A workout journal is one of the most important tools for ensuring forward progress and results in your training and dieting efforts. A well done journal is a gold mine for figuring out exactly why you have or have not been making progress, learning what works for you as an individual, and planning future programs. It’s also a ton of fun to look back on your journal in a year or two and be blown away by the amount of work/weight you were doing previously compared to what you can do now.
Here are the essential elements of a good workout journal:
A way to make personal records stand out
Workout notes and comments
The more detailed your workout log is, the more information you can mine from it later. However, it’s much better to simply scribble down the date, session rating, and weights used with no comments or anything special if it means that you’ll be consistent in keeping the journal. If it takes too long to write and becomes a chore, then you will quickly stop keeping it and won’t be able to take advantage of the benefits. Start simple with just the basics and record more if you feel like it or find you need more information.
The date is kept because it’s important to see how frequently you are actually training. Many people are on a “3 day per week program” but if they write down when they actually go to the gym, they quickly realize that their program is actually a “3 time per two week” program. Once you’ve been keeping a journal for a while it’s also fun to look back and see what you did that day the previous year.
The session rating can be something like “felt great” or “felt awful” but I prefer a simple rating out of 10. Average days should be around an 8/10 and this lets you be a bit more specific about just how bad or great your day was. It doesn’t really matter how you rate your day, as long as its easy to keep track of and you do it consistently. A great day should be 9/10 and a a 10/10 day should be reserved for a lifetime best effort.
The purpose of this is to see patterns in your training, how you feel, how you’re recovering between workouts, and ensure further progress. If you’re having tons of sub 8/10 days in a row, it’s probably time to rethink your training, take a little bit of time off, focus on stretching, recovering and eating, or figure out what’s causing you to feel terrible all the time. It’s also easy to see if you’re fulfilling the principle of progressive overload by consistently hitting personal bests and pushing your limits.
The next part – Exercise/sets/reps/weight used – is the meat and potatoes of the journal. This is where you track everything you do and can see your personal bests rise. The format I like to use is exercise name – weight x sets x reps. For example Bench press – 225x5x8 would mean 5 sets of 8 reps at 225 lbs. To keep track of personal records simply highlight them, box them off, draw stars, or somehow make them obvious when you’re quickly flipping back through your journal. I write PR in the margin and circle it a bunch of times.
Here’s a full sample workout journal –
4/7/2016 – Rating: 9+
Jump rope 2×100 reps
Shoulder dislocate stretch – 2×20 reps
Hang cleans – 135×8, 185×5,5,5, 205×5,3,3
2 dumbbell overhead press – 55×5, 65×5, 75×5, 85×5, 90×3
1-arm dumbbell row – 80×10, 90×10, 100×10, 140x16L/14R — PR!!!
Weighted decline situps – 25lbs 2×20
Neck bridges – 1 min x 2 sets
Grip – forearm roller 2 sets
Notes – Felt awesome, hit a huge PR on 1 arm dumbbell rows and hit a nice triple on my overhead press. Had a slight twinge in my shoulder on some of my warmup sets but it went away by the end. Make sure to hit the pecs, traps, and shoulders with lacrosse ball tonight. Finished this workout in 45 minutes.
I recommend all of my clients keep a detailed workout journal and look back at it frequently.