Forget the latest vascularity-exploding micronized supplement. Or the expensive compression clothing. If you really want to see better results from the gym, there is a tool much simpler, much cheaper and way more beneficial than the latest-and-greatest creatine or performance gear.
What is this magic tool of wonder? A workout log.
A bunch of mostly-blank paper, binded together. (And a pen.)
Never kept a workout journal/log/diary? If you’ve been maybe thinking about it, but aren’t totally sure you’re ready to, here are 6 reasons to keep a workout log:
Monitor Progression (and See Gains Faster)
This alone is worth the time it takes to write out the results of our workouts. (And really, is 3-5 minutes out of your day really that much when you consider the benefit that comes with it?)
You can see clearly – well, unless you scribble like a doctor – precisely what you lifted the week before, giving you a clear indication of what you should be doing this week, insuring that you are always attaining progression.
Back in my swimming days I kept a swimming log, and after each workout I would jump out of the pool, dry off my hands and scribble out the sets that we had swum. I would detail the intervals, additional rest periods, how fast I performed and also other miscellaneous notes like how I felt in the water and whether out-of-water factors such as stress, sleep, and work/homework played a role in how I swam.
Having all of this data meant that I could clearly see where I was progressing, and helped me set better and mostly realistic goals for the future.
It Will Keep You Honest
There will be days when the last thing you want to do is go to the gym. The weather sucks. You slept like crap. Everybody and everything seems to be rubbing you the wrong way. Then those thoughts start popping into your head—
Maybe I should take the day off from the gym. Maybe my day will turn around if I stay home and take it easy. The weather blows, so walking a block to the gym seems like too much of a hassle. (It really is awful some of the self-talk we indugle in when we allow our minds to run away with our thoughts.)
But then your workout log stares at you from across the room and whispers—
Yeah, but what are you going to write in me later? Nothing? Really?
Damnit, you tell yourself.
That pang of guilt of that empty page is often just enough to get you off the coach, shake off the self-pity, and trudge towards the gym where you end up putting in a good workout. (And then promptly wonder in bewilderment how you nearly talked yourself into not going.)
Your Workout Journal Will Keep You Focused
I know if I don’t have a plan when I go to the gym, I’ll find myself wandering from machine to machine, doing a few sets here, a few sets there, not getting as into my workout as I could or should. I spend more time at the gym, doing less work.
On the other hand, when I have a very specific and concrete idea of what I am doing that day, I find that I am focused precisely on what I need to do. This generally results in far less wasted time lally-gagging between machines, socializing with friends, or haphazardly gazing at Sportscentre highlights in the cardio theater.
Think of it this way: It’s kind of like going shopping without a list. Forget the window browsing, trying on stuff you aren’t gonna buy anyway; go in, f*** s*** up, and then get the hell out.
It Will Give You a Jolt of Confidence
Looking back on how far you have come is a great way to give yourself a little jolt of confidence. Every so often I will go through one of my old log books (either an old swimming one, or more recently, a workout book) and look at some of the sets, reps and weights I did way back when.
Often times I will cringe at some of the exercises I was doing – pec deck instead of bench, really, Olivier? – but for the most part, it’s a history of progression.
But what is most inspirational or powerful of looking back, is that in front of you is visceral, written proof of how committed you have been to your fitness goals in the past. It’s a pen-stained record of your personal workout history. And while I cannot precisely put into words the pride and confidence that results from gazing back into one’s own personal workout history, it does make today’s gym session a lot less intimidating.
Provides Goal Posts to Aim For
Let’s say you have created an awesome, whoop-ass goal for yourself. It could be a deadlift PR, dropping 4 percentage points of fat, or swimming 5,000m.
You know where you are now. You know where you want to get. But what has to happen between today-you and your goal to make it happen?
With a little planning, you can wield your workout log to build a plan of action to help you get there quicker. You know that to get to that deadlift PR you are gonna have to add XYZ pounds per week, while also training supporting muscles. Same thing with swimming 5k. Use your workout journal to plot the mini-goals or steps that you have to hit on your way to 5,000m.
Having these little mini-goals in the course of achieving your larger goal helps you build confidance (a.k.a. stay on track), while also having the benefit of providing, you know, results.
Shows Habits & Patterns
I never really mastered (mastered is used in a pretty loose way here…) my diet and nutrition until I started writing out what I was eating. Things like power-chugging a litre of chocolate milk in the middle of the night and washing down otherwise healthy food with dressings and mayo’s. While in the moment it doesn’t seem like a big deal – what’s a little more spicy mayo on my sashimi — those are the things that add up to help delay results.
Writing out what I was eating and when helped give me an overview of my diet that made me realize that I needed to make some changes, and exactly where.
Doesn’t mean that I still occasionally won’t get into the chocolate milk at 4am though.
See you at the gym,