Understanding Personal Bests

 

Understanding Personal Bests

One of the first things that anyone undertaking serious physical training should understand is that there is more than one way to improve upon a PB (Personal Best). This can be a hard concept to grasp so we will try to explain what we mean.

We will use running to illustrate our point, but actually this is a principle than can be applied to all or any activity (for example weight training or cross-training on an exercise bike).

Let us imagine – purely hypothetically – that your current PB for a run is 7.5 miles in 1hr 30 mins, and that this is the greatest distance you have ever covered on foot in a single session, and that 1hr 30mins is the longest time you have ever spent running.

It would be fairly easy to see that if you managed to cover (say) 8 miles in 1hr 15 mins the this would be a new PB – as in this case you would have covered a greater distance than before, and achieved this distance in less time than you took to cover a shorter distance.

While setting a new PB of this kind is possible, it probably won’t happen with each and every session. Beware of false expectations.

Most of the time you are more likely to find that you can improve on one element e.g. Speed or Distance (or Intensity, or Duration – etc), but not necessarily both Speed & Distance (etc) all at the same time.

It is important to realise this distinction in order to both realistically and more accurately assess your performance and to avoid becoming unnecessarily demoralised due to either a false expectation or by failing to recognise improvement when it comes. Often one can actually miss an increase in performance if one isn’t paying enough attention!

We will try to explain this in more detail. For example :

  • An increase in Speed for the same distance is an improvement.
  • An increase in Distance covered in the same amount of time is an improvement.
  • An increase in total Duration for a session can often be an improvement

– and so on.

It would often be very unrealistic to expect to achieve all of these at once – but an improvement in any element of your performance is still an improvement.  Having made an improvement it must then be consolidated (repeated in training until it becomes the norm).

Consider these examples based on the assumption that your current PB for a run is 7.5 miles in 1hr 30 mins, and that this is the greatest distance you have ever covered on foot in a single session, and that 1hr 30mins is the longest time you have ever spent running (these figures are simply to show a principle, don’t worry about the figures, look at the pattern involved).

Example A) – If you run 7.5 miles in 1 hr 27 mins this is a new PB for the (same) DISTANCE i.e. you have covered the same distance in a faster time.

Example B) – If you run for 1hr 30 mins and cover 7.7 miles then this is a new PB for the (same) DURATION i.e. you have covered a greater distance in the same time.

Example C) – If you run for 1hr 45 mins then regardless of the precise distance covered (within reason e.g. as long as the total distance is greater than your previous greatest distance for a shorter duration) this would then be a new GREATEST DURATION PB i.e. the longest time you have spent running in a single session.

Example D) – If you run/walk for 8 miles then (again within reason) regardless of your time taken this would be a new GREATEST DISTANCE PB i.e. the furthest you have travelled running in a single session.

In any of the above cases, the chances are that you would have made a genuine, valid and useful improvement, but each factor in the improvement is slightly different.

It is extremely important to learn to recognise these differing elements in performance in order to meaningfully judge your training, otherwise one could actually regard an improvement as a failure e.g. :

In Example A) one could think “I didn’t do as well as last time because I didn’t run for 1hr 30mins, only 1hr 27 mins.” (overlooking the fact that Speed had increased, hence the same distance covered in a shorter time!)

In Example B) one could think “I didn’t run for any longer than I did last time” (overlooking the fact that more distance was covered in the same amount of time, so again indicating a greater Speed!)

– and so on.

It is of course very important not to simply massage the ego when assessing or creating PBs e.g. adding to ones greatest ever distance but taking an unreasonably long time over a session would not help (say adding one-quarter of a mile during an extra 30 mins running etc – this would not really be an improvement as the pace would have become artificially slow).

However,  by developing a good knowledge and understanding of training principles and using this in assessing performance honestly and accurately one can often achieve one or other form of improvement in almost EVERY training session.

Sometimes one may achieve an increase in speed, sometimes in duration, sometimes in distance – and so on. Rarely will all these come at once. But by regularly making small improvements in many different areas and then consolidating upon these improvements, ones total performance can increase to a very considerable extent. As we say – lots of small improvements add up to a big overall improvement.

The same principles can be applied in other areas of training. For example, with the use of weights one might try to increase the amount of weight lifted (often while reducing the number of reps per set) – or one might maintain (or even reduce) the amount of weight being lifted, but increase the number of repetitions and/or sets. Each of these methods can be useful within different phases of a training programme, but in each case the PB recorded should be for the particular variation of exercise used  – so for example a 1RM (One Rep Max) for an exercise is a PB, and a 10RM (10 Rep Max) for the same exercise is also a PB, as the PBs in question relate to different types of training in the same way that a PB for 1 mile and a PB for 10 miles are both valid, but different, achievements.

We do of course understand that it can take time to understand the significance of these differing training variables, and that it can often be hard for an athlete to judge whether in a given session they should try to increase speed, or distance, or duration, or weight or reps or sets (etc) –  but to a large extent that is what we are here for. If you feel you need help with this kind of thing then please feel free to take advantage of our ongoing training assessment and support service to assess your progress and to advise you exactly what to aim for in your training sessions.

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