Every person serious about the results of their fitness regimen should keep a proper workout log. Neglecting to keep a log is gambling, for most people, on training by perception, mood, instinct and memory. If you train without a log, you had better hope that you have a rare gift for reaching the correct conclusions from an array of seemingly unrelated facts. Sure, your growing strength on certain basic lifts is a good indication of progress as is your bodyweight and appearance; but, the scale and mirror can be misleading when not taken in context. There’s more to a workout than what we might see on the surface, taking a glance on an off (or on) day.
How long did it take to achieve your results? How long did it take to lose them? What worked and what didn’t? How did you feel and why?
Most beginners and even a lot of amateurs don’t have a clear view of their fitness destination. The absence of a specific goal – like running 3 miles in 25 minutes – makes it difficult for them to apply the necessary effort for actual, consistent progress. Some people make no apparent physical changes in months and even years! They never seem to get any more energetic, muscular, stronger, leaner, faster, or flexible. Led by their perceptions, moods, instincts, and memories, they remain on a seemingly endless plateau.
Log-keeping enthusiasts recognize that the variety in training programs and the multitude of variables affecting progress make it too difficult and unpredictable to train without a log. Understanding the way in which all fitness factors tie in with each other is crucial to revealing the answers that will deliver more consistently positive and productive workouts.
Are you even headed in the right direction? Progress, especially after initial easy gains, can be a difficult thing to gauge. A workout log serves as a record; keeping good notes will measure progression and regression.
Keeping a log, you’ll see your efforts on paper and reviewable. As well as motivation, the training history you record in your notebook provides baseline measurements for reference at any point in the future. This makes your fitness efforts and goals tangible. In contrast to an ambiguous goal of “looking better”, a log will plainly show if your workout has yielded the 5 pounds of lean tissue you said you wanted to gain in 2 months. You can also see if it was your failure to faithfully do the workout that prevented attaining the goal(s).
A workout log will contribute to a growth in discipline, confidence and knowledge. Keeping a log helps you achieve two important things in your workout:
- Effectiveness, where you’re doing the right things
- Efficiency, where you’re doing things right
It’s possible to occasionally be effective without notes because you’re very focused on getting results and occasionally you do things that make a contribution towards your destination. You’ll see some fairly fit, well-developed men and women who don’t bother to keep a workout log. They’re effective but not necessarily efficient in their approach and they might have wasted a lot of time in achieving as much (or as little) as they have.
Efficiency focuses on methodology. Efficiency is nearly impossible to achieve without a log because of the difficulty, or impossibility, of interpreting and specifically analyzing all the things you’ve been doing (or not) over time based on perception, mood, instinct and memory.
Suppose one day you record performing squats with 225 pounds of resistance for 3 repetitions. The following leg workout you only get 1 repetition with the same amount of resistance. You say to yourself, “I don’t get it. The last time I had such a great workout. It should be easier now.” If you only step on the scale or look in the mirror, you might have no idea why you’d dropped down by two repetitions. In referring to your notes, however, you might realize that not enough time had elapsed for your body to fully recover. It could be, looking at your log, that normally you give yourself more time off than you had in this instance.
A thorough log actually the dynamics of a workout regimen: how the right exercises work in conjunction with the right diet in conjunction with the right amount of rest in conjunction with the right amount of repetitions in conjunction with the right order of exercises and so on. To help you tailor a plan for your body and smartly tweak your practices, keeping a proper workout log means recording the following information:
- Date to explore the impact of training frequency and consistency and reveal patterns over time
- Time of day to determine when you are most energetic and focused
- Workout length to determine average rest periods and gauge intensity
- Exercises performed to find which are best for you in line with your goals
- Order of exercises to optimize their placement based on your goals, energy levels, and enthusiasm for the exercises
- Sets to ensure you are keeping in range for your target result and to recognize undertraining and overtraining
- Resistance per set to suit your goals and to evaluate strength and progression
- Repetitions per set to ensure you are keeping in range for your target result and to evaluate progression
- Bodyweight to be able to compare against goals and milestones, calculate body fat, and to compare the effects of weight gain or loss
An endurance-oriented individual would necessarily alter the log to include information – like distances, elevations, speeds, and rates – relevant to their efforts. A person that travels frequently would likely want to record location to account for the effects of altitude on their workouts. A comprehensive workout log could even extend into your diet, meaning you record the calories and nutrients in all your meals and snacks.
Keeping a proper workout log means collecting measurements and information that will reveal interactions and interdependencies. Such information is invaluable toward validating training theory and assessing personal effectiveness. The workout log makes your efforts tangible and, after an informed review, takes the mystery out of setbacks.