The Art & Science Of The Training Journal!
"Those Who Don't Understand History Are Doomed To Repeat It."
And in lifting, that's a really bad thing bro.
Documentation is one of the surest signs of maturity. The most successful and productive people in the world work from calendars and lists... some use electronic forms, others use more traditional paper-based materials, but all live and die by calendars and lists.
If you doubt this assertion, think about what people do when they're dealing with something that's really important to them. For example, money.
Now, many of you reading this might not have a stock portfolio or complex financial holdings, but most of you certainly have a checking account. And I'm also guessing that you have and make entries into a checkbook register, so you can keep track of your deposits, withdrawals, and your day-to-day bank balance.
If you're like me, maybe you don't calculate your current balance every single day, but at least you do it often enough so you can quickly "eyeball" what you've got in your account before writing a check.
On a larger scale, many of you reading this own your own businesses. Now stay with me here because this is very revealing, even if you don't own a business, or even if you never plan to own a business.
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When you start your own small business, at the beginning, it's usually just you (this certainly happens to be the case for people who start their own personal training business). Over time, as you grow, you gradually become capable of "outsourcing" certain tasks or responsibilities, which then allows you to do (presumably) what you do best—in this example, it frees you up to train your clients.
So pretend you've just opened your own training business, and after 9 months, you're making enough money to hire an outside company or individual to take something off your back for you. What aspect of your business do you want to delegate to an outside professional? The answer for almost everyone in this scenario is: an accountant.
Now the reason most small business owners hire an accountant or CPA as soon as humanly possible isn't because they aren't capable of doing the books themselves—after all, we're talking elementary school arithmetic here. Nope.
The reason we hire a professional to handle our money and tax obligations is because it's important. If you bungle your tax return, you may be fined or trigger an audit. If you have inaccurate financial statements, you'll have a false sense of how your business is growing and what it's worth. Truly, this stuff is important. It demands ongoing, accurate record keeping.
Obvious, right? Well, here's the obvious corollary that you're probably already anticipating: if your training is important to you, you need to document that too. Let's proceed...
One way to gain perspective on a particular issue is to consider the reverse alternative. So let's think about whether or not you can succeed in the gym without keeping a training journal. Anyone... anyone?
Do You Want Greater Results?
OK, I'll just come out and say, yes, you can make progress without journaling your workouts. This is obvious, because more people don't keep a journal than those that do. But the next question is, if someone is succeeding without the benefit of a journal, is their success because of, or in spite of, no record-keeping? Could they accomplish greater results if they did keep a journal?
New Kid In The Big City.
Let's consider another hypothetical. Your life's goal is to become Mr. or Ms. Olympia, so you scrape up as much money as you can, make the move to Venice, and right out of the blocks you meet a really nice guy or gal who's even willing to sponsor your "supplements" if you'll... oh sh!t, forget that, they just want to take pictures of you while you mud-wrestle a dwarf in the hot tub...
Well look, that'd probably never happen, not in Venice, no way—whew!
But let's say you meet one of your training-guru idols while you're at Golds. And to your total amazement, this person says they think you have potential and that they'd be happy to give you some advice on your training. Wow!
So after you've had a moment to assess what just happened down there (it was only a fart after all, thank God), Mr. Trainer-To-The-Stars asks to see your training journal. Only problem is... you don't have one. "No, wait!" you explain, "I can tell you exactly what I've been doing... I've got everything in my head!"
OK, maybe that would never happen. But it might.
At Least You Have The Memories...
Here's something else that might happen... or maybe it already has. You're on the couch, doing your best to keep that orange Cheese-Doodle powder stuff off of your shirt, and you're reminiscing about last summer when you were really jacked.
You're replaying the July 4th barbeque at the lake over and over in your mind. Particularly the moments when at least five people asked you what you do to look like that. And right now, you're wondering what the hell you did to look like that too!
Only problem is, you can't remember. Were you supersetting, or were you doing that Bigger Faster Stronger program. Damn! Oh well, at least you have the memories. Unfortunately what you DON'T have is the proven blueprint for the progress you made on whatever the h*ll it was that you were doing that summer.
The Four-Step Training Log Process
- Create your journal
- USE your journal
- "Mine" your journal
- Enlist social support
Step One: Create Your Training Journal
There are two broad categories of journaling tools: paper-based, and electronic. Paper-based journals include anything from a spiral-bound notebook to a Day Planner or similar type of notebook. My personal favorite in this category is the Planner Pad. Whatever you use, it should ideally be portable, durable, and easy to use. I strongly suggest using something with a durable cover at a minimum.
In the electronic category, you've got everything from PDA's to Excel files on your laptop or desktop computer, to training-log software applications.
Click Image To Enlarge.
Ah, The Luxury Of An Online Journal.
Sign Up For BodySpace Here!
Personally, I use a combination of paper-based AND online journaling: At the gym, I notate my training sessions using the Planner Pad, and then, when I get home, I enter the data onto The Training Connection. This may seem excessive or redundant to some, but for me, the very act of recording my workouts—even if twice—gives me a greater sense of perspective and insight into what I'm doing.
Step Two: Use Your Training Journal
- The perceived difficulty of the workout. You can use a 1-10 scale where 1 is the easiest and 10 is the hardest.
- Any unusual aches or pains. I use a 1-5 scale that I call an "O-Rating" ("O" standing for "orthopedic")... that gives me a general indication of how my joints were feeling during that particular workout.
- The time of day and total duration of the workout.
- The environment (How busy was the gym? Did you have a training partner? Etc)
- Any personal records you might have set during the workout.
Once you've determined what type of journal you're going to use, the next step is to take it for a test drive. Is your journal both flexible and functional? Is it practical? And speaking of practicality, what kinds of data should you record? Certainly you'll list the exercises you're doing, along with sets and reps, rest intervals, and weight used. Those are the basics, and that might be enough, depending on your unique requirements.
A few other things you might consider recording:
Basically, you can record anything you think might be useful and worth tracking. I always find that the endorphin rush from training puts me in a creative frame of mind, and so in my journal you'll see notes about new article topics, marketing ideas for my business, reminders, etc.
The Mechanics Of Workout Notation:
Although there are different approaches to notation, the quickest and most economical way to go is to use fractions, where the numerator represents the weight used, the denominator represents the reps performed, and the multiplier stands for how many sets you performed. So for example, if you benched 135 for 5 sets of 8 reps, your fraction would look like this:
If you're using a pyramid system and/or want to log your warm-up sets, you'll just use a series of fractions like this:
Another suggestion, especially if you use an electronic journal that tallies up your intensities and volumes: don't record anything less than 50 percent of 1RM for the exercise in question (if you don't know your current 1RM, just estimate it).
|50% 1 REP MAX CALCULATOR|
Step Three: "Mine" Your Journal
Once you've made the commitment to record your workouts, it's important to regularly "mine" your journal (to use a phrase I first learned from T-Nation contributor Dan John) for patterns, correlations, revelations, and inspiration. And by "inspiration," I'm not necessarily talking about the feel-good kind either. Your mining sessions may reveal some uncomfortable realities that spur you into action in an effort to reverse some undesirable trends.
Step Four: Enlist Social Support: The Third Generation Of Journaling
Serious (and even not so serious) lifters need a place where they can get together, lick their wounds, report new "PR's," and share their experiences and ideas. After all, you're probably not a big "gym-socializer," and you probably don't engage in detailed discussions about lifting and nutrition with friends and family. Am I right?
So Bodybuilding.com has started a new community. It's called BodySpace. It's a place where friends meet to log their workouts, and share/discuss their training with fellow lifters. There's NOTHING like this anywhere else on the net.
|BODYSPACE: STRENGTH IN NUMBERS|
Hopefully at this point, you're sold on the many benefits of using a training log and if you aren't currently using one, are wondering what you've doing all this time.
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About The Author:
Charles Staley, B.Sc., MSS: His colleagues call him an iconoclastâ€¦a visionaryâ€¦a rule-breaker. His clients call him "The Secret Weapon" for his ability to see what other coaches miss. Charles calls himself a "geek" who struggled in Phys Ed throughout school. Whatever you call him, Charles' methods are ahead of their time and quickly produce serious results. His counter-intuitive approach and self-effacing demeanor have lead to appearances on NBC's The TODAY Show and The CBS Early Show.