I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit and train in many different gyms throughout my lifespan. Every time I step into a gym, regardless of location, I see the same story. Guys and girls bouncing around in the gym in a hectic manner, from treadmills to machines then some free weights then back to the treadmill. In between these bouts, they make sure to take enough time to chat to their gym buds or whomever happens to be passing their way, to sit down and watch some TV or read the newspaper, to have a walk around and ogle the gym eye candy, and much, much, more. And while I could write a series of article of all the time wasting I see in gyms, today I want to talk about the importance of recording what you do in the gym so as to ensure you are progressing.
I have had people coming to me and saying they haven’t made any progress for months on end. First thing I ask them is to show me their training/workout records, only to be met with a blank stare. How are you supposed to be measuring progress if you dont record it! By not writing down your advances (or lack thereof) in the gym you are shooting yourself in the foot. A typical mental conversation of someone not recording their workouts would be:
“Mmmm, today is Thursday, how about if I do some bench presses and then so dumbbell flies?”
“Did I do 3 sets of 8 reps with 185lbs last week or was it 3 sets of 10?
“Today I am training at lunch time though, I think I normally hit Thursdays in the evening”
“I jumped into the treadmill last time I was here but it could have been 20 mins or 30 mins, I’ll do 40 mins instead today”
See where this is going? Nowhere! If you want to get bigger, leaner, stronger, faster, better conditioned, more explosive and what not, you need to be making progress every time you go to the gym. And how you do make sure you are making progress? By recording every workout/training session you do.
This here, is my training diary, and all that unintelligible text, my training for a given day
I have been recording my training ever since I started hitting the gym. I can go back many moons ago and see what I was doing back then. I learnt soon enough that without tracking my workouts, I was not going to go anywhere as in the beginning I would be training very hard every workout only to find I was not getting any results. In fact, during my recent body transformation, I was very strict with tracking my workouts to the point that I once left my training diary at home and, finding no other paper forms to write the day’s workout, I actually wrote it down on the white T-shirt I was going to use for training (forcing me to train with the formal shirt I was wearing when I entered the gym, fun times!). After all, how could I even think about losing so much fat, getting strong and building muscle, in such a short time, if I didn’t have it planned?
Tracking your workouts allows you to first of all have a plan. Hop into any training routine, whichever you want (click here for a good one), and write it down. See how it looks on paper. Wednesday you have to do squats? Friday some bench presses? Monday some sprints on the treadmill? It all looks solid and makes sense if it is written down on paper.
Tracking your workouts also forces you to build a training history so that you can automatically and instantly see whether you are making progress or not. If 3 weeks ago you were deadlifting 400lbs for 5 reps and now you can only do 400×2, something has gone wrong somewhere and you are not making progress. By looking at your training history, you can pinpoint exactly where things went downhill and the reasons for it. Maybe you did too much, maybe you applied too much intensity, maybe you didn’t sleep enough and your mood was low. Too many variables to consider which makes tracking your workouts imperative.
Moreover, you will be setting a goal to achieve by writing down your workout for the day before you step into the gym. Try to go through what you are about to do in your head and have the goal of hitting the numbers that you have written down. This process allows you to reinforce the achievement of the goal for the day and will help tremendously in applying yourself to what you have to do. Go into the gym, do what you have set to do and get out. Simple and highly effective.
Now, I am not asking you to be carrying a massive notepad and recording how many breaths you took between each repetition of your bench presses. Recording your workouts can be done elegantly in a non-time consuming manner with a small notepad. All you need is a notepad (for about a dollar at any store) and some minutes to spare before hitting the gym. The notepad can be any size although I recommend you to have one full page dedicated to the length of a daily workout so make sure it is big enough to accomodate all the writing you are about to do. With regards to the time needed to write it all down, it takes me 3 minutes to do it and I write a lot. Don’t make it fancy, scribble and use short words if you need to. I write “squat” as “sq” and “powerclean” as “PC”. If you are taking more than 5 minutes to write down your workout for the day, you are training too much.
You want to record the following:
Date: day of the week, month and year. Keep it simple: Thursday 27/10/11.
Times: both when you started warming for the workout and when you finished the workout.
Time interval of the workout: write down how long it took you in minutes. If you trained at 17:05 and finished at 17:47, your workout lasted 42 minutes. Write it clear and visible.
Your mood: rate it from 1 to 10 before hitting the gym. 10 is almost euphoric and lusting to workout, 1 is complete demotivation to even step into the gym. Record it about 10 minutes before training (e.g as you enter the gym)
Exercises: write them down in a column in order of performance. Put a number next to it so that you can easily identify the order.
Sets and reps: write it in a sequence next to the exercise. If you will be doing squats for 5 sets of 5 reps with 200 lbs you’d have: squat 5×200, 5×200, 5×200, 5×200, 5×200. Tick each set as you complete it during the workout.
Comments: Add anything below all of these when you finish the workout. If you didn’t do 5 reps on your 4th set for squats and only did 4 reps, then write it down. Write anything down that wasn’t expected: less strength, more strength, better pump, better feeling as you warm up, anything. Remember, you will be building a training history which will allow you to pinpoint where you are progressing or not.
Of course, some of the above you will only know once you are actually working out whereas some of the other stuff you can write down before hitting the gym. My recommendation is to write down in your training diary, previous to even making your way to the gym, the date, exercises and sets and reps scheduled for the day. You will be able to visualize your goal for the day instantly and have it in your mind as you approach the gym. Once you step into the gym, record your mood, then write down the initial time of the workout as you start warming up. Continue your workout ticking every scheduled exercise, set and rep as you perform them and, when you finish, look at the watch and record your finishing time while also calculating how long the workout took. Add in any appropriate comments for the workout. Mission accomplished.
Other interesting variables that can be documented, and which I have used in the past, are:
Training week: this is very useful if you are training in blocks. For example, in my Manly Strength program, I use three week blocks as a method of programming. In this case, you could indicate that this is, for example, your 2nd week of your 3rd week block. Recording this is very helpful for those who, like me, have a tendency to skip scheduled weeks off training and suddenly become so exhausted from training that need to know where in time they are.
Resting time: you can also time your rest between sets. Perfect for those looking to add in a stamina element to their training. If you rested 2 minutes between sets of squats, next time only rest 1 minute and 45 seconds. Ideally you should use a watch and you need to keep your eyes on it at all times when resting.
Time for each exercise: if you want to split hairs, you can even time how long it takes you to complete an exercise. This will help those who find they need one hour to perform their squats when 15 minutes would suffice. Also helpful for those who do cardio (e.g treadmill, static bike) and want to know specifically how long they spent with these exercises.
Intensity: while you should be making a comment at the end of your workout if you happened to not perform as scheduled, you can also write down how difficult (or easy) a set was. Be careful writing too much as there is only so much space in the page.
Nutrition: you can briefly write down how your diet has been for the day and previous days. Also document any use of stimulants such as coffee, energy drinks, caffeine tablets etc.
Sleep: I once went through a spell of very bad sleep so I started to record my sleep. Done as you’d do for mood, from 1 to 10. Sleep is more important than nutrition; you can get away with not even eating for the day and having a great workout yet bad sleep will affect your workout to some degree.
Body measurements: from body weight to the circumference of several body parts (upper arm, waist, chest, upper thigh). If you are gaining weight yet your waist is still the same, you are surely gaining some good weight.
Remember, stick to one page of the notepad. You will be looking back to these workouts so you want to keep it somewhat structured. As you start building a training history on your training diary, you will be able to assess how well you are doing by looking back into what you were doing several days, weeks or months ago. For those reluctant or too disorganized to keep a training diary, simply chuck your training diary inside your gymbag and only take it out when you need to write down, it will become second nature and will be one of the most important tools to ensure you are making progress in the gym.
All the best,