Do you keep a fitness training journal? If not, why not? Keeping one gives you an advantage in terms of staying on track. It’s also a way to monitor your progress and it can help you stay motivated on these days when you feel like sitting on the couch rather than training. And, there’s nothing more gratifying than looking back and seeing how you’ve progressed over the past few months.
Athletes are accustomed to keeping a fitness training journal, but anyone who works out should too. But, what should you include in your journal? Here are five things that you should document when you keep a fitness journal and why.
Fitness Training Journal: Include Reps and Resistance
Don’t forget the fundamentals! The fitness journal you keep should include the resistance you use and the volume of training you do on a given day. Also, jot down how long you rested between sets and how long your workout lasted. Make a note of how easy or hard the routine you did felt. This information is important because it shows whether you’re pushing yourself hard enough. If a workout feels easy, it’s time to adjust the structure of your workouts to make them more challenging.
Remember, muscles grow in response to progressive overload, a gradual increase in the stress you place on a muscle or muscles. Without progressive overload, you’ll eventually plateau, and your training will become stagnant. Stagnation is the enemy when it comes to transforming your body and your fitness level.
When you regularly document training volume and resistance in a journal, you can look back and see whether you’re progressively applying more stress to a muscle. What about other forms of training? If you’re doing high-intensity interval training or steady-state cardio, write down the interval structure, the length of the workout, and rate the intensity of the workout on a scale of one to five. Not every workout has to be a four or five, but you need to know how hard you’re working so you can make adjustments to maximize gains and avoid pushing yourself too hard.
Fitness Training Journal: Include How You Felt Before & After Your Workout
Documenting how you feel going into a workout and after you finish helps you avoid overtraining. Include information like your stress level, how much you slept, and your energy level going into the workout and afterward.
Here’s an example of an entry for this:
“Slept only 5 hours last night and stress level high due to unusual workload at the job. Lacked motivation and didn’t push as hard as usual. Still felt tired after the workout.”
With an entry like this, you know what you need to work on – stress management and getting more sleep. These factors are important for building a fitter, healthier physique as well. Also, note any aches, pains or muscle soreness you noted during your workout, so you can monitor them closely. That’s important if you want to stay injury free.
Fitness Training Journal: Include What You Ate Before Your Workout
You need good nutrition to power up a workout and to help your muscles grow in response to your training. Write down what you ate and when you ate it in as much detail as possible. Also, note hydration status, another factor that’s important for exercise performance. By doing this, you can see if there are correlations between what you ate and the previous entry, how you felt before and after your workout. This will help you optimize your nutrition to get the most out of your workouts.
Fitness Training Journal: Include Your Physical Parameters
You don’t need to track your weight or body fat percentage every time you work out but measure it at least once a week, so you’ll know how you’re coming along. You can expect your weight to fluctuate from day to day for reasons other than a gain in body fat. That’s why it’s best to follow your body fat percentage rather than just your weight. Body fat scales that use electrical impedance are widely available but aren’t that accurate. However, they can show changes in body fat, whether you’re trending up or down. The readings are most reliable when you measure first thing in the morning after urinating and before eating or drinking anything. Despite their lack of absolute accuracy, it’s useful to see how your body fat percentage is changing over time.
Fitness Training Journal: Include Your Goals
It’s hard to progress if you don’t know where you’re headed. A fitness journal helps you track your goals. To get from point A to point B, you need to know what each point is and make them specific enough. The more specific your goals and the more clearly you can define them, the better. Too often, people approach fitness training without precise, well-defined goals or goals that are too broad. “Lose weight” or “get stronger” are too broad to be of benefit. Better is a defined, short-term goal “do 12 back squats instead of 10.” You can adjust your goals with each entry to ensure that you’re moving forward rather than staying stagnant.
The Bottom Line
Once you have your fitness journal set up and begin writing in it, set aside time each week to look through the entries and identify trends. For example, if you see a pattern of low motivation, feeling fatigued, etc., you can look at your nutrition entries and see if you’re fueling up well enough beforehand. You could also think more about other lifestyle habits that might be harming you, like sleep and stress management.
Your fitness journal also helps you see that you are, indeed, making progress – that you’re getting stronger, losing body fat, or improving your cardiovascular fitness. For example, if you’re not feeling as tired after a cardio session, your endurance and cardiovascular fitness is likely improving, and you might decide to push a little harder.
Keeping a fitness journal regularly will give you invaluable insights that will help you stay on track to reach your goals. We all need the feedback that such a journal offers. Are you currently keeping a fitness journal? If you aren’t, why not?
CMAJ. 2006 Mar 14; 174(6): 801–809.