Creating your journal
Your new journal has to meet some basic requirements, but it can take many forms. Whatever you choose, however, you better make sure it’s easy to take with you to the gym, or else your efforts will be in vain. The classic spiral notebook is the right size, and can be written up to keep track of anything from reps to weight. However, paper can quickly become worn, so you can also consider putting your mobile device to a use other than playing Eye of the Tiger on repeat. Consider using Google Drive’s spreadsheet creator, which you can additionally access your workout log from any computer. Another benefit of using a digital spreadsheet is that, if you’re a visual learner, you can create a graph to map out your progress, which can be very empowering.
What to track
At minimum, you should be tracking the type of exercise, the amount of weight you lifted, number of sets and repetitions or time spent—and, of course, goals. However, there are other motivating data you can quantify, such as your weight, hours of sleep, your mood and even your food intake, all of which can be looked back upon to give you a clear picture of how your exercise program is going. Additionally, keeping detailed notes about your workout is also incredibly important, whether it’s to note that you felt great or to admit that you took extra long breaks in between reps due to an injury. A journal is all about keeping you honest, and if you keep the little white lies to yourself, you’ll be seeing results as the numbers jump.
Part of the journal’s usefulness is that it acts as a roadmap to your increased fitness—and knowing where you’re headed is half the battle. For example, having all the exercises planned out for leg day can get you through it (somewhat) painlessly, as opposed to if you choose several exercises on the fly. However, this also extends to how you fit your training into your daily routine. Be sure to carefully schedule your workouts by date and time, even to the point that it would be more inconvenient to skip them than to continue on with other activities. You will also decrease the likelihood of overtraining (you should be taking at least one day off in between workouts), and you’ll keep yourself motivated to keep your appointments in order to avoid the sting of guilt associated with a blank entry.
Using it to benefit your training
Even after only a few workouts, it’s fairly easy to turn the numbers you’ve collected into tangible results. If you’re consistently crushing your biceps exercises and putting in more than 10 repetitions per set, it’s time to add another five pounds or so. On the flip side, if you’re barely eking out four or five reps, you know it’s time to swallow your pride and take that extra plate off the chest press. The number can also be used to safely push your limits without ever chancing injuries associated with overworking yourself—consider beating your last week’s exercises by one extra repetition, just for fun. If you’re feeling bored with a stagnant routine, switching things up is as easy as rearranging the order of your exercises, or switching them out with new ones.