Going to the gym without a training plan is like driving across the country without a map. Sure, you will probably reach your destination (eventually), but you’ll make a lot of wrong turns in the process, putting yourself at the risk of becoming too discouraged to continue. Keeping a training diary will help you train with confidence and know that every single workout is taking you one step closer to your goal. Below are the top five reasons to keep a training diary.
1. You will no longer be confused about what to do.
The gym can be a scary, overwhelming, intimidating place. How many of those pieces of equipment do you actually know how to use? Probably not a lot. The good news: you really don’t need to use a whole lot. If you have a basic knowledge of how to lift barbells/dumbbells and go on the occasional run (inside or outside: your call!), you’ll be fine. Your training plan should include a lower body resistance exercise (such as squats, lunges, or hip extensions), an upper body push exercise (such as an overhead press or bench press), and an upper body pull exercise (like bent-over rows, assisted chin-ups, or cable rows).
Your best bet is to stick with a consistent workout plan. Perform the same exercises (one from each of the categories above here) for at least four weeks. Take a day to practice any movements that are unfamiliar, work on perfecting the form with a light resistance, and begin working up until you reach a weight that is difficult to lift 12 times. Perform 3 workouts per week with 3 sets of each exercise per workout. Aim to improve in some way every single day (this could be an extra 5 lbs lifted for the same amount of repetitions or the same amount of weight lifted for an extra repetition). If you get to a place where it is hard to add weight or repetitions to an exercise (typically this can happen towards the end of a month of training), make it more challenging by reducing the amount of rest you take in between sets.
If you’re a woman who fears “getting bulky,” please be aware that female bodybuilders don’t look the way they do because of how they train (usually the culprit is steroids). Lifting weights will, however, have the side effect of making you hot and strong.
2. You will be constantly aware of how strong you are becoming.
Your training diary will provide you with instant gratification. Seeing visual proof of how fit and strong you are becoming will help you stay motivated to keep bringing it hard.
3. You will empower yourself to identify and fix performance downturns.
Have a rough training session? Make a note in the margin indicating any circumstances that could be a culprit. Did you have a rough night of sleep? Did you eat too much for lunch and find yourself in a food coma? Was your mind swimming with stressful, distracting thoughts that made it hard to focus? Being aware of the issues that hurt the quality of your training will help you become aware of the sources of stress you need to deal with. Also, if you are consistently underperforming on a specific exercise, you could work on movement patterns that will help you overcome your plateau. For example, my grip gives out before my body is truly fatigued in some exercises, so I have to work on my grip strength to have optimal training sessions.
4. You will have an outlet to express your thoughts, feelings, and frustrations.
Every training session isn’t one to remember. Sometimes I wonder if I left my coordination at home or in the car, because I find that my balance and grace are at dangerously low levels. We all have the occasional rough day or week we just want to forget about, and that is okay. Vent as much as you’d like in your training diary, and if you want to be super productive, write down how you’re going to solve your problem. Continuous improvement is the goal, so keep on trucking.
5. Later, you will be amazed at how far you have come.
I have training jogs that are dated as far back as four years ago. I am a personal trainer, but that doesn’t mean I was always a fit guy (quite the opposite). It is amazing to look back at my first workout logs, when I was squatting the bar by itself (because my balance needed work) and I couldn’t do a push-up or chin-up (because my upper body strength was nonexistent). Don’t look at a training diary as a short-term thing. Be consistent with this, and later on, you’ll be amazed at how far you have come.