Simple actions can often be the most powerful if they applied correctly and consistently. For example good quality sleep can be transformative for health and performance. But for some reason we love to overcomplicate things, perhaps because simple isn’t ‘sexy’. Or maybe because we believe that simple can’t be effective.
When it comes to training there is something incredibly simple but also very powerful that anybody can implement immediately.
To understand why you must agree with the following statement, which can be applied to nearly every area of life:
What gets measured improves!
And this is completely true when it comes to fitness.
In fact, I truly believe that one of the most important things you can do to make progress with your training does not involve anything in the gym. Instead the answer lies with a pen and a piece of paper, or digital equivalent.
No matter what your goal is, from completing a 5km Park Run to breaking the 3 hour marathon barrier, keeping a simple diary of your training will help you make vast improvements.
It does this for two reasons: Planning and Progress.
If you are not planning your workouts then you likely have no structure, and this means wasted time or at the very least not maximising the time you have. Even scribbling out a rough outline 30 mins before you begin your workout can be extremely beneficial because it provides structure and focus.
And if you are not tracking your workouts then how do you know the progress you are making? How do you know what weights, times or sets you should be increasing or decreasing on any given week?
In truth you won’t know, not really.
It’s easy to walk into the gym and randomly pick up some weights or go for a run with no real time or distance in mind. And sometimes that is exactly what is needed, a ‘do what you feel’ day with no expectations attached.
But if you are taking the time to exercise on a regular basis then you should absolutely be using a training diary to get the most out of that effort. It does not matter whether you are a professional athlete or a casual gym goer, this applies to everyone.
An effective workout tracking system will help keep you accountable, stay motivated, focused and most importantly, help you stick to a workout routine. It all comes down to consistency, which is the only way to make real progress.
This does not have to be complicated. Your workout diary should be:
- Quick and easy – so it doesn’t interfere with your workout.
- Useful – a system that records the essential information of what you’ve done, that reduces errors, and that helps make informed decisions about what to do during your next workout.
- Versatile – so you don’t have to find a new app or develop a new system every time you want to do a different style of workout.
There are several ways you can do this:
- Notepad & pen – This is what you might call the old school option, but it should not be overlooked. In fact it is incredibly effective and all you need is a small sturdy notepad and a pencil or pen.
- Online notepad (Evernote, Google Docs. etc.) – The digital equivalent of a notepad and pen.
- Apps – The final option is to use one of the many apps which are available, such as JEFIT or Runtastic. The only problem with these is most lack flexibility, because they are usually designed to work within set parameters.
Regardless of what type of workout journal you decide to use, make sure to take notes and track metrics that will actually help you reach your fitness goals. Everyone will have their own particular way of doing this but here is a simple template to start you off.
Step 1 – Plan Your Session
This is an incredibly important part of the process, and should be done the day or morning before the workout. This accomplishes several things:
- It helps keep you accountable by having something you are committed to.
- It mentally prepares you for the workout.
- It keeps your time in the gym tight and focused. (No wandering around deciding what exercise to do next).
First of all write the date, and any other information you want to include e.g. bodyweight.
Write your planned workout routine in the following format:
[Exercise] – [Sets] – [Reps] x [Weight]
In the beginning, you may need to think about this a bit or spend some time finding a system that works for you. But after the first or second time writing down your workout will be a very quick task.
Once you have been using a system for a while it will often take less than 60 seconds because you will usually measure backward and base the weights you lift on what you did the week prior by simply adding a few kilos or an extra set. (The same applies for times/distances for running etc.)
This is the advantage of tracking your workouts, you know exactly what targets you should be hitting each week.
I would advise writing out every set you will do, including warm-up sets, because it makes the process of working out even more mindless and automatic. Once you have a plan, you can just get started.
Step 2 – Record The Workout
It is best to fill in your training diary as you move through the session (unless it is something like a long run). When you’re in the middle of a workout, it can be easy to forget what set you just completed.
For lifting weights it might look something like this:
- Do the lift.
- Mark it down.
- Start the stopwatch to record your rest interval. (Use the stopwatch application on your phone to track rest intervals.)
- If necessary, change the weight for the next set.
The beauty of this system using a notepad or tool like Evernote is that it’s incredibly versatile while still being clean and simple for any given workout. Most apps and pieces of software on the other hand are either simple but limited, or versatile but bloated with features.
And that’s it.
Bodyweight workouts, strength training workouts, sprint workouts—this workout journal works for all of them. It’s simple, it’s adjustable, and it works.
Consistency is the key to achieving success in any endeavour. Too often we fall off the path due to frustration, boredom and lack of motivation. Keeping an effective workout journal is a simple, flexible and easy way for you to track your workouts and make consistent progress towards your fitness goals.
Regardless of what method or system you decide to use, stick to it for a few weeks and you will be amazed to see how much progress you’ve made.