Many people who’ve successfully lost weight and kept it off swear by a food journal. The act of recording what they eat helps them to be mindful, pay attention to the choices they’re making and understand why they’ve dropped (or gained) a couple of pounds over the last week.
The very same tool also works for exercise. Keeping a fitness journal has myriad benefits, in addition to making you look like you’re hard-core to the muscle heads in the weight room 😉
If you lift it, log it
1. Increase motivation and accountability. Ever gone to the gym without a specific workout in mind? Wandered aimlessly around wondering which exercise you should do next? Left a set or three early because you just weren’t feeling it? We’ve all done it (and hopefully learned from the experience…).
The number one reason to keep a fitness journal is to make sure that none of the above ever happens. The simple act of creating a plan will keep you on track and increase your motivation to get it done.
Make sure to jot down how many reps and sets of each exercise you perform, including the load lifted and how you felt. I often include comments like ‘last set was tough’ or ‘ready to increase weights on this next time’ to help me keep track of when it’s time to progress an exercise.
2. Improve exercise adherence. New behaviours don’t become habits overnight. It takes discipline and perseverance to stick with exercise long enough for it to become a regular part of your day.
Keeping track of your workouts is a great way to develop a routine around exercise. Just seeing your fitness journal in your workout bag (or on your phone, if you prefer keeping track of things digitally) may be the prompt you need to get to the gym after a challenging day at work.
Personally, I love seeing the pages fill up; proof that I’ve been consistent in working towards my health and fitness goals.
3. Provide feedback. No matter how diligent you are with exercise, you’re not likely to see the results of your efforts immediately. I typically find that newcomers to exercise feel the benefits of their workouts long before they (and other people) see them.
Keeping a fitness journal provides quantitative proof that you’re making progress in the gym. Although you may not yet have lost inches or pounds, your notes on reps, sets and load demonstrate that your body is stronger and more capable than it was last month.
A detailed fitness journal can tell you what’s working and what isn’t. Use it as feedback as you refresh and refine your program.
4. Progress your workouts. I don’t know about you, but my memory just isn’t good enough to remember how many reps and sets I performed during my last workout, let alone how many pounds I lifted for each of the 8 to 10 exercises my typical workout consists of. Recall that your muscles need a regular increase in the load you’re lifting to continue increasing in size and strength.
My fitness journal is like an external hard drive for my brain; it stores the data that I can’t store in my head, making it easier for me to see that it’s time to progress an exercise (or add a new one because the old one has plateaued).
5. Quantify progress towards your goals. It’s hard to tell if you’re making progress towards your health and fitness goals if you’re not measuring anything. We can tell we’ve lost pounds or inches by weighing or measuring ourselves. Determining whether you’re getting stronger or faster also requires quantification. The easiest way to do that is to write down the details of each and every workout.
Working towards being able to do full pull-ups? Seeing that the offset load on the assisted pull-up machine has shifted by 30 pounds over the last month is concrete proof that you’re getting closer to your goal.
Looking towards building up cardio endurance? Keeping track of the speed and duration of your treadmill workouts will allow you to visualize the progress you’re making.
There are many options when it comes to choosing a fitness journal. From simple, old-school pen and paper to spiral-bound fitness diaries to smartphone apps. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose as long as you use it consistently.
For several years I was a devoted Fitbook fan. I loved that the book had room for both workout and nutrition details. And that it encouraged me to make a weekly plan as well as reflecting on my accomplishments via a ‘weekly wrap-up’ page. But with only room for twelve weeks worth of workouts, it seemed like I was always running out to buy a replacement journal. And they aren’t cheap.
I’ve also used loose-leaf workout templates like the one I give my online training group participants. There’s room to fill in the details of 3 or 4 workouts per sheet and no need to carry more than a single piece of paper around the gym. Store them in a plastic sleeve (helps to protect them from sweat and leaking water bottles…) and take them out to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over any time you need to feel good about your progress.
Lately, I’ve been using a digital fitness journal. The app is simply called ‘Strong’ (note that it’s initially free to download, but once you’ve logged 4 workouts, you’ll be prompted to purchase the full version; at $5.99 it’s still a steal compared to the cost of repeatedly purchasing even the cheapest spiral-bound notebooks). I like that I can choose from their list of exercises, as well as enter new ones of my own. While I haven’t found a way to create super-set or circuit-style workouts (the default seems to be to list all exercises as straight sets), there’s a ‘notes’ section below each exercise where I keep track of the organizational aspects of my workouts.
My favourite feature has to be the ‘Personal Records’. I love knowing which exercises I’ve recently PR’d on (as well as seeing the total number of pounds lifted to date).
Just like I watch the odometer on my car for ‘big numbers’, I’ll be watching the statistics screen of my ‘Strong’ app to see when I’ve lifted 100K pounds. I’ll be sure to let you all know on Instagram!
Do you use a fitness journal?
Are you ‘old school’ or ‘state of the art’?
Have a favourite that you’d like to share with me?