Feb 4th, 2012
Aisha contemplating the true nature of the PR before attempting to set one herself.
I was speaking with lovely and talented Dave Sally this evening when he suggested writing about the concept of the personal record, or PR for short. Specifically, should you refer to your lifetime PR when selecting training weights? When a trainee sets a personal record and does not improve upon that record for a period of time, does it still count? For the purposes of talking about accomplishments, if you did it then you did it. Nothing will ever erase that. However, for the purposes of making training decisions, PRs are perishable commodities.
Early in a trainee’s lifting career, PRs come easily. This is symptomatic of what Mark Rippetoe has deemed The Novice Effect. When a lifter is still new to barbell work, gains are rapid and can be made under less than ideal conditions. Once the easy gains have been made and progress slows, then more effort must be expended to continue improvement. The heavier the weights become, the more careful a trainee must be about recovery. PRs start requiring more than just showing up the gym. They require a little bit of thought and maybe even some planning.
Let’s look at a hypothetical situation involving my favorite lift – the squat. The workout calls for three sets of five repetitions (3×5) for sets across (meaning the weight stays the same for all the sets) – also a good choice. Our hypothetical trainee squatted 225 pounds for a five repetition maximum effort (5RM) four months ago. Our lifter is not on a fixed lifting schedule, but is engaged in a program that includes significant doses of variety with every workout, a la CrossFit.
How relevant is that 5RM for the workout today when the lifter is interested in performing a 3×5? The answer is, "It depends." Obviously, a 5RM does not directly translate into a weight for a 3×5, but such data is useful nonetheless. If recent attempts at a 5RM were below that 225 mark, then that PR has probably expired and more recent 5RMs should be used as a guide when selecting a working weight. If the trainee has not done much, if any, squatting in those four months, then it is also wise to be conservative and also consider the 225 to be expired. If the lifter trained their squats regularly, although hasn’t attempted any 5RMs during that time, then maybe that number is just fine, or even too conservative. Determining the proper number is dependent upon recent training. "What have you done for me lately?" is the order of the day.
To recap, PRs live forever in our hearts. If they were set months (or years) in the past, they may not be useful for guiding today’s workout. Recent training history and how a lifter feels on a given day need to be taken into account. Here’s to the recognizing when a PR is relevant and to setting new ones.