The “3 Time Attempt” Rule

Getting a new one-rep max, or any kind of max, is so much fun. It’s hard work, and it takes hours upon  hours of time, practice and patience to get there, but accomplishing something that shows how much stronger, how much MORE CAPABLE you are, well, I don’t know a better feeling.

Maybe my unconditional love for my dog. But accomplishment and capability come pretty damn close to that. That feeling is addictive, and I’ve seen myself and others put their safety and sanity on the line to obtain that feeling.

I’m talking about the people who lose all sense of form to finally hit a snatch at body weight or get pinned down in a back squat. People who become the hunchback of Notre Dame standing up in a squat clean, or who, say, get the barbell caught on their belt and drop a 100 pound barbell on their thighs. Shit happens.

The point of hitting a new PR- or personal record- is to show increased strength and mobility in a specific movement DONE RIGHT. Performing a certain movement correctly up to a certain weight and then losing all sense of form once a “heavy” weight is reached proves nothing except that the person knows how to forget everything they were taught and worked hard toward.

I’ve also witnessed people attempt a one rep max up to 10 times, failing every time but stubborn (or bull-headed) enough to keep attempting. Sometimes they (sort of) get it, and other times their bodies just give out and they stay in a fowl mood for the rest of the day.

Attempting a one rep max that many times isn’t beneficial in the long run, because it’s putting your body through constant extreme stress, and by the 3rd-5th rep, most people start to feel taxed and their form starts to slack. They rush the recovery time in between reps, and they burn out even quicker.

That is why I was taught, from the very beginning of my Crossfit career, about the “3 time attempt” rule. I have three chances to attempt a lift, and if I get it in one of those lifts, then yay! I earned that new PR, usually with correct form, and I can feel good afterward and enjoy the feeling of how capable I am. I’m not left dead under my barbell grimacing because I don’t have the full energy to smile.

I also take my time between lifts. It takes at least two minutes for oxygen to reach and begin recovering all of the muscles I just used and stressed out. And yes, as good as weightlifting is for your body, pushing it to hold the heaviest load it possibly can is a stressor

I lift, I fail and then I set my timer for two minutes. I take those two minutes to shake things out, possibly watch the video of the failed lift to see what I can change, and focus on getting out of my head and not overthinking the next lift. When those two minutes are over, I set up my bar, adjust my belt, chalk up, whatever. I probably take 3 to 4 minutes between lifts, but once I started implementing at least two minutes, I stopped failing as many reps.

Now, if I fail the third rep, that’s it for the day. I usually perform a few more lifts at a lower weight, just so I end the day with proper form and technique. But if I don’t PR that day, then it’s just not the day. I have the rest of my life to continue becoming stronger, and as much as I want results NOW, I want to do this for forever and that means taking my time and being in it for the long run.

So to sum it up- attempt a new PR three times. Take a good chunk of recovery time between lifts. If you PR, then congrats! You’ve earned it. And if not? Then you PR’d in form, and that is setting you up for success next time.

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