Whether your goals are building muscle size, gaining strength, or losing fat, keeping track of your progress is an important part of actually reaching your goals. One big secret to achieving your goals is that you should track progress to make progress. In other words, you have to know where you are to know where you’re going.
A training journal can be a great tool for tracking the progress of your workouts. It can help make sure you’re moving forward and not holding yourself back, and it’s also a great way to keep track of your body measurements to see exactly where you’re gaining or losing inches.
There’s no need to make your training journal complicated. You can take notes on your phone or other mobile devices, but using your phone might give you the temptation to check email or see what’s happening on social media. If you’d rather avoid that temptation or just want an effective, old-school approach, a paper notebook and a pencil or pen work perfectly well.
Whatever option you choose, it’s best to show up prepared so you don’t waste gym time writing your whole workout down. Before you show up, either write down your planned workout or print it from your computer to take the sheet(s) on a clipboard.
When you’re done with each exercise, record the number of reps performed as well as the weight used on each set. As an example, here’s what a typical chest and triceps workout might like:
|Monday 6/18||Sets x Reps||Weight|
|Bench presses||3 x 12, 10, 10||225 +|
|Dumbbell flyes||2 x 11, 10||60|
|Incline dumbbell presses||3 x 12, 12, 10||80 +|
|Lying extensions||3 x 12, 10, 8||120|
|Overhead extensions||2 x 10, 9, 8||70|
|Pushdowns||2 x 15, 14, 14||85 +|
Note: It’s a good idea to put a star or a + or – next to weights to remind yourself to increase or decrease weight at your next workout. Make any other notes that may help with your next workout, too, such as changing to dumbbells instead of a barbell or vice versa for a more comfortable range of motion, etc.
Progressive resistance, whether it’s more weight, more reps, or more time under tension, is a big key to muscle gains, so keeping track will encourage you to always make progress one way or another.
You won’t be able to add weight or reps on every exercise at every workout, but you can at least gauge your progress and see when things need a change. And don’t force weight increases when you aren’t ready. That can lead to injuries, so it’s sometimes better to make changes to rep schemes or exercise choices if things begin to stagnate. Maintaining a thorough training journal will help you track progress to make progress.
Tracking Visual Progress
Tracking your workouts is a great way to promote progress, but what about tracking your physical results? Without knowing your body fat percentage, using a scale doesn’t tell you anything beyond bodyweight. If you’re gaining muscle and losing fat at the same rate, you might get discouraged by the scale.
A better alternative is simple visual progress, but that doesn’t necessarily mean using the mirror. You see yourself every day, so minor changes won’t be visible from day to day, and your eye can play tricks on you with regards to both muscle gain and fat loss. Your mood and emotions can take control of what you see in real time, so don’t trust the mirror.
Instead, use photos and/or videos to visually track progress to make progress. If you’re uncomfortable with this method, don’t worry… You don’t have to share them with anyone, as this is really just a means to keep close personal tabs on how you’re progressing.
Progress photos and videos are pretty simple, but there are a few things you need to do to ensure you’re keeping accurate records:
- Wear the same or a very similar outfit every time while showing as much exposed skin as possible (shorts for men, shorts and sports bra or bikini for women)
- Set camera or phone on a tripod or in the exact same location (marked as necessary), or have someone you trust take the photos
- Use the exact same poses each time (front, back, sides, and any others that will help visualize your progress)
- Make sure you’re in the exact same location each time
- Take photos at the same time of day each time, and make sure lighting is identical
- Take the photos once every week or every other week on the same day (daily photos make it hard to see results)
As mentioned, try to make everything as similar as possible between photos. Take them in the same location, with the same lighting, and with the same or similar clothing. While better photos can often be taken outdoors, that makes it nearly impossible to duplicate the lighting, so indoor photos are preferred.
Training and nutrition are obviously crucial for reaching your goals, but you’ll never know if you’re getting close to those goals if you don’t track progress. Use whatever method is most convenient, and let your own progress be your motivation.