How Often Should You PR?

How Often Should You PR?

Recently the following question was posed to me:

How often should I PR?

Specifically this was a masters lifter, running into some frustration on how he should gauge improvement.

Weightlifting, in the first couple years, can set you up for a royal mind trick down the road. It’s as if everything is going so darn well, and then all of the sudden, it comes to a screeching halt. I’m sure if you’ve been in the sport you know about this as well as I do, but let me give you a scenario.

Here’s my progress in just over the first 2 years:

1st Meet (December 1997): 150kg
2nd Meet: 190kg (6 weeks after first meet)
3rd Meet (Junior Nationals 1998): 207.5kg (6 weeks after 2nd meet)
5th meet (Junior Nationals 1999): 240kg
Junior Nationals 2000: 272.5kg (Junior National Champion 94kg)

(Source: My memory, and also OlyStats (

So in the span of just over 2 full years my total had gone from 150 to 272.5.

You can imagine that at this point I really LOVED weightlifting, hell why wouldn’t I? I mean at this pace I was going to set the world record in just a couple years, 5 years tops at least. Right?

In fact I ended up totaling 272.5 for 3 straight meets (over 9 months time) and decided to quit to focus on track and field (I suppose I was easily frustrated as an 18 year old).

My expectations had become unreasonable for my own ability to improve in the sport. Looking back at 17/18 year old me, I may have been unreasonable in more than this area, but that is for another blog.

4 simple athlete categories
Setting bests, or PR’s comes down to your experience in the sport and your age, both biological and training.

There are quite a few combinations of experience, biological age, and training age, but I’ll focus on the ones that we usually see, and the ones I’ve experienced.

New (to the sport), young (age), young (training age)
The newbie who is both young in training age and biological age can expect huge increases from month to month. It’s not unreasonable to hit PR’s in the course of training during preparation for a competition. A lot of our junior athletes might do their 1RM for a 3 rep set within the span of a couple weeks or a month.

These athletes could see huge increases from year to year if they are training regularly with a good coach and on a good program. These athletes can achieve PR’s by both technique improvements and strength improvements.

As they progress, the improvements will no longer be on the magnitude of 30-40kg in a year, but will continue to improve each training cycle. This was me in the first 2 years of training.

New, Young, Old
Unicorns as they turn out to be, they are new to the sport, fairly young (under 25) but have a decent training age from playing other sports, these athletes have insane progress. Assuming they don’t have any serious physical adaptations due to previous training, these athletes will see insane progress right away. They usually start out strong, and each little bit of technique you teach them makes them almost infinitely better. Think Wes Kitts.

New, Old, Old
Someone that is new to the sport but older in physical age, and training age, think of every masters lifter that has come to the sport after another sport, will have a period of big improvement in their lifts, but it’s really hard to say exactly WHEN this period of improvement will occur.

These athletes often come with some sort of previous injury history, or physical adaptations from their previous sport that make ideal technique in weightlifting impossible for a period of time (or forever). In those cases these athletes may have a period of little to no improvement in the weight lifted, but then all of the sudden as their movement improves they will have a big jump. Then onto steady progress. This was me when I jumped back into competing 3 years ago (I totaled 250 in my first meet back, 260 6 months later, did 296 12 months later)

Experienced, Old, Old
The masters or senior lifter that has been doing it for a while. You’ve had that big jump in performance, you might be frustrated and asking why the hell you are doing it.

If you do find yourself asking why the hell you are doing it, remember that you love it.

When you are this lifter, what should you expect?

Age is undefeated, at some point it has gotten everyone that lived on earth, so we aren’t immune to it. In that sense its cool if you are one year older but lift the exact same as you did a year ago. It means you are maintaining your muscle mass from one year to the next, no small feat for a person. If you are a masters lifter and lift the exact same as you did one year ago, it also means you didn’t do something in the last year which made you have to quit lifting, so that’s also awesome.

We are weightlifters however, so that shit’s not going to fly is it?

It’s reasonable to expect to PR in SOMETHING every 8-12 weeks. Maybe you PR your 2 rep snatch or your 1 rep clean and jerk. Maybe you PR, 8 somethings in a training cycle, but you’re not going to hit a PR on everything, everyday.

This is me now.

Last spring, I hit a lifetime PR in the clean and jerk, and a 2 Rep snatch PR, and 5 rep back squat PR, but at meet time I was 3kg under my all time best total. Currently, I’m training again and hit a lifetime snatch PR, but my squats are awful. You know what? It’s totally okay. I’m lifting and I’m healthy.

As an aside, if you see a professional weightlifter (the kind that are experienced and have advanced training age and biological age) have their total jump by 30+ kg in a year, you might have a good reason to suspect them of some extracurricular recovery work. A couple years back a lifter moved from 69kg to 77kg and improved his total by 44kg from 325 to 369 in the span of a year. Needless to say his urine samples had some adverse analytical findings shortly after.

Wrapping it up
Truthfully, you’re always getting better if your training is uninterrupted by injury or something else. It’s just the time-scale on which we see those improvements that changes. The newbie gets the joy of “you get a PR, you get a PR. EVERYBODY GETS A PR.” Don’t get pissed if that’s not you right now, you had that experience when you first started. It’s how weightlifting hooks everyone. The more experienced lifter is grinding for 1kg PR’s, 5kg’s if you’re lucky. If you’re a patient person and you love the PROCESS of getting better then you are setting yourself up for long term success.

Big improvements will disappear at some point and frustration may start bubbling its way up. Ride it out. I hadn’t PR’ed my 1 rep snatch in 3 years until this week, but I still loved every lift along the way.
Originally Published 11/22/17
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