Gyms have their fair share of jargon. 1RM and PR are arguably the most important gym slangs you must know if you are serious about your gains. One-rep maximum, popularly known as 1RM, represents the heaviest weights you can lift currently on a particular exercise. On the other hand, a PR, or personal record, is the heaviest weight you have ever lifted on an exercise.
Although both these terms are pretty straightforward, many lifters regularly confuse the two. And as you might know, nothing says ‘noob’ louder than using the wrong term in the wrong place. Using 1RM and PR interchangeably can cause confusion while following a training program and can even be misleading to other people.
Gym lingo might vary depending on your training style. For example, bodybuilding gyms use terms like cutting, bulking, and broscience. CrossFit boxes use AMRAP, EMOM, and scaling. Powerlifters have arching and hitching. However, a few terms are universal across all training formats. One-rep max (1RM) and personal record (PR) are two of them.
Knowing about 1RM and PR is essential for serious lifters that want to improve their performance. Also, many training programs employ percentages of your 1RM to determine your poundage. Bookmarking a one-rep max calculator for quick, easy, and reliable calculations can also come in handy.
In this article, we go over the definitions of one-rep max and personal records, the differences between the two, the benefits of staying on top of these numbers, and how to track and test them effectively.
What is 1RM?
The one-rep max (1RM) is the most weight you can lift for one rep on a particular exercise. Notably, your one-rep max must always be current. For example, if you say your 1RM on the barbell back squat is 315 pounds, you should be able to get under a bar and complete a single with that weight on your shoulders on the same day.
The goal of a 1RM is to assess a person’s maximum strength on a particular exercise. Also, when someone asks you, “How much do you bench?” they are usually asking you for your barbell bench press 1RM.
What is PR?
Your personal record (PR) is the heaviest weight you’ve ever lifted on a particular exercise. You can have PRs for different numbers of reps. For example, a one-rep, two-rep, three-rep PR, and so on. In the powerlifting lingo, one-rep lifts are known as singles, two reps as doubles, and three reps are triples.
Personal records are also known as personal bests (PBs). Most importantly, your personal best lifts don’t have to be current. When your uncle tells you that he deadlifted 495 pounds in high school, that is his personal best. Don’t confuse it with his 1RM unless he can pull the same weight today.
Furthermore, the term ‘personal best’ has a much wider application. You can use it for your fastest run, longest throw, or longest swimming session. If you did something measurable that you had never done before, that’s a PR.
Related: What Does PR Mean in Gym?
Differences Between 1RM and PR
These differences will help you distinguish between a 1RM and PR:
The use of one-rep max is limited to strength sports, where weights are involved. Powerlifting, strongman, Olympic weightlifting, and bodybuilding are sports where you can use a one-rep max.
On the other hand, personal records can be set for anything. Breaking the most eggs with your head or mowing your lawn with scissors. In terms of strength sports, you can use it to track your biggest lifts of all time. Plus, athletes can use it to time their runs, swims, throws, etc.
The Use in an Exercise
You can only have a single 1RM for an exercise. However, you can have several personal bests on the same exercise. Confused? Here are a few examples of PRs on the squat:
- Heaviest weight lifted
- 20 reps with 225 pounds
- 15 reps with 315 pounds
- Most number of reps done with a particular weight
Keeping track of your PRs can be much more complicated than tracking your 1RM. Your 1RM and PRs are your benchmark lifts, and you must always keep track of them. Forgetting about your 1RM and personal bests can jeopardize your training progression, especially if you are following a non-personalized workout program.
I recommend noting down your best lifts in a training journal. Alternatively, you can log your 1RMs and PRs in the notes app on your phone. Besides noting your biggest lifts, journaling your daily workouts can help track your progress. It also ensures consistent progress by making you want to push harder in the gym every successive week.
Your one-rep max numbers must always be current. When someone asks you about your 1RM squat — show, don’t tell. That should be the spirit of a one-rep max. This makes it one of the best gauges to assess someone’s current strength levels.
Unlike 1RMs, personal records aren’t bound by time, which makes them even more special. Once you have locked out a heavy lift, it will always be your personal best. Feel free to have it etched on your tombstone if that’s your thing.
What You Must Know About 1RM
What you’re about to read next might be a little confusing, so bear with me. You don’t actually have to lift your 1RM. When someone asks you about your one-rep max, you can, technically, use a 1RM calculator to give them a number.
The 1RM calculator uses the weight you lifted and the number of reps you performed on a particular lift to spit out your 1RM on that exercise. Let’s say you can overhead press 225 pounds for five reps. According to the 1RM calculator, your one-rep max on this lift will be 253.1 pounds.
That said, 1RM calculators are not meant so that you can boast about the weights that you can lift. However, 1RM calculators are used by folks who want to scale a particular strength training program. Plus, most powerlifting regimens are programmed based on percentages of your one-rep max. Using a calculator makes determining the right amount of weight to lift in each workout more convenient. It is especially useful for newbies lifters, as lifting heavy without the correct technique can significantly increase your risk of injury.
Remember, not every lifter wants to break Hafthor Bjornsson’s 501-kilogram deadlift world record. Many, in fact, most people lift weight for overall health and well-being.
That said, scaling workouts and using progression can ultimately lead you to do your 1RM weights. Plus, they can also prepare you psychologically for lifting heavy.
On the flip side, you must get your hands dirty to set a personal best. There is no nifty calculator that will set your PB for you.
How To Test Your 1RM and PR
Whether attempting a 1RM or a PR, you must never come out of the gate too hot, as it can increase your odds of hurting yourself during your workout. One-rep maxes and personal bests sound quick, fast, and thrilling. It takes you to powerlifting meets, where an athlete steps onto the lifting platform, rips a deadlift, and walks out. It’s all done within a few seconds. However, it isn’t.
Most professional lifters have an elaborate and dialed-in warm-up routine, which can take anywhere between 10-20 minutes. Then they slowly build up to heavier weights. No lifter opens with their planned heaviest attempt. It’s almost like dating. You take it slow in the beginning but make enormous demands when you are strapped in.
Irrespective of your training experience and previous records, you shouldn’t expect to walk into the gym and lift heavier than you did the last time. Here is the step-by-step approach you should take to attempt your 1RM and PRs:
Test Your 1RM
Hitting a new one-rep max or one-rep personal best is one of the most exciting feelings. Beginners initially hit 1RMs more often. However, achieving a new 1RM becomes more difficult as their strength curve starts to plateau. Setting one-rep max goals and achieving them can keep your workouts more engaging. They can motivate you to hit the gym and get after your workouts.
Here is how to attempt a 1RM:
- You must ensure you’ve mastered the exercise form before attempting a 1RM.
- Also, avoid attempting a PR within 48 hours of training that muscle group. For example, you shouldn’t attempt a squat PR on Wednesday if you trained your legs on Monday.
- Start with a 10-20 minute warm-up. The length of your warm-up regimen can vary for each individual. It can also change depending on the day and how you feel heading into the workout.
- Walk or jog on a treadmill to get your blood flowing, followed by a mix of dynamic and static stretching.
- Perform light sets of the exercise you’ll be attempting the PR on.
- Remember, you don’t have to do 10-15 reps to warm up. Strength-based sets should not exceed five reps. Doing a higher number of reps can fatigue your muscles.
- Avoid doing more than five feeder sets. The goal here is not to get a pump or train too hard. These five sets are supposed to be feelers. Increase the weights gradually on these sets.
- Spend three to five minutes between sets to allow optimal ATP replenishment.
- Ensure that you have a spotter and safety gear in place if things go south.
Test Your Multi-Rep PR
Now that you know how to test your 1RM, let’s talk about multi-rep attempts.
Your warm-up and lead-up to your PR attempt will depend on the number of reps you are aiming for. Folks trying to set a PR double or triple should stick to the same warm-up routine as the 1RM attempt.
On the other hand, people trying a 4-15 rep max should follow a slightly different approach. Lifters attempting a high rep PR with over eight reps should do feeder sets for nearly the same reps.
However, if you did up to five sets of warm-ups for a 1RM attempt, you shouldn’t do more than three for a high-rep PR attempt, as your PR itself will be taxing on your muscles. You don’t want fatigue from your warm-up sets to carry over to your PR attempt.
Things To Know Before Attempting a 1RM and PR
Here are the things you should know before trying a one-rep max or PR. These tips will help you crush your training objectives:
Start With a Goal
When your beginner gains taper, hitting a 1RM on a random day will become a thing of the past. Hitting PRs for experienced lifters is a much more concentrated effort. You need to begin with a goal and have an effective plan to get there. 
Your goal must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Don’t set a big hairy audacious goal you cannot achieve in a particular time. It will lead to nothing but disappointment.
Use Accessory Lifts
Many newbie lifters get obsessed with a single lift and do nothing but that. However, this can lead to a strength and muscle plateau. You must employ accessory lifts to strengthen your primary and secondary muscles, which will also improve your performance on the main lift.
For example, if you aim to lock out 405 pounds on the bench press, you could do triceps exercises like the cable press-down, dips, and close-grip bench press to improve your pressing strength.
Master The Trifecta
Besides training, you must also follow an effective nutrition and recovery program. You break down muscle tissue while you are training in the gym. Your muscles grow back bigger and stronger while you’re resting. And as they say, you cannot out-train a bad diet.
You must sleep for at least seven to eight hours each night to allow your muscles enough time to rest and recuperate. Furthermore, you must eat a personalized diet to improve your overall performance.
Your current physique is just as crucial for assessing your 1RM and PR as your goal. Notably, you cannot evaluate every individual’s 1RM or PR on the same scale. For example, a 100-pound squat 1RM for a 100-pound lifter differs significantly from a 200-pound individual doing the same lift. Although both lifters have lifted the same amount of weight, the 100-pound individual is pound-for-pound stronger than their heavier counterpart.
Similarly, you must consider the lifter’s age and gender while analyzing their 1RM and PR. It is also the reason Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting competitions have weight classes.
Know The Rules
This one is especially important for folks that want to participate in competitions. Each contest has different rules. Some contests allow straps, weightlifting belts, deadlifting socks, squats, and deadlift suits, while others don’t.
Ensure that you are on top of these rules. For the best results, you must practice with the same setup allowed in the contest.
They Won’t Remain the Same Forever
Forget about forever. One-rep maxes and PRs could change every week depending on your training intensity, volume, and experience level. The harder you push yourself in the gym, the faster you’ll achieve new benchmarks. Consistent progress and new challenges are what pull many people to strength training.
That said, chasing bigger numbers isn’t the only reason people lift weights. It is absolutely fine if you want to hit a 1RM and then back off. That lift will remain with your forever as your personal best.
It is as Psychological as it is Physical
It is not uncommon for professional lifters to never attempt the heaviest weight during a training session if they are not mentally in the zone or don’t feel dialed in physically. Remember, your safety is the most important thing during resistance training. If you are not prepared for something, you shouldn’t force yourself into it.
Besides the physical challenge of lifting heavy, attempting a 1RM or PB requires significant grit. If you intend to lift heavy weights, it’s essential to concentrate on developing mental resilience.
Can My 1RM and PR Be the Same? — Different Scenarios
Some people catch the difference between a 1RM and a PR through practical examples. So, these will help settle the matter once and for all:
Can my 1RM and PR be the same?
Yes. Your one-rep max and one-rep personal record on a lift can be the same. A lifter that pulled a 150-kilogram deadlift for the first time has simultaneously hit a new one-rep max and a personal best.
Can my 1RM be less than my PR?
Yes. Let’s say the lifter from the previous example took a break from lifting for four months. When he returned, he could only pull a 100-kilogram deadlift after a couple of weeks of training. His 1RM deadlift at this point (100 kilograms) is less than his PR (150 kilograms). Remember, PR is an all-time best, whereas the one-rep max is the maximum amount of weight you can lift on a particular exercise currently.
Can my 1RM be more than my One-Rep Max PR?
Yes. However, it is not as straightforward this time as the previous two times. Let’s say our protagonist got very pissed about his performance on the deadlift and decided to make amendments. Instead of doing 1RMs, he uses multi-rep training to build strength and muscle mass. After a few months of training, he can do five reps with 150 kilograms, which was his personal best.
The lifter’s 1RM is still technically 100 kilograms. However, since he can do five reps with 150 kilograms, he can most likely lift more than 150 kilograms for a single. A one-rep max calculator can also prove this. Notably, this scenario is scarce, as most lifters try to establish a new 1RM when they notice strength gains.
Why Knowing Your 1RM and PR is Important
Here is how tracking your 1RMs and PRs can improve your performance in the gym:
- Goal Setting: Your 1RM and PR can be benchmarks for setting realistic and time-bound goals.
- Scaling: Knowing your one-rep max and personal best can help you scale strength training programs effectively. It will aid in finding the correct training intensity for your experience level and ensure consistent progress.
- Design Effective Strength Training Programs: Besides scaling, knowing your 1RM can help you design effective lifting programs that incorporate the progressive overload principle.
- Tracking: Regularly retesting your 1RM can be an incredibly effective way to track your strength gains. You should also track your 1RM percentages for different rep counts for better analysis.
- Safety: You don’t have to hit a 1RM to find the correct weights to use in a strength training program. Using a 1RM calculator is just as effective and will significantly limit your risk of injury.
- Motivation: Setting and hitting PRs can help keep your workouts from going stale. It will keep you pumped for your next training session. Also, hitting a 1RM or PR is one of the most surreal feelings you can get inside a gym.
- Contest Prep: Folks planning to compete in a powerlifting, strongman, or Olympic weightlifting competition must know and constantly track their 1RMs on different lifts. It will also help them assess their readiness for their next show.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does PR in gyms count, or are PRs only for sanctioned competitions?
Some people believe you have to have calibrated weight plates and barbells to register an official PR. However, that is not the case. Although sanctioned strength competitions have the strictest standards, most hobbyist lifters do not intend to compete in these shows. Most gyms’ weight plates and barbells weigh what is mentioned on the top and are good enough to set new PRs and 1RMs.
Should I try a new 1RM or PR in every workout?
It depends on your training experience. Beginners can attempt a PR every week or even in every training session in the initial stages. However, more experience lifters usually need six to 12 weeks of training before attempting a PR.
How can I improve my 1RM and PR?
You must follow an effective strength-focused training program that incorporates progressive overload, a balanced rest and recovery program, and variability to set new one-rep max and PRs.
Understanding, setting, and breaking 1RM and PR goals can take your strength and muscle gains to the next level. Lifters serious about their progress must track and retest their one-rep max and personal records every six to 12 weeks to ensure consistent results.
This article includes everything you need to know about one-rep maxes and personal records to incorporate them into your training regimen. Let me know if you still have any questions about 1RMs or PRs in the comments section below, and I’ll be happy to help!
- Travis SK, Mujika I, Gentles JA, Stone MH, Bazyler CD. Tapering and Peaking Maximal Strength for Powerlifting Performance: A Review. Sports. 2020; 8(9):125. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports8090125