Becoming a better weightlifter is not about getting PRs on a regular basis. Anyone who has trained for a while can tell you that the initial rush of PRs quickly starts to fade, and PRs get hard to come by after a while. This frustrating epiphany drives some athletes out of the sport before they’ve really started. When the great days become few and far between, what do you do? You make the bad days better.
Progress will not always look like this . . .
After that initial rush of PRs, it takes a lot of volume at higher intensities to keep hitting new personal records. But it’s difficult to build that volume if you cannot consistently hit sub-maximal weights. New lifters will have lucky days and hit a PR. They don’t know how they did it, but are often too euphoric over their first 100 kilo snatch to think about it. But when they come in two days later and could not hit 85 kilos if millions of lives depended upon it, WHY will be the only question on their mind for days. The answer is inconsistent technique.
For experienced lifters with good, consistent technique, the great days come from many good days. An experienced lifter who snatches 125 kilos will rarely have a day when they cannot snatch 112. (90%) Having consistent technique means being able to hit weights between 80-95% often, making it much easier to build volume at those weights, and volume at heavy weights is what makes you strong. Being able to consistently hit 90% is especially important. Those are the weights that teach you about heavy weight, and there is a lot to learn.
This is why it is so important to obsessively focus on technique early in your weightlifting career. Like any skill, you need to practice it every day. That doesn’t mean heavy every day. It may mean a lot of days with just the bar, but having that bar in your hands every day matters. When I first start teaching someone the jerk, we work on a footwork drill that has to be so ingrained that the lifter does not think about it. I give new lifters this prescription for the drill: ten sets of ten reps every day for ten straight days. That means 1,000 reps in a week and a half. If they follow through on that (and too few actually do) then they will rarely have to think about their jerk footwork again, if ever.
You have to put in the work to get consistently good technique, and then you have to put in the heavy work often. That heavy work doesn’t mean limit work, but close enough to matter. If you do max-for-the-day training, it means you’ll be able to get up to 90% much more often. If you are on a more classical percentage program, when the program calls for 90-95% weights, you’ll likely hit them, avoiding clumsy, improvised modifications of the program.
A bad day for a new lifter has a lot of attempts and a lot of misses. It might have some good looking lifts and probably lifts so ugly that the coach reflexively turns away and winces. If the lifter keeps coming back and keeps practicing, a year later their bad day consists of a miss or two at 92% when they had planned on 95% that day. Then they move on to the next exercise. The training is much less stressful, and much more productive. With practice, the lifter has made their bad day an essential part of reaching their training goals, not an exercise in “PR or injury” Russian Roulette. They have made their bad days good, and when the good days start to pile up, you don’t have to wait so long for a great day.