AMA: How often should I attempt a PR?

On this week’s AMA (ask me anything) a client posed the following question, “How often should I attempt a PR?”

First we should explain what a PR means.  A PR stands for a personal record.  This is an attempt to lift more weight than you’ve done in the past or achieve a higher rep total than in the past.  For example, If your previous best Back Squat was 200lbs, attempting a PR would mean anything heavier than 200lbs.  On the other hand, if your previous max push-up set was 20 reps, anything higher than 20 reps would be a personal best.

As a coach we are always encouraging our athletes to push hard on workouts and give their best, but sometimes this gets misinterpreted as trying to max out every workout.  That’s a terrible idea.  A consistent effort to try and max out your lifts on a regular basis (weekly frequency) will more than likely lead to muscle tissue and joint break down as well as long term injury.  It will cause major setbacks and have a diminishing and opposite intended effect.

As a general rule of thumb, most well programmed training cycles are going to last anywhere from 8-12 weeks.  Attempting “max effort” lifts or PRs in my opinion should be tested no more frequently than every 3-4 months.  This allows for proper adaptation to the training cycle stimulus which in turn means the muscles, joints, and central nervous system are once again primed to be tested.

This does not mean that you should never max out sooner than 3-4 months, and it also doesn’t mean that at 3-4 months you’re guaranteed a personal record.  Generally speaking these are good rules to follow.

It should be stated that athletes with a lower overall training age have a much higher propensity than those with a high training age for PRs.  Training age differs from biological age in that it takes into account how long someone has been seriously lifting weights and working out with intensity.  Anything more than 5 years at higher intensity would be considered a “high training age” and these athletes would have PRs come few and far between and in much lower increments.  On the other hand those with a low training age will enjoy frequent and massive PRs as their bodies are just learning what they can do from a physical standpoint.  I like to call this the honeymoon phase.

Whether you’re a seasoned gym goer, or in that honeymoon phase, pushing yourself in a smart and effective manner is absolutely crucial to your long term success and progress with any given program.  You should be looking for a program that is customized and tailored to you as well as thought out by an expert coach.  If you have any questions regarding testing out your maxes or anything fitness related I’m always happy to chat.

– Coach Chris

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