Become A Journalist: Improve Your Fitness By Logging Workouts

Today I want to talk about becoming a journalist, though, not in the sense of the word you might be thinking. No professional capacity here, just one that increases your personal capacity. Being borderline obsessive-compulsive since I can remember, I starting tracking my workouts when I first started back in 2008. I way overcomplicated at the time, creating a full excel spreadsheet for each exercise session and then updating the template later that evening on my parents' home desktop computer. In an effort to simplify, over the years my journaling has transfigured into more of a wear-and-tear, yet easy to record handwritten record. Wherever my workout is, my journal goes wherever I go. It's had its share of accidental stomps and spill-ons, but it's always right there when I need it. I even make my workout journals somewhat of a motivational art project, collaging images that get and keep me at the gym for that certain time period. Over the years, the images have changed from good looking dudes and chicks to ones that convey a deeper and more substantial meaning. 

Every gym session is now pre-prepped going in, to where all I have to do is scribble down a few numbers during the session and over time I end up having invaluable data, not just on how many sets/reps I did of a given exercise, but how that exercise felt... how I was feeling that day... how I felt afterwards. One of the keys to improving your exercise experience and productivity of time in the gym is knowing what's worked and what doesn't. I'm talking everything from time of day to hours of sleep the night before, training partners, what you're wearing; the list goes on. With this information stored and at your fingertips, the evidence is right there in front of you HOW to make your next session better. You'll know exactly how many of _____ you need to do to do one better than the last time, or maybe you'll just realize why you don't have it that night, but use that information to do one better the time after that. Being better is a matter of progression in feel/appearance/performance, not just subjectivity of numbers. 

So What Exactly Am I Doing? How Do I Start?

Starting is simple. Wait, I take that back. Starting will probably be the hard part. Once you start, doing it is simple. Buy a notebook of any size, though, preferably one that you can carry around with you during your workouts and look like you're multitasking your school projects while you're lifting. Flip to page one and clearly state what workout program you're starting/continuing or what your goals are at this particular time. On this first page, I also like to record my weekly split, in other words, what I'm doing on which days (of the week, month, etc.). 

Page 2 onward will each outline a workout or gym session with everything that you did and everything you felt (optional, but encouraged) on that particular day. There are multiple ways to setup and organize your workouts. The way I've come to prefer organization of pages are as follows:

WU = additional warmup set " = same as previous session

WU = additional warmup set
" = same as previous session

  • Top of page: the location, day of the week, and body parts I'm training or workout type
  • Down left side: the exercise list and any given targets
  • Beneath exercise/columns across: the sets, reps, and resistance completed
  • Bottom: additional notes on how the session went, energy levels, etc.

If you track using the above layout, you'll be able to record several workouts on a single page by not having to rewrite the exercises each time you do the same workout (my piece of green advice for the day. Let's save as many trees as we can). This also helps keep pertinent information right in front of your eyes when attacking the same exercises later that week or the following week. 

I, like many, will record in simple format the completion of an exercise in resistance x sets x reps.

For example, if you completed your first exercise of the workout – a barbell squat, and you did three sets of fifteen repetitions each, with 50 pounds added to a 45 pound bar, you would write:

95# x 3 x 15

The # sign isn't really necessary but I think it does help for a quick glance. Another common way of recording is with resistance as the last variable: sets x reps x resistance. I'd recommend picking which way makes most sense to you and sticking with it.

What If I Use Dumbbells or Other Equipment?

When you use dumbbells (DBs), I like to record the size selection of DBs that you use for the given exercise. So, if you do Overhead Shoulder Presses with 50# DBs, you could write ___ x ___ x 50#. If your ego would rather write 100# because you used two fifty-pounders, be my guest. 

Smith Machines use a bar that's lighter than a traditional barbell and have no range of horizontal motion. For these, Hammer Strength Equipment, and EZ bars –all of which you add plate weights, I suggest writing in only that resistance you add, either by simply writing the number, or by writing +___.  If you added two 45-pound plates to any of the above equipment, you'd write 90# or +90#. The main reason for this is that machines and equipment will vary quite a bit from place to place. You'll want to do your best and being as accurate as possible when logging, especially if you're someone who uses multiple facilities during the workout week. I've worked a lot on smart workout tracking with those who frequently travel.

There's a certain sense of nostalgia that goes along with flipping through old workout journals. For one, it's pretty cool to see how far you've come with regards to strength of a given lift or maybe the amount of exercise that you could handle at the time versus now. They also serve as a reminder of how many hours you've put in to making yourself better in some way. It may not always be what you started working out for in the first place. It might be something totally different. S'all good, though. 

If you're an in person client of mine, fear not, I've been your journalist. Online clients, you know I always preach this [insert: reminder to ensure your logs are up to date!]. If you're someone who's never written down a physical accomplishment in the past, maybe now is good time to start doing so. You never fully know where you'll be or who you'll become, but your workout journal, like a good long-time friend, will be there to remind you of your travels. 


Looking for custom workout programs or additional help with any of the above tracking methods? Look through my site and contact me for more info about individual consulting as part of Online Training _