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What Is a PR in Fitness and How Do You Track It?

You might have heard the term “PR” before, especially if you’ve spent any time around a gym. But what does it mean? What is a PR in fitness? And how do you track it? Below, I explain what constitutes a PR in fitness and I provide tips on how to track your progress.

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, such as Squats.

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.

What Is a PR?

PR has the same meaning, no matter what kind of training – be it 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, “physical performance record”). It’s for a given parameter or metric. In other words, your personal records/PRs represent the highest weight lifted, repetitions given, or time achieved for a particular exercise or goal.

Tracking PRs is beneficial for both men and women.

Different Types of Personal Records

It’s common for a bodybuilder to declare 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 – One Rep Max

Your One Rep Max (1RM) is a metric that some lifters are obsessed with tracking.

It’s very 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.

older male athlete does PR to track fitness

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 are competing 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.

PR for Reps

A PR for reps is when you decide on an exercise (and also, possibly, a weight) and then determine what are the maximum number of repetitions you can perform of the exercise with good form before failing.

PR for Time

How fast can you run a mile? This is a common PR 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).

 
 

How often should I do PR sets?

Too frequently doing PR sets can lead to damage to muscles and overall health. The human body requires recovery to heal and build muscle and prevent injury.

How to Track PR to Ensure You’re Making Progress

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, there is no law that 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.

healthy mature couple celebrating new PR
No matter what your age, tracking your PR for specific exercises can help you make improvements in strength, muscle tone, speed, and aesthetics (appearance) more quickly while also reducing the risk of injury.

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 gradually lift more weight. And that’s how you’ll know you’re making progress on your fitness journey.

Tips for Tracking Your Progress

  • 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 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 track your progress because it allows you to see how far you have come and sets 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 accurately compare your results over time.

Remember, a PR 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 setting new PRs, 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 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 2 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 now attempt for a smaller increase in resistance (if at all).

Conclusion

There you have it! That’s what a PR is in fitness and how you can track it 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.

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/