An exercise log has three primary functions: it should contain a pre-written daily workout or workout of the day (WOD, as CrossFitters say); it can be used to track training output per training session; and it’s a way to compare weekly and monthly training progress. Although a written exercise log (digital or physical) might seem too simple a tool to boost goal attainment on your fitness journey, there many uses for it that can lead to tangible results, regardless of your goal. For starters, exercise logs are a regular tool of professional coaches and personal trainers, who use them to plan and measure the progress of athletes or clients. If you lack the luxury of having a personal trainer or a coach, crafting and utilizing an exercise log can elevate you to an elite-level self-trained athlete. Below are six truths about exercise logs that support this claim.
1. Focus on your workout, not on what to do next
Always write your daily workout in advance, not at the gym before you get started. This gives you time to thoughtfully create your WOD, review your previous workouts, and research routines for your goal or find some inspiration to add variety. The more your WOD aligns with your goals and is composed of exercises you enjoy doing, always wanted to try, or need to do, the more likely you’ll be motivated to do follow through. Plus, the work involved in crafting a routine can create a sense of duty to carry it out.
2. Make sense of the complexity of meeting training goals
Tracking your training via an exercise log can be used to push you harder and prevent you from overtraining. As someone who once spent 8-hour days in the gym as a personal trainer, I can recall hearing gym members saying, “I think I’m going to train [this or that muscle group] today” or “I feel like doing [this or that workout] today.” If you truly want to reach a specific goal, you should never spontaneously decide what workout or exercise to do based on a random thought or feeling on a given day. This lack of planning will not only forestall progress, but increases the probability of overtraining or undertraining: neglecting to train some muscle groups or your whole body too infrequently. Many days at numerous gyms, I saw young women doing ab workouts day after day because they felt like training their abs again . . . and again . . . and again. They had no understanding that muscles require recovery days for development. Training favored muscle groups more often than other muscle groups can lead to muscle imbalances, which is an all-to-common pathway to injuries and a world of movement deficiencies as we age.
In addition to ensuring you train your body fully, planning your workouts with an exercise log is based in science. Large muscle groups, like the glutes and quads, require more recovery days than smaller muscle groups, such as the triceps, biceps, and calves. I’ll summarize recommended recovery times for the abdominals and glutes as an example. Despite popular public-gym practice, the abdominals need time to recover and shouldn’t be trained every day. An every-other-day training routine with varying levels of intensity each training day is generally the most the abdominals require. In fact, in many cases, one can develop well-defined abs by training them for no more than 10 minutes per day, twice a week. Abs are made in the kitchen, not (solely) on the gym floor. And the all-beloved glutes, require more recovery time than the abs, as they are a large, complex muscle group. Two days per week of training the glutes should be the maximum, with one day per week being sufficient.
If you train with no regard for adequate recovery periods, you can expect little to no gains, overtraining, undertraining, and/or injury.
3. Make progress
If your goal is to get stronger or to build muscle, progressive overload should be at the core of your training. Whether you are a weightlifter or a calisthenic athlete, you can use an exercise log to track and review your strength progressions from previous workouts. Doing this will inform you of how much resistance or leverage to add for the next workout. For a weight lifter, logging the amount of weight they lift every session can prevent them from forgetting what weight they left off on when it’s time to return to a specific exercise – let’s be real, in many training regimes, there are too many exercises and weights/progression levels to recall by naked memory. An exercise log can do that job for you.
4. Prevent injury and regression
An exercise log can prevent you from jumping up in weight too quickly, which can result in injury or a premature plateau caused by overtraining or overreaching (a state in which the body is stressed, caused by harsh training it is not prepared for). The visual accountability provided by the log can also keep you from the possible temptation of returning to a lower weight or lower progression level on days when you might not be as motivated.
5. Use for every type of exercise
Apart from tracking strength or muscle gains, logging flexibility, meditation, and cardiovascular exercise can also be beneficial. With cardio, for example, you can track the amount of time you trained and the type of exercise you did. If your goal is endurance, you can compare your training durations per session and make adjustments as needed. If your goal is speed, durations can also be useful to log to compare progress from training session to training session. For general cardiovascular health, knowing the exercise(s) and what intensity you performed at for a prior workout can keep you from doing the same activity all the time, for the same duration, and at the same intensity. When this common scenario is repeated often, your body will have no reason to make an adaption; meaning you will not see any further progress. With a daily exercise log, you can make sure you add variety and adjust intensity for every workout.
6. Track your mood
You can use an exercise log to jot down how you felt during a given workout. I find this useful because if I don’t feel well or if I lack energy one day, I’ll know for the next workout why my performance wasn’t in line with previous workouts. Of course, logging your mood during a workout is optional and might have little influence on the outcome of your goal(s).
Still not convinced?
Despite working out for nearly 20 years, I rarely train without an exercise log. Although I have no problem improvising, like mentioned earlier, there are too many poundages and progression levels in my overall training regime to recall by memory. My goals are ever-evolving; my body is never in a fixed state; and my daily workouts are rarely ever the same from week to week. I regularly change my individual exercises, set volume, set duration, or resistance level. My workouts without a pre-written WOD are often less productive than when I have them laid out in my exercise log. Based on my experience as a personal trainer and a trainee, attempting to reach a fitness goal without an exercise log can be chaotic and unsteady, leading to unremarkable results.
As an athlete for over 21 years and a broke single mom for most of that time, I created brokesinglemomfitness.com, now LLAFIT.com, to aid anyone who believes the road to fitness requires a lot of cash or time. In reality, the way to fitness is paved with knowledge and firm principles; teaching readers how to master both is the goal of this site. LLAFIT – Lifelong Applied Fitness