When life feels stale, and your mind and body feel listless and unmotivated, setting a new fitness goal can help you feel energized again.
The act of planning for a goal and then breaking that goal down into small, actionable steps can be an exciting process. After having achieved a new personal record, not only will you have an immensely satisfying feeling of accomplishment, but your physical health will also likely have improved.
Examples of a fitness goal include:
- Set a goal to run a marathon.
- Commit to taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking instead of driving whenever possible.
- Vow to bike to work at least once a week.
- Pledge to take more fitness classes this year.
- Make it your goal to complete a Tough Mudder race.
In the world of fitness, a goal is often called a PR.
What is a PR in Fitness and How Do Track It?
You might have heard the term “PR” before, especially if you’ve spent any time around a gym.
PR has the same meaning, no matter what kind of training – on the track, on the court, in your home exercise area, in the field, or inside a gym.
PR stands for Personal Record, or, more elaborately, Personal Physical Performance Record.
PR is for a given parameter or metric.
In other words, your personal records or PRs represent the highest weight lifted, repetitions given, or time achieved for a particular exercise or goal.
Everything You Need to Know About Tracking Your PR
Whether you are a seasoned exercise enthusiast or a relatively new athlete, your results can happen more quickly if you track your PR. This is especially true for the foundational compound movements, in the gym, such as Squats or Deadlifts.
If you happen to be over the age of 50, then tracking PR is even more important, because it helps you use your time more effectively while reducing the risk of injury.
Tracking PRs is beneficial for both men and women.
A Fitness Goal Can Match Your Unique Interests
It’s common for a bodybuilder to declare an achieved fitness goal – or their current PR – on a big exercise, such as the deadlift.
Still, the term can be used for other isolation exercises like a barbell bicep curl, jumping in a sprint, or even running a mile.
1RM – The One Rep Max Fitness Goal
Your One Rep Max (1RM) is a metric that some lifters are obsessed with tracking.
It’s simple to find. It’s the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a particular exercise while maintaining good form. For example, it’s not uncommon for athletes to know their One Rep Max for the Barbell Bench Press exercise.
Gym PR vs Competition PR
The difference between a gym PR and a competition PR is that in a gym PR you are usually alone or with a few friends, and you are only competing with yourself – trying to top your last record. In a competition, you compete with other athletes at the same moment or on the same day.
Some people perform better during competitions – the stress seems to give them an added push. Others, however, perform better when they track and perform their exercises alone, free from the distraction of a competition day.
A Fitness Goal for Reps
A PR for reps is when you decide on an exercise (and also, possibly, a weight) and then determine what the maximum number of repetitions are that you can perform of the exercise with good form before failing.
A Fitness Goal for Time
How fast can you run a mile? This is a common PR or fitness goal that athletes track. Using the stopwatch feature on your phone, you simply determine the time it takes you to run four laps of a typical track.
Another common PR athletes track is how long it takes them to run a 5K race (about 3.2 miles).
Three of My Favorite Fitness Goal Examples
While many people prefer to track their progress on a specific lift inside the gym, I personally like setting a fitness goal that is related to symmetry.
In fitness, symmetry refers to creating healthy, balanced, and aesthetically pleasing proportions in the physique.
For example, the waistline should be narrower than the shoulders, and the lower body should be as strong and developed as the upper body.
I find that an old-fashioned tape measure is the best way to track a symmetry-related fitness goal.
1. A Narrower Waist
If I want to set a fitness goal of losing two inches off my waistline, I use a tape measure to measure the widest part of my waist:
- After using the bathroom, I take two measurements once a week at the same time in the morning.
- I measure my waist when my muscles are fully relaxed.
- And I also measure my waist as I suck my stomach in as tightly as possible.
2. More Powerful Thighs
My torso tends to get stronger more quickly than my legs, so if I want to set a fitness goal for achieving a more balanced physique by adding two inches to my legs, then:
I take two measurements on each leg (for a total of four measurements):
- I use the tape measure around the widest part of my upper thigh.
- I use the tape measure around the widest part of my calf.
3. A Dozen Varied Workouts within 14 Days
Perhaps my favorite fitness goal of all time is a 2-Week Fitness Regimen I created that condenses a dozen varied workouts within 14 days. This type of fitness goal is referred to as cross-training. The idea is that the variety of workouts tackles all the most important exercise priorities – strength, mobility, posture, speed, flexibility, aesthetics, power, lung health, and agility.
I find this particular fitness goal – the 2-Week Regimen – has been extremely effective for me. Not only is it fun and keeps me from getting bored, but the variation in movement keeps my body from becoming complacent. My metabolism stays fired up, and my muscles stay responsive.
How Often Should You Achieve a New Fitness Goal?
Too frequently achieving a new fitness goal or constantly hitting PR sets in the gym can damage muscles and overall health. The human body requires recovery to heal and build muscle and prevent injury.
The key is to consistently challenge yourself a bit beyond what is normally comfortable while at the same time being mindful of your recovery and how much stress your joints and muscles can endure repeatedly.
How to Track PR to Ensure You’re Making Progress
In weight training, some coaches believe the best way to track your progress is by your One Rep Max (1RM). This is the heaviest weight you can lift for one repetition during a given exercise.
However, no law says 1RM is the absolute best way to track progress. You can also track your 3 Rep Max or even 6 Rep Max. In fact, if you’re goal is hypertrophy (developing muscle size) while preventing injury, then a 3 Rep or 6 Rep Max might be more effective.
To find your 1RM in the gym, you’ll need to do a test lift to warm up. One way to do this is to start with a much lighter weight that allows you to do 12 repetitions. Then, rest for a few minutes and attempt your 1RM with your target weight. Err on the side of caution; you don’t want to destroy a knee or throw out your back. And it’s probably wise to have a friend nearby for an emergency assist (“spot,” as they say in the gym) in case it’s required.
Once you know your 1RM, you can track your progress over time by retesting it every few weeks or months. As you get stronger, you should be able to lift more weight gradually. And that’s how you’ll know you’re making progress on your fitness journey.
Tips for Tracking Your Progress in the Gym
- Use a training program to help you track your lifts and reps.
- Test your 3 Rep Max (3RM) every few months.
- As you get stronger, you should be able to lift more weight.
Why Is It Important to Track Your Progress?
An individual’s personal record (PR) is the best performance they have achieved at a particular event.
In fitness, this could be the heaviest weight lifted, the fastest time running a certain distance or the most number of repetitions completed of an exercise.
A fitness goal or PR provides motivation to keep pushing oneself and strive for continuous improvement. There are two main types of PRs: absolute and relative:
- Absolute PRs are objective and can be compared between different individuals (e.g., lifting the heaviest weight ever lifted in the world).
- Relative PRs are more subjective and can only be compared between individuals of similar stature, age, and/or gender (e.g., lifting the most weight out of all the people in the gym who are over 200 pounds, men, and over 50).
It is important to set a fitness goal and track your progress because it allows you to see how far you have come and then set new goals for future improvement.
When tracking your progress, it can be useful to be consistent with testing conditions (e.g., same time of day, well-rested, similar foods eaten before the test). This will help you to compare your results over time accurately.
Remember, a PR or fitness goal can be unique to any modality. For example, in Olympic lifting, you’re trying to improve your ability to snatch, clean, and jerk – while a cross-country runner is trying to develop a faster pace or a bigger distance.
Don’t Forget Your Mobility Training
While you’re heading toward your fitness goal, avoid the temptation to neglect your mobility training.
Warm-ups, cool-downs, stretching, yoga, and mobility drills are all ways to prepare for heavy lifts and to keep your joints supple and your muscles limber so that you don’t tear anything while hitting new records. This is even more important for mature athletes over the age of 50.
Speaking of preventing injury, tracking your PRs helps you avoid painful accidents because it prevents you from forgetting where you left off on a particular exercise and becoming too ambitious as you attempt the exercise again.
For instance, what if the last time you attempted Front Squats, you lifted 100 pounds total, but that was a few weeks ago, and you don’t remember where you left off? So, today you attempt 150 pounds (which is quite a jump in weight), and now you’ve strained your groin muscle and have to take two months off from exercise while you attempt to heal.
All of this could have been avoided if you simply wrote in your training log (or typed into your phone) what your best, last-weight attempt was and how many reps you accomplished. Then, you would have known to attempt a smaller increase in resistance now (if at all).
There you have it! That’s what a PR is and how you can set and track a fitness goal to ensure you’re making progress. Now get out there and start training. With consistency, you’ll be sure to set some new PRs in no time, and the improvement in your body’s appearance will provide additional evidence.
Additional Sources about Setting Personal Records:
Cycle Sprinting Techniques – https://www.trainerroad.com/blog/sprinting-101-how-to-be-explosive/
Research on the Increase in Self-Tracking – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8493454/
Established Benefits of Weight-Bearing Resistance – https://examine.com/nutrition/what-are-the-benefits-of-resistance-training/