Remember what you had for lunch last Tuesday? Or the colour of the T-shirt you wore to the gym 2 weeks ago? And when exactly did you purchase your lifting shoes?
Chances are, you can’t remember any of these. The vast majority of us do not have memories like record-breaking memory champion Emma Alam.
Well, these are frivolous, rather unimportant things, so it’s okay not to remember them. But when it comes to your training, it matters that you remember exactly what you did a week or two ago.
Just last week, a new lifter came to me with a problem. He had been training consistently on his own. His progress had been moving along steadily, but then suddenly stopped, and eventually got worse. He was stuck. And he couldn’t figure out why.
As a coach unfamiliar with his training history, I needed more information to diagnose the problem. But he couldn’t remember what weights, reps or sets he did for the last few weeks. So I asked for his training log. But he didn’t have one.
If you’re serious about training, you need a log
There’s a difference between exercising and training. If you’re just exercising, i.e. just burning calories or working up a sweat in the gym, then you don’t really need to remember what you did last session because it doesn’t really make a difference.
But if you’re serious about your training, i.e. there are specific lifting goals you want to accomplish, you need to know what you did last session, last week, and also last month. In other words, serious lifters need to track their training data.
Why? Simply put, training works best when it’s rigorously documented. Because the training process is a series of progressive stress events (workouts) that accumulate to stimulate muscular adaptation, each workout creates progress towards your performance goal.
Each workout is critically important, so data from each workout must be tracked.
Past trends affect your training future
As a coach, if you come to me with a problem, I’d want to see your training log.
I want to identify any changes made to your program, or any training breaks or big events in your life. I want to see where you stopped progressing, or how you responded to different variations of volume and intensity.
By itself, a single session’s data doesn’t mean much. But over time, this data shows trends that affect your training future. As you advance, your programming has to be even more individualised; as coaches, we look out for patterns in your training log data that helps us to make better decisions about your future training programs and goals.
What to write in your training log
Depending on your preferences, what to record can be as detailed or as minimalist as you want.
At the most basic, you must record the following items for every session:
• Lift performed
• Weight used
• Number of sets
• Number of reps
You could add another line for your warm-up sets and weights, but this is optional. Warm-up sets prepare you for your working weight, but don’t add to training stress. You can write them down when you first start training so you’re aware of how to warm up for your lifts but are not necessary as you get more familiar with them. Saves space too.
If you want to go more in-depth, you can also record things like:
Cues: words your coach or you used, to remind you to fix certain issues.
Notes: little notes on the session, e.g. “Squats felt super hard. Didn’t sleep well last night. Also, afternoon workout instead of usual morning – maybe that’s why it was strangely hard?”
Interruptions: list down any breaks from your usual training frequency, and their reasons, e.g. illnesses, holidays, pregnancy, injuries, surgery, etc.
Bodyweight: note the fluctations; this is especially useful if you’re trying to gain or lose bodyweight.
How about PRs? This is something you want to compare quickly over time. If you’re using a book, I recommend either highlighting it on the log page itself so that it shows up easily when you’re flipping through, or just dedicating a separate page for recording PRs.
Physical notebook or digital record?
I know what you digital folks out there are thinking – why not just record it digitally? There are training apps that can make graphs to plot your progress, bring up all your PRs, and upload videos of your lifts to review whenever you please. Punch in a few things and all your data is there. Pretty cool stuff.
If you’re training remotely with an online coach, digital recording is definitely the way to go. In the past, online coaching involved sending training programs in Excel sheets and videos through email or WhatsApp for review. Now there’s specialised software for tracking your workouts and sharing the information seamlessly with your online coach. It’s amazing how far we’ve come.
Personally, I prefer to use good old pen and paper. Call me old school or stuck in the past. As much as I’m for digitalisation, there’s just something tangible and comforting about recording my workouts by hand. The physical act of writing engages more of your senses, and creates a stronger impression. It makes the act of recording more memorable.
In any case, whichever you choose doesn’t actually matter. What’s most important is that your training data is recorded, so that you can plan future workouts towards your goals.
Some folks get hung up on finding the perfect or best recording system for their training log. That’s a waste of time. Just choose one and start right now. Pen and paper is easy that way. You can always convert it to digital later (or not).
More tips to get the most out of your training log
Over time, your log will become your best training buddy. While you can just record data and leave it alone, here’s how you can actively use your log to get the most out of it.
Keep it positive. Training is also a mental game. Beating yourself up with negative self-talk does you no favours. Yes, you can criticise your performance, but support it with evidence. Even the best fall down sometimes – there’ll be good days and there’ll be not so good days.
Make it a habit. Just like you brush your teeth every day, make sure you record your log during every workout. Best not to leave it after your workout as one tends to forget the exact sets and reps done. Once you form this habit, you’ll get consistent data, and the benefits will show over time.
Review before each workout. Check back how you did in your last session, to clarify what you should look out for in today’s session. What worked and what didn’t the last time? Today’s goals should reflect that.
Review every month or quarter. Conduct a regular review of your training log (put the date in your calendar). This serves two purposes: to see how far you’ve come since the last review, to see if there’s anything that’s not working, and to set your big goals for the next review.
Use it as a motivational tool. Don’t feel up to hitting the gym today? If your log is a physical notebook, put it in a visible place you can’t avoid. If it’s an app, make sure it has notifications. You can also set alarms and reminders on your phone, or stick post-its on your door.
Make training a consistent priority
As any experienced lifter will tell you, sticking to training requires discipline. Keeping a training log can become a simple act of ritual – it makes you prioritise training in your life. It keeps you consistent, which is one of the hardest things to do.
And, it not only records your training history, but also tells a story of your ups and downs, and successes and failures. It can become as personal as a diary, and a trusted companion when you’re in it for the long term.
Training logs take very little effort, and their benefits accumulate over time. So if you don’t already have a training log, it’s highly recommended you start one now!
If you’ve facing issues with your training and have sufficient data, show us your training log and we can tell you how you can improve. New to lifting or haven’t started tracking your workouts yet? We’ll help you get your training log going – click here to download your basic workout training log to get started. Questions? Drop by or talk to us through any of our channels.