“If you want it, measure it. If you can’t measure it, forget it.”
If you want to improve your performance, you MUST track it. This sounds like common sense because it is, but how many people do you see in the gym keeping a training log? Do you keep a training log? The difference between exercising and training is a training log.
Here are the 5 Reasons You Should Keep a Training Log:
- It is what athlete’s do.
- It allows you to measure the effectiveness of your program.
- It will cause you to consistently train harder.
- Recording small wins helps to sustain motivation.
- It is your best tool for overcoming training plateaus.
#1 It is what athlete’s do.
If you don’t keep a log, I would suggest you aren’t training; you are exercising. There is nothing wrong with exercising. You are still lapping everyone who’s sitting on the couch watching Netflix, but if you want to make progress, I suggest you train like an athlete. A large part of CrossFit’s effectiveness can be attributed to the tracking of personal records (PRs). When you are working out to improve performance by setting new PRs you are training like an athlete.
Athletes set performance goals and so should you. Instead of going to the gym with the vague goal of getting stronger and fitter, set quantifiable goals. For example, run a 7-minute mile or a five-pound increase in your five-rep maximum deadlift by the end of the month. Fractional plates allow you to break down your strength training goals even further. You can use ½ pound fractional plates to add 1-pound to the bar at a time. So instead of attempting to increase your deadlift by five pounds all at once, you can attempt to increase it by 1-pound each week. Most gyms do not have fractional plates, but my gym does. That is because I purchased them. I did not want to carry the plates to and from the gym, so I decided to risk the 33 dollars I paid for the plates and left them at the gym.
You can also break down your monthly cardio goals into smaller weekly goals. For example, you can increase your treadmill speed as little as 1/10th mile per hour (MPH) each week to reach your monthly goal. Small incremental improvements are easier to achieve and sustain. Progress by the yard is hard, but by the inch is a cinch.
The program I provide in my book encourages you to set performance goals around building your strength. Getting stronger makes daily activities easier, including biking up a hill or climbing stairs. Strength training helps you improve your performance on cardio-based activities. This is supported by a study, which concluded that heavy strength training improves running and cycling performance following prolonged submaximal work, in well-trained female athletes.[i]
Elite athletes are meticulous trackers. They track their training, their nutrition, and their sleep at a minimum. Some will track other metrics like their waking heartrate because a spike of 5 to 10 beats per minute, could be an indicator of overtraining or illness. Elite athletes track everything because they are serious about performance. If you want to improve your performance, keep a log.#2 It allows you to measure the effectiveness of your program.
Maintaining a training log allows you to gauge the effectiveness of your program by measuring your progress. Without a training log, you are essentially flying blind. Your training log will provide you with valuable insights. The more information you register in your log, the better. At a minimum, we should record:
- our workout volume
- our workout intensity
- the number of hours sleep we get
- the quality of our sleep (poor sleep can be a sign of overtraining)
- the number of calories we consume
- weekly average grams of macronutrients (protein grams at a bare minimum)
- weekly bodyweight average
You will learn from your log, how much training volume you can effectively recover from. You will learn what training frequency yields the most progress. You will learn how long you can maintain a high level of effort before you need to a de-load week. A de-load is when you intentionally train at a lower intensity to promote recovery. You cannot maintain a peak level of training indefinitely. I suggest a de-load week every 3 to 6 weeks, depending on your ability to recover.
Everyone makes great progress when they first begin to train hard. I would not use your initial training program as a gauge for what works. The programs you follow after your first 6 to 12 months are a much better indicator of what works and what doesn’t. If you are making progress on your current workout routine than it is effective. I wouldn’t change things very much until your progress halts.
#3 It will cause you to consistently train harder.
I don’t maintain a log when I am recovering from a peak training cycle. When we keep a log, we naturally train harder. We’ll look at what we did last week, and we will challenge ourselves to do better. Maintaining a log helps to foster healthy competition with ourselves.
We naturally push harder when we track our performance. Not only will we push harder during our workouts, but we will also be more consistent. Recording an activity automatically modifies our behavior by making us more mindful of it. Recording our workouts will make us more aware of our workout consistency.
A log doesn’t lie. If we have been missing workouts or skipping leg days, the log will make it obvious. If we aren’t getting enough sleep or are eating too many calories, the log will make that clear.
#4 Recording small wins helps to sustain motivation
Natural bodybuilders and modern powerlifters go to the gym to set new PRs. They advocate avoiding muscle failure. They want to perform a goal number of repetitions on each set successfully. They want to build small wins. These small wins keep them motivated because each victory is another step closer to their goal. After all, our goal is to get bigger and stronger, not failure. Achieving these short-term goals generates the small wins we need to stay motivated during the pursuit of our long-term goals.
Using this philosophy, they have built an impressive amount of muscle. Powerlifters cycle their weights. For example, each week they might attempt to increase their three-repetition max (RM) slightly. If your three-rep max on the bench press was 185 pounds, and you could increase the weight just one pound each week, at the end of the year your new three RM would be 237 pounds. That would add an appreciable amount of muscle to your chest, shoulders, and triceps. It is much better to succeed with a one-pound increase than to fail with five. Fractional plates make these small increases possible.
#5 It is your best tool for overcoming training plateaus.
When we fail to make progress, the three areas to examine are our DIET, our TRAINING, and our RECOVERY. All of this information is contained in our training log. Without a log, we are relying on our memory. Not the most objective source of information. A log would be a lot more reliable source of information. “The palest ink is better than the best memory.” Chinese Proverb
If our goal is to gain muscle mass, and we have stopped making progress we would examine our log and determine if:
- 1) we were eating enough calories and protein
- 2) if we were getting enough sleep
- 3) if we were training too much or too little
- 4) if we were getting stronger
- 5) if we needed a de-load week
As we gain muscle, we will need to continually increase the number of calories we consume to continue gaining weight. The reverse is generally true for weight loss. We might initially lose weight consuming 1,900 calories a day, but eventually, as our bodyweight decreases and approaches 170 pounds, we might need to consume fewer calories. I provide these numbers as an example. Everyone’s metabolism varies, that is why using the MyFitnessPal is a fantastic tool for determining how many calories we need to consume to gain or lose weight.
Our training log is our best tool for determining what we need to do to break through a training plateau. Without a training log, we are simply guessing.
Best Wishes and Best Health!
Self-awareness is the first step in transformation. Change your habits, change your life!
Learn more Why a Natural Lifter Should Never Train Like Someone Using Steroids – How Naturals Should Train
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[i] Vikmoen O, Rønnestad BR, Ellefsen S, and Raastad T, “Heavy strength training improves running and cycling performance following prolonged submaximal work in well-trained female athletes,” Physiol Rep. 2017 Mar;5(5). pii: e13149. doi: 10.14814/phy2.13149.