I am sure you have read a lot of "must do" articles regarding foods to eat, exercises to perform, or supplements take. I understand then if you are a bit burnt out on that kind of advice, but don't give up on me just yet. Most times those "must dos" really aren't anything more than product promotion, content fillers, or the latest fad. They aren't really "must dos" in the since that they are paramount and necessary for long term progress and success in the gym.
However my advice is different. I know sounds a bit bias, but it is the truth. I am serious feel free to ask any other Strength & Conditioning Coach, Personal Trainer, or Physical Therapist whether they agree with my advice and I will bet you a lifetime subscription to the FTS Coaching Program that they do.
The reason for this isn't subjective. In fact it is completely objective. It is based on a ton of research and one of the single most important underpinnings of any successful training program.
This principle is that of Progressive Overload.
Which is basically a cool and smart sounding way of saying you have to make things harder or more difficult.
We can talk for many and many paragraphs about what exactly that means and all the different ways we can manipulate things to make training harder, but the key is that overtime your training should become more difficult. This could take the form of increased work capacity, larger amounts of weight, increased volume, or further distance traveled.
However we also know that Progressive Overload is simply one part of one step in the adaptation process. It is what helps us apply the correct stimulus to get our desired adaptation, but we know that in order for the adaptation to actually happen we have to manage the magnitude of the stimulus applied and allow the body time to compensate for the stimulus. This means manipulating the stimulus so that we are applying the stimulus at the right time, in the right amount, for the correct duration, and for the correct frequency for the desired adaptation.
This is where my "must do" comes in.
You MUST log and track your training. Whatever it is you have to track what you are doing and keep a record of it. This is because as Peter Drucker put it "what gets measured gets managed," and as we talked about above in order to achieve the desired adaptation we want from our training we have to manage and manipulate the stimulus we are applying. This allows us to make sure we applying enough stimulus in increasingly more difficult ways at the right time, in the right amount, for the right duration, and for the right frequency. However if we are not measuring the stimulus and the adaptation with equal importance then we don't know how to adjust the stimulus in order to change the adaptation we are getting.
For example if you are trying to hit a new PR on your deadlift you need to be monitoring how you feel prior to each training session and the total amount of volume and intensity you are training with in order to make sure you are allowing time for all the stimulus-response-adaption curves to complete themselves before training them again. Or if you are trying to add muscle mass to your frame in an effort to "beef up" or aid in fat loss than you need to keep an eye on the total volume and frequency with which you are training and measure this against your body composition results.
This means having a training journal is necessary if you want to see the particular results you are after. A training journal can be either a hard copy or an electronic copy. It can be as simple as a spiral notebook or as complex as a software like Adaptifier. The important thing is that you use it and record metrics that are meaningful to you as motivators, but also meaningful in terms of the goal or results you are chasing.
I have every single client of mine track their training so that (1) they can see their progress on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis in the gym, (2) so that I can compare the results of monthly assessments to the training stimulus of the previous month, and (3) to make the client "tune in" and "focus in" during a training session.
For my online clients we do all the tracking via a software called Trainerize, which is an example of an electronic training journal. Other electronic training journals are things like weighttraining.com, Fitocracy, and the aforementioned Adaptifier. Some of these have a gamification aspect which can also add some fun and motivation to the training journal. However for my in person clients at Revolution Strength & Conditioning we use hard copy programs on which clients record their training data and then I scan their data into the computer each month. Either way works well. I personally prefer a hard copy training journal, but that probably has more to do with habit than anything else. Electronic versions allow you to do a lot more with the data sets and display them in way that are much easier to interpret and make decisions off of.
The key again is that you use it every time you train and you record all pertinent information to you and your goals in it.
Below is an example page from my training journal from March:
I've written in red what exact information I like to track in my own training and I think this would be a really great starting place if you have never used a training journal before. I tend to favor the tracking of both things that are qualitative measures and quantitative measures.
If you can't read the red print on the photo here is a list below of what I like to keep track of:
- Duration of the total workout.
- Each exercise performed in my power, core, strength, and MRT training.
- Sets completed for each exercise.
- Weight used and reps completed for each set of each exercise.
- Rest taken after each set and between each superset.
- Temp of each rep performed in each set performed of each exercise.
- A perceived exertion rating.
- Three words to describe the training sessions overall feeling.
As you can see the list covers both qualitative and quantitative measures. This allows for you to account for some of the subjective factors affecting your training like enthusiasm to train and overall difficulty of the training session while still keeping an eye on more objective measures.
Please feel free to copy my tracking practices and I would encourage you to come up with any others you might be interested in looking at. I a friend of mine likes to write up a brief synopsis after each training session about how he felt prior to the session, during the session, and after the session. Whatever it is you feel might be important to your success track it.
I know some might think this is overkill and while I agree that training shouldn't be about sets and reps all the time and that there should be periods of a more intuitive approach I believe that for most especially beginners tracking your workouts is extremely important to long term progress and success.
Plus if you have ever visited other gyms, spoke with other trainers and trainees, or looked at the practices of athletes from a variety of sports one thing most of the really good ones who have great results have in common is they log and track their training consistently.
Hope this helps you take your training and results to another level and subsequently your life!
Happy moving and heavy lifting!
Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training