take a nap. Don’t allow other stresses to steal your focus.
T-Minus 4-12 Hours
Body: After a solid 8 hours of sleep, start your morning off with some light activity. Stay loose and become aware of your body. Listen to what it is saying and archive that information for your warm-up routine.
Mind: Mentally, you cannot have a bad start. You have trained hard and have put yourself in a position for success. Recognizing the ball is in your court will allow your to stay focus at the task at hand.
T-Minus 2-4 Hours
Body: Supply yourself with a steady source of carbohydrates and protein (hyperlink to nutrition article). The carbohydrates will be you main currency for energy during your workout, and the protein will keep the amino pools full.
Mind: Mentally prepare for your warm up process, how you will mode about prior to the lifts. Have a plan for your final 2-4 hours leading up to the lifts. Visualize yourself in the near future, carrying out your plan.
T-Minus 1-2 Hours
Body: This is your final check-up on how things are feeling physically. Take a moment and get in touch with your body, muscles, and joints. Any lingering aspects will require some dedicated foam rolling (hyperlink foam rolling article) and focus during your warm up.
Mind: The brain functions off of glucose (sugar). At this point, you want to start consuming some faster carbohydrates sources, ones with less fiber and fat to help your body digest and process them much quicker. Throw in some quality H2O, a few cups of black coffee or green tea, and your mind will be alert and ready to go.
T-Minus 30 Minutes Out
Body: Start warming up. Elevate the heart rate, and stick to your normal routine. Sometimes, athletes change certain variables as self-doubt creeps into their minds. This is not the time to change things. The best athletes have practiced how to prepare for a maximal lift, making sure that every warm up set, set up, and rep is executed perfectly.
Mind: Visualize your lift. Visualize your set up, the execution, and what it felt like to have an amazing performance. These techniques have been established in previous studies and have shown to have a positive and significant effect on performance.
T-Minus 1-5 Minutes Out
Body: Breathe. Sit down. Settle the body and connect with your mind. Often, I see people in this window start to get super jacked up, screaming and pacing. While those are effective strategies to get the CNS firing and adrenal glands going, they effect can wear off, leaving your CNS and energy zapped if you have not prepared and/or got hyped at the right moment. Understand your body, and stay calm until it’s go time.
Mind: If you have not prepared for a lift before, the key is to remove all other distractions. Start to visualize your setup, execution, and successful lift. Simplify the movement into your 1-3 movement cues, and start to recite your mantra (see below). The best thing you can do here is simplify everything. Technique is very important, but maximal effort and focus is 100% vital.
T-Minus 1-10 Seconds Out
Body: Take a deep breathe. Bring your tension into the diaphragm, and start to feel the tension throughout your body grow into your legs, feet, arms, and hands. Drop your shoulders and pack the lats. Breathe, squeeze, and attack
Mind: Focus on 1-2 action words or ques. Call them your mantra is you will. Maybe it is “Fast Elbows” or “Stay over Bar” in preparation for a clean, or maybe it is a little more aggressive, such as, my personal favorite from a training partner of mine, Mike Barbot, as he approached a 350lb bottoms up front squat, “Come on Fu&$er, you’re coming with me!”
Body: Don’t think, or if you do, it’s only on your mantra and one cue. You have practiced and simulated this moment already in training. The competition should be where you shine.
Mind: There is nothing left to do but to just do it.
Often, after a performance, good or bad, we replay the final moments in our mind over and over again, for what seems to be an eternity. Those key moments should be taken in, both looking back upon the good, bad, and the ugly. Just remember, every experience can provide an opportunity for betterment.
Mike holds a Masters in Exercise Physiology from Columbia University in NYC, USA. He’s Mike is an Assistant Coach of Strength and Conditioning at NYU and the Co-Founder at J2FIT Human Performance in NYC, USA. Mike is the Founder of The Barbell CEO, a lifestyle brand devoted to the strongest coaches, entrepreneurs, and minds.