“If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” ~ Lord Kelvin
A very common mistake beginners make is that they don’t keep a detailed track of their progress.
Usually, they don’t know that they should or if they know, they think it’s not worth their time or effort.
However, tracking your progress requires neither lots of time nor lots of effort. You can easily do it by keeping a workout journal.
But first things first…
Table of Contents
Why Should You Even Bother?
Can’t you just train intuitively?
You can train intuitively if you want to, but there are some caveats.
Like, for example, you won’t accurately know if you’re moving closer to your goals and if you are making any actual progress.
On the contrary, by journaling your workout in detail you’ll be getting many benefits.
Here are some of them:
You’ll Know Exactly How You Performed In the Previous Workout
This is very important!
Especially as you become more advanced and you’re training towards harder moves.
Let me give you an example.
If you’re training to achieve the one arm push up (OAPU) and you’re training with incline OAPUs, you’ll have to progressively make the exercise harder by lowering the height of the surface.
If you don’t write down your workouts, you may not be able to remember the height of the surface you used in your last workout.
As a result, you may train with the “wrong” progression. Imagine now how much longer it will take you to achieve the OAPU if this happens 3-4 times!
On the contrary, by simply writing down your workout, the next time you can just take a look at it and see exactly how much you should progress.
You’ll Be Able To Make The Right Training Decisions
Apart from the immediate benefits that come from writing down your workouts, there are some benefits that come only after you’ve been tracking your workouts for a while.
If, for example, you’ve been tracking your workout for 4-6 months, you can take a look at your journal and
- see how closer you’re moving to your goals
- be able to see all the mistakes you did, the workouts you missed, and lots of other details.
If a training goal seems to take FOREVER to achieve, you can simply take a look back and see where you started, where you’re now according to that goal, and how you’ve been training during that time.
This will help you make the right training decisions to achieve that goal.
If you don’t have a journal, you’ll be “alone in the dark” second-guessing about what you did wrong, you won’t be sure if you’re moving closer to your goal, and you’ll probably be frustrated and not sure about your next move.
You’ll Feel A Deep Sense Of Accomplishment
A great byproduct of tracking your progress for a long period of time is that you’ll be very motivated to train harder when you look back at it.
Just a quick glance and you’ll know that your effort isn’t going to waste.
Apart from this, you’ll feel a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction about the goals you achieved after all this time of training.
What Should You Write About?
First (and most important) of all, you should write down your WHOLE workout.
- The number of sets
- The number of reps
- The rest periods
- Your warm-up
- Your cool down (if you did)
- The date of your workout
Other than the above, you can measure the Pain, Form, and Exhaustion  on a scale of 1-10:
With Pain, you’ll measure any pain you experienced during the exercise you were performing.
1 = no pain/ regular
10 = extreme pain
When you perform an exercise the pain you’re experiencing should be less than 3.
If an exercise is more than 3, then you should train with a different variation or take a look at your form.
With Form, you’ll be measuring how well you performed the exercise during the workout.
1 = completely out of form
10 = perfect form
When you’re performing a move, your form should be 9 or higher.Important note #1: your goal should always be to perform a move with perfect form – 10/10. The goal of measuring your form is to help you make better decisions in regards to your next rep, set or workout. Important note #2: the harder or more complicated an exercise is the less “forgiving” you should be on your form. It’s easier to get injured in harder moves because the resistance is higher. For example, it’s a lot easier to get hurt doing dips than regular push-ups.
If your form is below 9, then you’ll have to move to an easier variation of the exercise or train will less reps.
A great benefit that comes from writing down your form, is that you’ll be able to self-reflect and see where you can improve in the next workout (or even the next set).
With exhaustion, you’ll be measuring your level of tiredness.
1 = no exhaustion
10 = full exhaustion (ie. training to failure)
Unlike the Pain, and Form, your level of exhaustion can vary depending on the program you’re following.
For example, if you’re training with Tabata circuits you’ll want your level of exhaustion to be pretty high and as such you could progress to harder variations once the exhaustion level is below 8.
On the contrary if your training with GTG, you’ll want your level of exhaustion to be below 6 at all times.
Apart from these 3, you can also keep track of:
In this section of the journal, you’re gonna write any thoughts you might be having.
For example, you can write down something that you’d like to remember during your next workout.
When Should You Write On Your Workout Journal?
You have 3 options. Ordered in terms of effectiveness, you can journal your workouts:
1. During Your Workout
You can write on your journal right after each set you’re performing.
This will give you the benefit of not losing count of your current set and everything will be fresh in your mind.
You’ll also be able to judge your exercise form right way.
TIP: You can write down the basic structure of your workout prior to the workout. That way, during the workout you’ll just add the reps/sets without getting thinking too much about it.
2. Right After Your Workout
The next best option is to write down your workout after you finish it.
If you’re performing a Tabata based workout, for example, you won’t be able to write it down after each set.
3. As Soon As Possible
The last option is for special circumstances (eg. when you don’t have a journal together with you and can’t write it down somewhere else to remember).
Then you’ll have to write it as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that you might not be able to remember all the details of the workout if some days have passed.
Where Should You Track Your Workouts?
Based on the previous section, you should use something that allows you to document your workouts ASAP.
Here are 4 examples:
A regular notebook
This is the old-school way.
You just bring together with you a notebook and a pen and write down your workout.
Your smart-phone or tablet
Similarly to the previous one, you just bring with you your smart-phone or tablet.
You can use a simple text document, a spreadsheet, or even a workout-tracking app.
The major drawback of this option is that it can distract you from your training.
The only disadvantage of the computer is that you can’t take it always with you.
However, if you’re training at home, you can still use this option.
Just dedicate a file and for each workout create a separate document or spreadsheet.
I have personally experimented with all of these 3 tools and based on my experience a notebook is by far the more convenient choice:
- as you can easily see the previous workout by turning a page
- there are no distractions
- you can easily carry it wherever you go
A Workout Log
This is similar to notebook with the difference being that it has already a structured journaling template.
This is the only option I haven’t tried out, so I can’t comment on its pros and cons.
Other Ways To Track Your Progress
Apart from keeping a workout journal, there are other ways to track your progress.
Here are some of them:
If weight loss or muscle gain is one of your goals, then keeping track of your measurements can be essential.
This could be done on a weekly or monthly basis.
Depending on your goals, you can measure the circumference of:
- your waist
- your arms
- your forearms
- your neck
No matter what your fitness goals are, taking pictures is one of the most helpful things you can do.
There are little things that can be as motivating as seeing how your body transformed over the years.
You should take pictures of yourself on a monthly basis and you’ll need to take 3 photos:
For your photos make sure you’re unflexed, not-pumped and that there’s natural lighting on the room.
If your goal is related to gaining or losing weight, then keeping track of your weight is a MUST.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to keep track of your weight.
All you need is a scale.
You can measure your weight daily, weekly, or monthly (depending on your goals).
Your Body-fat Composition
This is important if your goal is to become VERY ripped (less than 10% body-fat).
You can use a body-fat caliber for this purpose.
You can document your body-fat percentage on a weekly or a monthly basis.
If you’re still a beginner or you don’t care about getting below 10% body-fat, you don’t have to keep track of this.
No matter what your fitness goals are – be it getting strong, building muscle or losing weight – a workout journal is the simplest (and probably the best) way to keep track of your progress.
If your goals require another method of tracking, then use that method in addition to keeping a workout log.
Do you have a journal yet?
If not, make sure to get one ASAP!
How are you documenting your workouts?
How has it helped you so far in your training
Let me know in the comments below.
Photo source: Joel Montes de Oca, Diary,
 Exercise form and pain are mentioned in the “Intu-Flow” series. I can’t recall where he mentions the level of exhaustion.