Last week we talked about volitional fatigue and the train of thought about training required to not only get the most bang for your buck but to also help you keep progressing. Staying true to that theme, this week we are going to talk about journaling or tracking our own exercises!
So why should you track your exercises (weight, reps, sets?) After all, as long as you know which exercises you are doing and performing them all to volitional fatigue you are hitting the mark, right?
Yes! But, there is flaw to that method alone, and as we all know, a complete sandwich does not stand with peanut-butter alone.
Imagine if you will, you put in a killer workout and feel like you really went beast-mode during your latest training session. Now, fast forward to your next round of that same routine again and you are trying to remember exactly which weights you used and how many repetitions you were able to complete. Unless you have a photographic memory this is no easy task! So you venture forth, select your first weight, and go to town. But, to your surprise you end up going far above your high point in the selected range before coming close to volitional fatigue.
“Oh well,” you think to yourself, “I’ll correct for the next round.”
During your next round, you start strong and then realize the weight is quickly becoming too much and your range is going to fall short this time through. Now we picked a weight that was a bit too much for our second round.
Already you can see that we’ve essentially wasted some of our potential that could have easily been avoided by taking a little time to track our last session with a few notes from a pen or pencil.
Tracking can keep you on track with little to no hassle!
Our next bit of reasoning for tracking is another simple concept that has monumental psychological effect on us as human beings.
Through tracking we can look back on previous bouts of exercise and physically see progress in quantifiable numbers. During body transformation, due to the fact that we are in our bodies every single hour of every single day and how much time we spend with ourselves, seeing physical change in our physique and taking pride in the strength we have gained can be difficult when you only have your word to take for it. So whenever we are in doubt of our hard work, we need only refer back to our notes to see the numbers increase and the exercise modalities we use go from beginner to advanced for a self-esteem and goal booster. Which rolls into a quick side note related to the topic, having numbers right in front of you makes creating quantifiable goals that much easier, “I did 15 pushups last week, next week I’m going to push that number up to 17!” Bam, easy set goal right there, and once you hit it you can refer back and revel in your amazingness!
Now it’s story time! Without having lived it or walked the path, what good would it be for me to offer you the reader advice? I mean, come on now, if I hadn’t done it myself, how could I trust my own information and expect you to trust it?
When I really started lifting heavy (through my college football career) I was under the impression that I didn’t have time or a need to quantify my exercises, I’d just hit the gym, lift big and call it a day. I won’t lie; I made great progress with strength gains and over the course of a year pushed my Squat from 185, to 275 (Not bad for having several previous knee injuries) and I pushed my Bench Press from 95 to 135. I was impressed with myself, and happy with the progress especially having no experience with power lifting previously. Here’s the kicker though, I was on a hard plateau and could only add between 10 – 25 pounds beyond that over the course of the entire following year.
Then … I discovered lifting to volitional fatigue and started keeping a notebook to track my exercises. At first, it was just an experiment; I would always see some of the biggest guys in the gym (or the leanest who would always crank out smoke-show routines) had one thing in common; they all carried around a small notebook and kept notes on their routines.
So … my findings blew my mind. I’m talking blown so hard I had to scrub brain matter off the walls for a week when I looked at the numbers and realized what had happened. Within a matter of three months (that’s ¼ of the time I had previously spent “building”) my gains exploded. Suddenly I was maxing out my squat at 315, and my Bench Press at 225 and I was accomplishing bodyweight feats I had only dreamed about, for example the hand-stand pushup.
I still question why I hadn’t started journaling sooner.
I kid you not, that is the only thing I changed. I added in organization and quantifiable ways to measure progress. This allowed me to take my knowledge and experience and apply it in ways that would continue to challenge my body and allow change to take place. I could see patterns, and switch up my routines in time to avoid a plateau because I could quantifiably see if I was still gaining or starting to flat line in any given exercise. In short, organization and tracking has changed the way I treat fitness as a whole and has opened not only doors, but windows too.
But Ferret, I don’t know where to start! I was never good at taking notes in school, now I have to take notes on myself?
Never fear! Ferret here, with some quick easy tips on quantifying without the hassle.
There are only a few important bits of information that you NEED to track to be able to pick up on your patterns and make changes accordingly.
They are as follows:
The formula is simple too; track it, when the gains slow down or stop, change up one aspect and keep on rolling.
The cool thing is, to make gains again with the same exercise; you only have to alter one of those categories to put a different demand on your body.
Weight: is a given, Rest time: by altering this you can force your muscles to respond to demands with less ATP or give them more recovery time to then increase the weight, Sets: Tack on another or drop one and add in a whole other exercise that targets the same muscle group, Reps: Less weight than normal, higher range, more weight than normal, less range.
So, what can you use? Keep it simple, a small pocket sized note book is perfect for beginning. If and when you take it to the next level and want to keep more stats on yourself, consider switching to a bigger notebook and add in other categories to consider.
Too much to handle? I am including with this post an Xcel file that I have created and use for my clients. It’s all organized for you, just print it out and plug in your data where it fits. You’ll be able to find it under the newly added section “File Archive.”
Stay classy folks!
Next week we will continue on this topic and touch on some advanced methodology of training to help us avoid plateaus and what to do when we hit one!