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Workout Journal: What to Track and How to Do It
If you’ve decided to improve your fitness program then set yourself up for success by keeping a workout journal to help you stay on track and reach your goals.
Keeping a log can make you a more efficient athlete.
For example, if you flew through an eight-week workout, gained strength, or lost weight—that’s success you’d want to duplicate.
Returning to a program that got you the results you wanted can yield similar benefits.
Writing down your past, present, and future fitness routine allows you to repeat successes and build on them.
It also lets you find out what hasn’t worked—then avoid those roads to failure.
Not having a training journal is like going on a journey without a map or GPS.
You might not reach your desired destination, and if you do it’s because you got lucky and only arrived after a lot of wasted time and effort.
A workout journal will help you plan and maintain your focus, which can help make your workouts more effective.
You Need a Plan
When it comes to fitness goals, people often want to lose weight, tone up or gain muscle, but usually have no real plan.
So if you want to achieve your goals, and achieve them faster and maybe even exceed them, you need a plan.
Without a clear plan you could be frustrated by the lack of progress and give up in frustration.
Why You Need One
Keeping a workout journal takes the guesswork out of your plan and maximizes the results of everything you do.
When you keep a workout journal everything you do has a purpose.
Keeping a workout journal can also help to:
- Pinpoint and clarify your fitness goals
- Attain goals by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable chunks
- Track your progress
- Plan out your workouts
- Track workouts done and the progress made
- Record related non-workout information
- Better understanding of exercise habits to help make positive changes.
- Plan exercise rest days
- Improve motivation
- Prevent and manage injuries
- Have a record of successes
Workout Journal: What to Track and How to Do It—Keep it Simple
A fitness journal doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or complicated.
Try a simple notebook or one of the many online workout trackers and apps.
Options available for a workout journal:
- Paper: regular journal, exercise book, scrapbook
- Computer: Excel spreadsheet
- Online: App, website, forum, personal blog
When deciding between the pen and paper versus app options what really matter is which you’ll commit to using consistently.
For many, writing things down is easier and notes can be made more quickly.
Writing things down will give you more flexibility and is a good tech-free option if you don’t have your phone on while working out.
On the other hand, apps have a built-in structure and sometimes you can turn training-specific stats into graphs to track your progress.
Other digital options have most of the exercises you’d do anyway programmed into the system.
They allow you to log the basics, with an area for notes, and you can rate workouts from 0 to 10.
Workout Journal: What to Track and How to Do It–Time for a New Workout?
It’s time to change things up if you have been doing the same workout for more than eight-weeks or notice that your progress has stalled.
This is when you need to kick yourself out of the training rut you are in.
If you are still making progress, stick with the same workout you are doing for a little bit longer but be ready to change if progress stops.
A journal is helpful whether you’re doing circuits or strength training.
Make sure you include the following:
- Date and time of workout
- Exercises done
- Weight used for each exercise
- Rest intervals taken between sets
- Whether it felt easy or difficult
Note if your training session went really well, so that next time around your workout can be a little tougher.
Maybe your next gym session will include harder exercises or heavier weights.
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If things didn’t go so well then make a note to keep things the same or maybe ease up a little on the weights or repetitions.
Always be aware of how many times you have repeated a particular workout so you know if you are still making progress.
Think About More than Just Sets and Reps
The best fitness journals have more than just sets and reps.
There is some non-workout information that is valuable and worth recording.
Including this information will help you keep your life in balance and help to achieve fitness and weight loss goals.
After all, exercise positively impacts many areas of our lives.
A few of the great “side-effects” of regular exercise include better sleep, improved mood, and greater stamina.
Keeping track of the positive changes can be very motivating.
You will find that these positive changes affect how hard we exercise or whether we exercise at all.
Lack of sleep, fatigue, bad moods, extra hours at work all affect our workouts.
Maintaining a record of this allows you to find patterns that are holding you back.
It also helps you plan your workouts around things you know are going to impact your exercise performance or will affect your will to exercise.
Workout Journal: More Info Needed
Extra non-workout information tor record:
- Body weight (or body fat percentage)
- Hours Slept
- Appetite (good, average, poor)
- Mood (good, average, poor)
- Energy (good, average, poor)
- Motivation (good, average, poor)
Don’t Leave Anything Out
If you wear a fitness tracker, adding some of the biometric info it collects, such as heart rate, gives even more context around the work you’re doing.
It’s a good idea to include a baseline of your:
- Body fat percentage,
- Or personal records on the exercises you care most about.
This will not only help when looking back on your workouts but allow you to easily track progress, remind you of your goals, and provide motivation.
Some of this info can be logged as a rating of perceived exertion (RPE).
“Your RPE is a way of saying how hard you felt the training was that day on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the absolute hardest,” says Matthew Berenc, C.S.C.S.
Berenc is the director of education at the Equinox Fitness Institute in Los Angeles, CA.
By using this method you can see if the same exercise or session is getting easier or harder.
Is a 250-pound deadlift a 9 out of 10 a few weeks ago but now it’s a 6 or 7?
That’s a sign that you can add some extra plates to the bar.
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Also note other details such as any pain, increased tightness, or what you did the day before training for a better perspective of your performance.
This careful record keeping will help prevent injuries too.
By recording how your body felt after each lift, and not just whether or not it was difficult, you can identify the lifts that may not be right for you.
Do you find the pronated (overhand grip) pull-up hurting your shoulders? Maybe next time try a neutral grip.
So, What’s Next?
Your fitness journal entries should include the workout you are about to do as well as your past workouts.
Whatever you did last time, try and do a little more this time to push your fitness levels forward.
After you have been writing in your journal for at least six weeks look through and evaluate patterns in your behavior.
A workout journal makes it easy to detect problem areas or successes.
Some Common Fitness Roadblocks
Here are some common fitness roadblocks and patterns that people find after keeping a journal.
- Exercise patterns
Is there a pattern of which days are your most successful activity days?
Many people find that Monday workouts are a necessity.
If your journal tells you that weeks that start out with a Monday workout have more total workouts that week, then you should always try to make time for a workout on Mondays.
- Lessened activity
If you see that your activity level declines as the week progresses, then you need to figure out why.
Are you sore, tired or too busy on certain work days?
Your journal notes will help you to create a plan so you can stay consistent.
Life is unpredictable but do you notice that a certain family member or friend is always interrupting your workout plan?
If that happens then you need to ask them for support or invite them to join you.
Your emotions can be affected by certain types of exercises.
Do you find that each time you do a particular type of workout you end up feeling good for the rest of the day?
Now that you know this, you can try to fit in your favorite exercise or routine to turn your day around if you are low or lacking motivation.
Or if you see that on gym days your mood isn’t so great, you could try skipping the gym and adding a workout outside or at home instead.
Finding what works best for you is the key to success.
Final Thoughts on Workout Journal: What to Track and How to Do It
Did you know that fitness plans can yo-yo just like a diet?
People often start a fitness plan with great enthusiasm only to have that enthusiasm die a slow death.
Or they don’t work out consistently and end up feeling frustrated by the lack of progress.
Keep a slow and steady approach to exercise and try to keep a fitness journal for six weeks.
By keeping a fitness journal you will discover how to work with your personality and time constraints to be more successful.