Once you start working out, you tend to start paying attention to all sorts of fitness articles and workout programming advice. It can be a bit overwhelming to grasp all of the terminology used in strength training, even though you might start picking up a general understanding of what the common terms mean.
One of the terms that you might hear used in relation to working out is PR.
But, what is a PR in the gym? What does PR mean in workouts? How do you improve your workout PRs?
In this article, we will answer your question, “What is a PR in the gym?” and then discuss how to assess your workout PRs or PRs in the gym and tips to set a weightlifting PR or general workout PR.
We will cover the following:
- What Is a PR in the Gym?
- Is it Important to Set a PR in the Gym?
- How to Set a PR in the Gym
Let’s dive in!
What Is a PR In the Gym?
A PR in the gym, or a PR in a workout, is your personal record. Essentially, a PR in the gym is your personal best for a specific exercise or workout in general.
For example, your PR for doing push-ups might be 55 in one minute, or your PR for your leg day workout may be lifting a total of one ton (2,000 pounds) for all of your sets and reps of each exercise in your leg workout routine.
Therefore, there are a wide variety of different types of PRs to set in the gym. Here are some examples to name just a few:
- The heaviest weight you have ever lifted for a given exercise
- The highest number of reps you have completed for an exercise at a given weight
- The personal best you have achieved for the number of reps of a bodyweight exercise within a certain amount of time, such as 30 or 60 seconds
- The total number of sets and reps, and exercises performed in the same workout
Workout PRs are a big component of CrossFit workouts, and competitive powerlifters, weightlifters, and bodybuilders often keep track of at least several PRs in the gym.
You can also set a PR in cardio workouts or aerobic exercises.
For example, runners keep track of their running PRs, such as a 5k PR or a marathon PR. If you just do treadmill running in conjunction with your gym workouts, you might keep track of your 1-mile PR or your 10-minute run PR (the furthest distance you have ever run in 10 minutes).
You might even keep track of your sprint PR.
For example, one of the CrossFit PRs might be your 75-meter sprint outside, or you might set a PR for how fast you can sprint on the treadmill for 60 seconds (the top running speed you can sustain for one minute).
You can also set Assault bike or air bike PRs in terms of the number of calories you can burn in 60 seconds, the number of watts you can hit, the highest RPMs you can hold for a given length of time at a maximum effort sprint, the distance you can cover in 60 seconds or some other length of time, etc.
Is It Important to Set a PR in the Gym?
Beginners and novice athletes may wonder if getting a personal record or keeping track of PRs in the gym is important.
Although there is nothing that dictates that you must work on setting a PR in your workouts or recording and monitoring your gym PRs, there are quite a few benefits of working towards setting PRs in workouts and keeping track of your personal records in the gym.
Here are some of the top benefits of testing and recording a PR in the gym:
#1: A Gym PR Is a Benchmark of Progress
Arguably, the top reason to both assess and record a PR in the gym is to help keep track of your fitness progress.
Getting a PR in a lift or workout is indicative of improvement in whatever exercise or workout you are performing.
There is a common saying that holds some truth for this situation, which is, “You can’t improve what you do not measure.“
While it may be a bit of an exaggeration to say that your fitness and strength will not improve at all if you are not assessing your personal bests, periodically measuring your personal best for a given lift, exercise, or workout at large is a good way to assess whether your training program is indeed effective at helping you get stronger and better.
When you set a new PR in the gym, it is the best evidence of your progress, and as such, keeping track of your PR for different weightlifting exercises or strength training workouts is a good way to have quantifiable benchmarks of your current fitness as you work through your training program over time.
So, what does setting a new PR in the gym mean in terms of your fitness?
When you set a new PR for the maximum weight you can lift for an exercise, it is indicative of an increase in strength in the muscle groups worked by the exercise.
When you are able to increase the number of reps you do with a given weight for an exercise, the number of sets you can do, or the total weight lifted in a workout, your muscular strength and muscular endurance have improved.
When you are able to perform more reps of a bodyweight exercise without stopping, such as push-ups or pull-ups, or dips, your strength-to-weight ratio has improved.
When you can achieve a higher vertical jump or box jump or do heavier sled pulls or pushes, your power and explosive strength have improved.
When you can run faster or cover more distance in a cardio exercise at top speed within the same amount of time, your speed has improved.
When you can cover more distance or exercise longer without stopping for longer cardio bouts, your aerobic endurance has improved.
#2: A Gym PR Can Inform Training
On the flip side, while achieving a new PR in the gym is indicative of improvement in your strength and fitness and a good sign that your training plan is working, if you are not setting new workout PRs despite consistent training, it can be a sign that you need to adjust your workout program.
For example, if you have been diligently performing leg workouts and upper body push and pull workouts for at least 6-8 weeks, yet you have not been able to set a new squat, deadlift, benchpress, push-up, or pull-up PR, you should critically examine your training program and see if there are problems with how you’ve been training and make adjustments.
One of the common mistakes that people make with their strength training programs is not effectively employing the principle of progressive overload.
You need to consistently and incrementally increase the intensity of your workouts by increasing the weight that you are lifting, the number of reps that you are performing, or the difficulty of the exercises themselves in order to continue to improve.
In fact, this is another place where using your gym PR can be helpful.
Periodically assessing your PR for different lifts in terms of the weight that you can lift, as well as the maximum number of reps you can do with about 85% of your 1RM, can be extremely helpful for knowing how much you should be increasing your weights in your workouts.
Many strength training programs base the prescribed weight that you should be lifting for each exercise on your 1RM.
However, if you keep using the same 1RM value without reassessing your 1RM or estimating it based on your reps in reserve or PR for the number of reps of an exercise with a given weight, you will be compromising your potential progress.
You need to continue to move the “goalposts“ as your strength increases so that you are lifting with enough intensity in order to continue to get stronger.
For example, imagine you begin a strength training program with a squat PR or squat 1RM of 165 pounds (75 kg).
Your workout program will likely include different rep ranges for different lower body exercises based on various percentages of this 1RM (usually 65 to 85% if your goal is building muscle and 85% to 100% if your goal is increasing strength).
However, if your true 1RM increases to 195 pounds (about 87 kg), but you have not reassessed your squat PR or squat one-rep max, you won’t be lifting enough weight in your workouts to hit the desired percentages of your 1RM to induce muscle growth or strength improvements.
Let’s say you were striving to build leg strength, and you wanted to be performing squats for six reps at 85% of your 1RM in accordance with the strength continuum set forth by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).
When you started your strength training program with a squat PR of 165 pounds, 85% of this load would be approximately 140 pounds.
Unfortunately, while you were initially getting much stronger during your strength training program because you are using the appropriate weight, such that your 1RM would have bumped up to 195 pounds (but you haven’t retested for a new squat PR to be aware of this improvement), you will continue using 140 pounds for six reps in your workout.
However, instead of this 140-pound weight being 85% of your 1RM, it has now dropped to only 72% of your 1RM.
This is no longer sufficient to be within the ideal range and high enough intensity to induce magnification increases in strength.
This will make your workouts less effective, which will inhibit progress and potentially prevent you from setting a new PR in the gym.
#3: A Gym PR Can Improve Motivation
One of the best things about setting a PR in the gym or keeping track of your workout PRs is that the options are nearly limitless given the number of lifts and range in types of PRs in workouts.
This variety and bounty of options mean that you can tailor your efforts for target gym PRs to the type of training or fitness goals you are focusing on and constantly work on setting new PRs in workouts.
Plus, if you are hitting a plateau in one area of your fitness, you can work on setting a new gym PR in another aspect of your fitness to help keep your motivation up and prevent feeling disheartened by a seeming lack of progress.
How to Set a PR In the Gym
Tips for setting a PR in the gym will vary depending on the workout PR or goal you are targeting.
Here are a few important tips for hitting a new lifting PR or gym PR:
- Employ the principle of progressive overload.
- Make SMART goals and tailor your training program to these goals.
- Ensure your diet is on point and provides enough protein, calories, and high-quality nutrients.
- Eat within 30 minutes after your workout, aiming for at least 20-25 grams of protein and an overall ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 of carbohydrates to protein.
- Give your muscles at least 24-48 hours of rest in between workouts for the same muscle groups.
- Include deloading weeks for recovery.
- Reassess your PRs every several weeks.
- Record your PRs.
What gym or weightlifting PR are you chasing?
For more tips about getting stronger and achieving your fitness and physique goals, check out our guide to building muscle here.