Strategies for a Better “Personal Best Lift”


Train Loco Nation! Today we have a great post by our friend Henrik Kovacs, on strategies for a better personal best lift.  We all want to go into the gym and set “PR’s” and/or “PB’s” with our lifts. Sometimes we just think it’s as simple as going into the gym like a maniac and lifting some heavy weight. Granted, that will work for some, but the question we always ask is, “is this optimal?” Optimal doesn’t exist but it leads us towards a better approach. Henrik does a great job talking about different ways to hit “PR’s” and/or “PB’s.”  There are a lot of great practical applications in this article, so that you can try at home or at the gym. Without further ado, let’s let Henrik talk some strategies on hitting “PR’s” and/or “PB’s.”

– Chris and Eric



According to McGrath (1970) stress is defined as “a substantial imbalance between demand (whether that be physical or psychological) and response capability, under conditions where failure to meet that demand has important consequences”.  How we respond to stress can play a role in our performance, not to mention our daily lives.


Stages of Stress







Stage 1-Enviromental Demand: The demand placed on the individual by the situation at hand can be either physical or psychological (Weinberg, & Gould, 2011). For the purpose of this article imagine some sort of test:  a 1 rep max, AMRAP test, weigh in, progress picture, or anything you can think of.

Stage 2-Perception of Demand: Different individuals will have a different perception of the stress. Some people may fear the stress of a 1RM test, yet others might be excited for the result; the stressor is the same but the perception is different. This stage of the stress process can be greatly influence by the individual’s trait anxiety, or in other words, how the person generally perceives the world. If the individual is highly anxious in general, then chances are that they will approach the stressor (the 1RM) with a high level of anxiety.

Stage 3-Stress Response: If the stressor threatens the individual, we see a different response than if the stressor does not threaten the individual. In the first case (if the individual is threatened) the person’s physiological activation (somatic state anxiety) is raised along with their cognitive state of anxiety. This individual will experience changes in concentration and muscle tension as well as increased state anxiety. In a study by Pijpers, Oudejans, Holsheimer, and Bakker in 2003, it was shown that high stress conditions, increased muscle tension, fatigue, and coordination difficulties result to an individual’s decreased performance.

Stage 4-Behavioural Consequences: This is essentially the outcome of stages 1, 2, and 3. At this stage, depending on the response, performance will either be enhanced or diminished. The stages get repeated from here on out, and depending on whether the performance is enhanced or diminished; it will play a role in the next up and coming stress cycle.


Practical Application

I see two potential stress responses, one of which we see a lot in fitness (and in a way it has become trendy), it’s referred to as getting psyched up (Drive Theory). The other response is one that you can practice and I would see as a lot more subtle and beneficial in the long term, it is called positive imagery.

Drive Theory: Spence and Spence saw the relationship between arousal and performance as direct and linear (1966). In other words as an individual’s arousal or state anxiety raises, so will their performance. I have a feeling that many of us are familiar with drive theory; we get psyched up, and as a result we lift more, get more reps, run longer, etc. My problem with getting all psyched up is the practicality behind it. Let’s say you test your 1RM while psyched up, you approach your training sessions next week without same arousal level and you fail to hit your training volume due to your weight for that day being based off of your 1RM from the week before. This response is a result of anxiety. Sure, your personal record might have been increased but is it sustainable throughout the rest of your training cycle?

Positive Imagery: Anxiety is inevitable, but we can practice a practical method to minimize its effects on us. One tool to help us cope with anxiety is positive imagery and it is exactly what it sounds like. You practice imagining yourself succeeding and as a result you feel more prepared for the task at hand. But how effective is this tool?

According to a study by Fauzee, Daud, Abdullah, and Rashid, it was found that in a group of 106 individuals, (42 male, 64 female, all national athletes) the more senior the athlete was (more time spent in sport) the more imagery they used. However, since this was a correlation study we could also say that the athlete’s longevity in the sport is due to their use of imagery, the answer is not for sure yet. This was assessed through a one way ANOVA test through recordings from a ACSI-28 and a SIQ test (these are psychological coping skills and sport imagery questionnaires respectively)(2009).


Basic steps for imagery: Effective imagery is a product of vividness and controllability.




(Start with imagining the simple one and work your way down to the more complex scenarios.)



I’m not bashing getting psyched up since I know many use it as a source of stress relief, when things might be going rough in life some of us like to get a bit pumped up to blow off some steam. In the end the reality is that those who use a more subtle approach such as positive imagery might benefit from increased longevity in sport or fitness which is shown with the study by Fauzee, Daud, Abdullah, and Rashid (2009).



  • Stress is a combination of physical and psychological factors
  • Interpretation of stress and arousal can determine if its negative or positive
  • Some amount of stress is needed
  • Find your optimal stress levels for consistent training
  • Be careful when psyching up
  • Practice positive imagery and self talk regularly in and out of training


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About Henrik:


My name is Henrik Kovacs, I am a 4th year university student working towards my degree in Health and Physical Education. My degree focuses on promoting health and wellness, so when I started HkovaFit (my online coaching business) I wanted to make sure that I promoted health and wellness the best I could; and thus my philosophy, “Health and performance through versatility and adherence”. One of my favourite written pieces is by Allen and Morey. On page 12 of “Physical Activity and Adherence”(2010) it is stated that only 50% of adults who start a physical activity program continue past the first six months. Now, I have no statistic as to why people leave their fitness program but I have a feeling it has to do with all the strict rules set forth by the industry as to how you should diet and train. This makes me believe that maintaining a versatile approach and attitude towards fitness is very important.

If you guys/girls have any questions please feel free to email me at [email protected], I am always looking forward to talking to new people and taking on new clients! Otherwise make sure you check out for regular informative blog posts about health, and performance!

Instagram: @Hkovafit

Twitter: @hkovafitness










Fauzee, Daud, Abdullah, and Rashid. (2009). The Effectiveness of Imagery and Coping Strategies in Sport Performance. European Journal of Social Scienc Es, 9(1).

McGrath, J.E. (1970). Major methodological issues. In J.E. McGrath (ED.), Social and psychological factors in stress (pp. 19-49). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Pijpers, J.R., Oudejans, R.R.D., Holsheimer, F., & Bakker, F.C. (2003). Anxiety-performance relationships in climbing: A process-oriented approach. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 4, 283-304.

Spence, J.T., & Spence, K.W. (1966). THe motivational components of manifest anxiety: Drive and drive stiuli. In C.D. Spielberg (Ed.), Anxiety and behaviour (pp.291-326). New York: Academic Press

Weinberg, R., & Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology (5th ed.). Human Kinetics.