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What Does PR Mean In a Gym?

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

In the gym, PR stands for personal record.

Essentially it’s the heaviest weight you have ever lifted for a single repetition (1 Rep Max) or for a specific number of repetitions. For example, if you have never lifted more than 225 pounds for a bench press, and you then lift 230 pounds for a single repetition, you have just set a PR for bench press.

Un culturista hace un curl con mancuernas
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Where you might think this is purely an ego thing, it’s actually a really useful piece of information. Knowing your personal records helps to program your rep ranges, and maximum weight for different elements of your training program.

In this article we’re going to discuss the practicalities and benefits of knowing your PRs in the gym. You’ll understand why your all time PRs can be a useful way to progress your performance at an appropriate rate. 

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PR vs 1 RM

Some people are confused between personal records and a 1RM (one-rep max). Whilst they’re similar, there are subtle differences…

Personal record (PR) is the heaviest weight you have ever lifted for a single repetition (1RM) or for a set. You could record this in competition or training depending on the exercise or the sport. Form isn’t especially important – rarely are records achieved with immaculate form!

One rep max (1RM) is the heaviest weight you can lift for a single repetition with good form. It is a measure of your maximum strength. 1RM testing is typically done in a controlled environment with a spotter. It is used to guide your current state of strength or fitness.

The main difference between a PR and a 1RM is that a PR is a measure of your very best performance, while a 1RM is a measure of your maximum strength at a given moment in time. Your 1RM might fluctuate. For example, if you’ve just come back to training following an injury, your current 1RM may be significantly lower than your previous best.

It’s a measure of the maximum weight you would lift at that time.

Why you should know you PR and 1RM

A PR won’t be affected by factors such as motivation, fatigue, and form – they’re usually set when you’re feeling great! A 1RM is more affected by these factors, because it’s a snapshot of time. 

However, if you are consistently improving your 1RM in training, it is a good sign that your PR is also likely to be increasing soon. This is because your 1RM is a reflection of your current training, and if your training is going well, there’s a great chance your performance will be increasing along with it. 

Tracking your PRs and 1RMs is a really accurate way to monitor your progress over time. By tracking your PRs and 1RMs, you can see how much stronger you are becoming and identify areas where you need to focus your training.

Improving your strength is down to progressive overload, where you consistently lift a heavier weight through your strength training program. This is why a workout program 

How to test your PR in the gym

If you want to test your personal records for a particular exercise, you should do so in a safe and controlled environment. You should also have a spotter who can help you if you need it. Here are the steps on how to test your PR:

  1. Warm up properly. This will help to prevent injuries.
  2. Choose a weight that you think you can lift for a single repetition.
  3. Start with a warm-up set of 5-10 repetitions with a lighter weight.
  4. Increase the weight and do 3-5 repetitions.
  5. If you can complete all 5 repetitions with good form, increase the weight again.
  6. Make sure you have significantly long enough rest durations between sets.
  7. Continue increasing the weight until you can only complete 1 repetition.
  8. This is your PR for that exercise.

Some people only really consider them personal records if they are performed in competition. I don’t subscribe to this view, because the setting in which you achieved a personal best isn’t that important – the important part is that you managed the lift, whether that’s in a gym session or the competition platform

The other reason is that your sport might not be a strength sport, and you’re only lifting as part of your training. Does that mean your personal bests are irrelevant? Not in my book…

PR across all exercises – are they needed?

It is not necessary to set PRs for every exercise that you do – who cares what your bicep curl PR is for example?

However, if you are serious about strength training, it can be helpful to track your progress across different exercises. This will help you to see how you are progressing overall and to identify areas where you need to focus your training.

These types of PRs are more of a guidance thing – a way to see how your fitness journey is progressing over time. It’ll help you or your coach see if your training method, training volume and rest time has led to a productive training cycle

It’s usually only advanced lifters who are particularly interested in PRs, but they can serve a purpose for anyone tracking their progress.

Accessory exercise PRs – should you bother with them?

You don’t usually record your PRs in accessory exercises. However, they can still be a valuable part of your training program. Accessory exercises help to strengthen the muscles that are recruited in the major lifts. This can help to prevent injuries and to improve your overall performance.

If you keep a loose eye on your progress with these lifts, you’ll be able to see if your workout routine is working, and you’re getting stronger.

There comes a point where you’re tracking data for the sake of it though. Call me cynical, but I just don’t think knowing your calf raise PR will have that much of an impact on your squat training program, for example!

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Practical application of maxes in training

Coaching is an art, not a science.

There are a few practical applications of maxes in training. One is to use them to set goals for yourself. For example, if you want to bench press 300 pounds, and your current 1RM is 280, you can use your current 1RM as a starting point and then set a goal to increase it by 20 pounds over the next 6 months.

If you are training for competition lifting, you can look over your previous records to see what might be possible given adequate training time. 

Another practical application of maxes is to use them to track your progress. If you are consistently hitting new PRs, it is a good sign that your training is working. However, if you are not hitting PRs, it may be a sign that you need to change your training program.

1 Rep max as a training tool

1RM testing can also be used as a training tool. For example, if you are trying to improve your strength on the bench press, you can use your 1RM to determine the weight that you should use for your working sets.

As a rule I wouldn’t rely on 1RM calculators for perfect accuracy, but I’d use them as a guide. You can find 1RM calculators in plenty of places online. They ask you to input your current numbers for 6-12 reps (sometimes it’ll be other numbers) and will then make a guess of what you could do. 

Use the information given to you by the max calculator to help inform training decisions, but remember they’re only a rough estimate. 

Daily max – does that count?

A daily max is the heaviest weight that you can lift on a particular day. It is not always the same as your 1RM. Daily maxes can be useful for tracking your progress over time, but they should not be used as a replacement for 1RM testing.

In weightlifting for example, a day might ask you to lift 5 sets of 3 at 80% of your max.

However, if you’re tired, rushed or not feeling great, your max for that day might be significantly lower than your max on your best day. With that in mind, I have always allowed my athletes to work to a ‘daily max’ on the days when they feel beaten up. This means they’ll be lifting a challenging weight in a safe way

Allowing athletes to not be a slave to their performance on their best day means they have a lower risk of injury on the days when they’re tired. Trying to force heavy weights when you’re tired from a previous workout, or not feeling your best is dangerous. 

Competition PR vs gym PR

A competition PR is the heaviest weight that you can lift in a competition. It won’t always be the same as your training PR.

Ideally your competition PR will be your best lifts, but the reality is factors such as nerves, time limits, only 3 attempts to lift etc may mean that your gym numbers are higher. It’s up to you which one you base your training and your personal bests off.

If you compete in a lifting sport, perhaps use your competition PR. If you only use your lifting to train for another type of sport, your training PRs are all you’ve got to go off, so use them!

Why do you need to track your PR?

There are a few reasons why you might want to track your PRs. First, it can be motivating to see your progress over time. Second, it can help you to set goals for yourself. Third, it can be used to plan your training program.

If you compete in Olympic weightlifting or powerlifting, it’s an important aspect of your identity as a lifter. 

Progress monitoring from your PR

Tracking your PRs can be a great way to monitor your progress over time. By tracking your PRs, you can see how much stronger you are becoming and identify areas where you need to focus your training.

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