First things first: I’m not going to pretend that I have the best way to keep a workout log book, but I can say unequivocally that I know the worst way to do it.
Not keeping one at all.
No matter how good I think my memory is, if I’m honest with myself I know that I have trouble remembering poundages and reps for workouts that I might have performed only a couple of days ago, let alone a month ago.
So, keeping a training journal = more effective.
Not keeping a workout log at all = pretty much all downside.
So let’s get to the next question: what to track? How to notate your workouts?
How I track my workouts
I measure according to the following metrics:
- How many reps I did in each individual set
- How many reps I did of each exercise during the entire workout (volume in a given movement)
- The total amount of poundage I moved during a workout (total volume)
- The amount of resistance I used (how much weight was on the bar, or which size kettlebell I was using, etc)
- How long I spent doing one exercise from the first rep to the last
- How long I spent during the entire workout from rep one to the final gasp
To break that down further, it’s this simple:
I can put numbers on all of those. If you can look at a number you have an idea of how to improve it.
For instance, let’s say that on Monday I did a barbell back squat workout. Let’s say I did 45 reps spread over 9 sets with 225 lbs in 20 minutes. Here is how I would note that in my training journal.
Volume = 225 lbs x 45 reps = 10,125 lbs moved in 20 minutes
Intensity = 225 lbs on the bar
Density = how much work I did (10,125 lbs) in a given time frame (20 minutes, in this case). Density will make more sense after the next workout.
Okay, so a couple of days go by and I repeat the workout. This time I squat 250 lbs for 30 reps in 19 minutes. Here’s how it would breakdown and how I would measure the PRs (personal records)
Volume = 7500 lbs moved
Intensity = 250 lbs on the bar (This is today’s PR because I increased the amount of weight I was lifting for each rep)
Density = 7500 lbs moved in 19 minutes
The key to progress in strength training
Track everything you can. Put a number on anything you can. Then do whatever you need to to make those numbers–any or all of them–go up as frequently as possible.
Note that this doesn’t always mean just do more. More workouts, more time in the gym, etc. It just means that the numbers go up. I’m always looking for how little I can do to make as many of those numbers go up as possible.
So far so good. Also, I use a big bank ledger that gives me ample room to take notes, but it doesn’t have to be much more complicated than this.
The tool used doesn’t matter. Whether it’s a kettlebells workout, a barbell session, or stone lifting or grip training–the principles stay the same.
Good luck and enjoy!