One of the first steps to building long-term success in weight training is tracking your workouts. It sounds simple, but so many people do not do this because it is tedious or boring. Tracking your workouts will force you to be consistent and ensures that you are progressively overloading. These, in my opinion, are two of the most important factors of long-term success in weight training. In this article I will give you a step-by-step progression that you can use to track your workouts as you progress from a beginner to an advanced trainee.
Sets x Reps (weight)
The first thing to note when you start tracking your workouts is the number of sets, reps, and weight. This is easy enough to track and will be the most important thing for your to monitor from week to week. For example, bench press: 3×10 (185lbs). By tracking your sets/reps/weight, you can make sure that you are increasing your resistance in some way(i.e. adding weight or increasing volume). This will also allow you to look back at what you were doing in the past which can help in planning for the future. Also, the habit of writing down your workouts each time you exercise will keep you accountable.
As you advance in your exercising, you may want to become more detailed with how you track your workouts. One way to do this is by tracking your RPE(Rate of Perceived Exertion) and making some notes on how the exercises went. Again, this is more tedious but can really take you to the next level of performance. Making notes on exercises allows you to make adjustments to get more out of each lift. For example, you may notice that you are letting your hips come up too fast during your deadlift or you feel better during squats with a slightly wider stance. Whatever the case may be, if you write down these notes then you can make the necessary changes to improve your performance.
RPE is an alternative to percentage based training. It allows for a little more flexibility(you don’t have to use the exact weight listed for each workout) on the days where you are feeling particularly good or bad. RPE is usually measured on a scale from 1-10 or 6-20. For example, if you have a single at RPE 8, you should feel like you have 2 reps left in the tank (10 – “given RPE”). If you have a double at RPE 7, you should pick a weight that you think you could do for 5 total reps(Double + 3 = 5). By tracking RPE along with your lifts, you not only identify how much weight you are lifting but how efficiently you are lifting it. This is another way to track progress. Of course, RPE is somewhat subjective so it will take time to learn how to properly use it.
Another way to take your workout tracking to the next level is by putting an emphasis on your training cycles. For example, maybe this mesocycle(3-6 week training block) you want to focus on range of motion or adding more shoulder volume. Whatever it is, writing down a few things you’re really trying to focus on can be a helpful reminder for you throughout the training cycle. You can also make notes throughout the training cycle and evaluate how things went at the end. These notes are great to look over when tracking long-term progress.
So many people focus on the training side of working out but not enough on the recovery side. By tracking your recovery, you give yourself the best chance of understanding your body’s condition/ability to perform. You can track your recovery by journaling when you sleep/wake-up, the food you eat, and any major stressors throughout the day. This can really help you determine why you may feel good or bad on a certain day.
In summary, if you are a beginner looking to take your fitness development to the next level, track your workouts. As you become consistent with tracking your workouts you can add more detail. These details, although seemingly minute, compound over time to make a big difference.