How to Stop Talking Yourself Out of a PR

Everyone has hit mental roadblocks when it comes to lifting, it’s completely normal. It all appears to be fine until you hit a certain number. All of a sudden the sweats and shakes kick in, you feel so nervous you find it hard to even concentrate. You go to pick up the bar and suddenly it’s like you’ve never touched a barbell before. Everything falls apart, your previously perfect technique becomes very questionable.

But why does this happen? Why do we go from snappy, on point technique to looking like an awkward pile of noodles?


Using Small, Unusual Increases

I’ve seen it fairly often as a coach and as an athlete, where people like to jump up in 5 or 10 kilo increments (sometimes even more!). These kinds of jumps can be fairly big once you get closer to your personal best, which can make that lift even more intimidating.

Instead of doing such big and predictable jumps, why not do smaller or more irregular jumps? Use more fractional plates and try building by 2, 4, or 7 kilos instead. By doing this you can do smaller jumps than normal, and the weights don’t hit a ‘big’ or ‘significant’ number, such as 100kg for example that can sometimes be quite intimidating mentally.

Another method you can employ is to be unaware of the weight. Build up to around 85-90%, and then just start putting on the smaller increases we talked about above. Don’t try and calculate the weight so that you know what you are doing. Sometimes knowing what weight is on the bar can cause you to overthink or talk yourself out of the lift because you KNOW it’s going to be PR and that can be SO SCARY! Instead, make the lift, keep building, make the lift, keep building. Once you get to a point that you’ve truly physically hit a maximum, go back and calculate what is on the bar. I’ve done this more than once successfully, always surprising myself with a much bigger PR than I would have anticipated. You could also ask a friend or coach to load the bar for you, leaving you still unaware of the total weight.


Confidence Exercises

These exercises build up your confidence in certain parts of the lift that you normally struggle or fail during. These, of course, will depend on what lift you are trying to improve and vary from person to person. For example, snatch balances and overhead squats can be used to build up confidence in the catch position of the snatch, a position which can be extremely intimidating for some. You could use pause squats to build up proper strength and posture in the bottom of a squat, or you could perform this with front squats to benefit the catch position of your clean. A good coach will be able to identify what parts of your lift are the most crucial for you to improve on, alongside feedback from you regarding what part of the lift feels the most intimidating. From here they can prescribe the right confidence exercises that will help you improve.


Positive Self Talk

This is probably the most important, but the most difficult thing to work on for building your confidence when approaching a weight for a PR. You could’ve put in all the work with your nutrition and training, hitting your strength program as prescribed, and doing any accessory work necessary to improve on your weaknesses. However, if you approach the bar with a negative mindset, it’s all over.

It’s very easy to know that a PR is on the bar, freak out about how heavy it is, and miss the lift. One blog phrased this really well:

“…before you attempted all of those weights, you made up your mind that you were going to MAKE them. In other words, you approached the bar with certainty… Instead of deciding that you were going to MAKE the next lift, you started planning to just TRY it.”

The way you talk to yourself before you lift is extremely important. Telling yourself that you are just going to try it, it’ll probably be heavy and a difficult lift, is no way to talk yourself into a lift. It doesn’t fill you with confidence and instead makes you second guess your abilities. Instead, approach the bar with the mentality that you are going to make this lift, your form is on point, and you are strong. It’s amazing what a difference it will make when you approach that barbell with confidence in your own strength and ability.


Now go out there and hit some PRs!

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