It’s a common sight in many fitness forums or locker room discussions, the abbreviation of “PR” - a pair of letters that refer to the term personal record.
A personal record (within a fitness context) is the furthest extent an individual has managed to push themselves in regards to a particular athletic activity.
Whether it be their heaviest single repetition of the bench press or the fastest mile they’ve managed to run, the term PR or personal record encompasses all such matters.
Personal record or PR is simply the current limit of what an athlete is capable of achieving, and is used in a variety of fitness technicalities such as workout programming and progression tracking.
Regardless of whether the type of fitness is weightlifting, Crossfit, marathon running or some other form of athleticism, “PR” or “personal record” will always refer to the personal physical achievements that an exerciser has managed to reach.
For weightlifting in particular, “hitting a PR” often means that the exerciser has managed to lift the heaviest possible amount of weight in a certain exercise for a single repetition.
Likewise, in running, this term equates to the fastest length of time an individual has managed to run a certain distance, or the longest distance they have managed to reach.
For the purposes of this article, we will focus more on the resistance exercise and weightlifting variation of a PR, as progression and tracking methods for aerobic athletes can differ somewhat.
Reaching a PR is considered a milestone in many exerciser’s training career, signifying that they have indeed managed to overcome a number of adversities and achieved their goals.
However, aside from a sense of pride and accomplishment, personal records are also quite useful in the technical and numerical site of athletic training.
In this vein, they may be used as methods of tracking progress, as a way of evaluating an athlete’s experience level or as a factor brought into proper physical rehabilitation. Many training programs and athletic coaches will base the intensity and weight of their exercises on exactly how heavy an athlete’s personal record is for a certain lift.
PRs or personal records may be used in training programming as a benchmark for exactly how a training program should be structured, how intense the exercises in a training program can be and whether a certain training method is appropriate for the exerciser at all.
When deciding how much weight to perform for an exercise, training programs will often take a certain percentage of their personal record so as to maintain a level of difficulty that ensures progression but avoids excessive exhaustion, such as 80-90% of a maximal weight for 3 repetitions in a set.
For example, using warmupreps.com, with a max single squat of 325 lbs, our warm up to maximal weight is as follows:
In addition to this, calculating a lifter’s training experience level by comparing their bodyweight and personal record lifts to other athletes in their age range can present an accurate picture on exactly how advanced said lifter is in their training career.
While both a personal record and a one repetition maximum appear to be the same, the 1RM is not considered to be a static number as it may change depending on an exerciser’s bodyweight, training experience or whether they have managed to keep themselves in an optimal state.
A personal record is quite literally as it is named - a record, meaning that once an exerciser has managed to achieve the heaviest weight lifted, it will be so until they manage to achieve an even heavier lift.
This is not the case in a 1RM, wherein an exerciser may have once performed a PR deadlift of 400 pounds, but after taking a year off weightlifting, can now only perform a single repetition of the deadlift at 300 pounds; it is the latter lift that is their current 1RM., though their PR remains the same.
Within the contexts of powerlifting meets or other kinds of weightlifting competitions, personal records set in the gym and those in such events are considered to be separate.
This is because of the uncontrolled nature of gym-based personal records, where no certified athletic judge is present and sub-standard equipment or techniques may be employed that can alter how much weight the athlete is actually lifting.
As such, a competition PR is often the maximum amount of weight the athlete has managed to lift while in the presence of weightlifting competition judge panels or similar certified individuals that may assess whether the lift is up to standards or not.
Often, these can also be separated into “equipped” or “unequipped” competition PRs, where an equipped competition PR involves the usage of certain types of equipment that increase the maximum amount of weight that is lifted, and with unequipped competition PRs being the gross strength of the athlete alone.
Tracking personal records or PRs is not only a source of pride for many lifters, but may also act as a method of ensuring that the training methodology and modalities employed by said lifter are inducing sufficient enough progress within a specific timeframe.
The manner in which this is done can be quite varied by individual preferences, with simple note taking on pen and paper to sophisticated Excel sheets or phone apps all being perfectly suitable for this sort of PR tracking.
In the end, it does not matter how the data is stored in so much as how said data is used to optimize the exerciser’s training, as personal records are an excellent way of gauging physical progress and athletic weaknesses.
In order to attempt a PR lift, the exerciser must approach the exercise with proper caution and preparation.
Performing an appropriate warm-up and mobility routine, ensuring that all possible safety mechanisms are in place and priming themselves psychologically are all vitally important.
The manner in which a PR lift may be performed will depend on what sort of exercise it is, though a spotter is always advisable as they will not only aid in the event that the exerciser fails the repetition, but can also provide a sense of confidence to the exerciser with their presence alone.
It is important to note that - though an exerciser may be capable of performing a lift that meets their PR - to do so with correct form is of utmost importance, as “cheating” a lift can significantly increase how much weight is moved despite the fact that they are performing said lift improperly.
Certain types of PRs involve performing more than a single maximal load repetition, and it is these types of records that the presence of a spotter is especially important, as they will also function as a measure of the lifter’s form adherence.
Though performing a personal record attempt is both fun and rewarding, it is not meant to be the ultimate goal of athletic training, regardless of whether one is a competing athlete or not.
Personal records are meant to act as a guidepost for an exerciser, and performing them too often will not only disrupt the flow of a training program but also potentially injure the exerciser, especially at the higher levels of training development where small breaks in form adherence can lead to significant damage.
And as always, when performing a PR lift, the advice and attention of a proper athletic coach can be of great aid to the lifter.
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