Among fitness communities, blogs, and personal trainers, there seems to be a recurring theme we keep hearing time and again; keep. a. fitness. and. diet. journal. Doesn’t matter who you talk to, odds are they’re going to tell you to start writing down your exercises, the weights you lift, and the food you put into your body. They’ll go on and on about the importance of keeping such detailed notes, and then provide some semi-vague reasoning about how doing this will help.
Unfortunately, most people have a hard time appreciating how something will help them if A) they’ve never seen the benefits firsthand and/or B) already have an aversion to doing the thing in question. Now, I’m going to be honest with you and let you in on a little secret. Despite the hordes of well-meaning fitness professionals recommending the importance of keeping a journal, the overwhelming majority DON’T follow their own advice. I’ll admit it, I often tell readers to write down their exercises/weights and food choices. But do I do this myself? Nope. Personally, I find it tedious, annoying, and if done while at the gym, completely messes with the flow of my workout. But are any of these good reasons not to do it? Nope.
Considering I do understand the benefits, the only reason I don’t personally do this is out of pure laziness. One of my New Year’s resolutions this year is to start keeping an exercise journal (the food journal will have to wait), because I fully understand the important benefits doing so can bring.
So, to better get you on the keeping a journal bandwagon, I’m going to break down the most common question most of you have, and hopefully persuade you to overcome your aversion to keeping a journal. First up…
What are the real, measurable benefits to keeping an exercise and/or food journal?
First and foremost, there is the accountability side of things. I know, I know….being accountable to yourself is a lot easier than being accountable to someone else. Most of us will have no problem whatsoever letting ourselves down or wimping out if no one else knows about it. When you are marking down your workouts completed, exercises performed, and weights used, it’ll be clear when you’re falling behind, not pushing yourself hard enough, or slacking on the committment side of things. Here’s an idea: create a spread sheet in Google Docs and share it with a workout buddy. This way, you guys both have access to each other’s list and will be able to push each other and/or monitor each other’s progress. Finding ways to create competition in your workouts and fitness routine is one of those little known secrets of the very fit, and a way to lessen the inevitable burn out we all face.
Second, you can look forward to improved fitness programming. Everyone falls into ruts with their fitness routine, and often end up getting a little more repetitive than they’d like. Having your workouts in front of your face will make it much easier to call attention to the fact you’ve been doing the same (or a similar variation) plyometric routine. I’ve said many times, hitting your body with a variety of fitness disciplines is the key to unlocking that lean, mean physique and achieving your goals. When you chart your workouts, you’ll notice trends and be better able to buck those trends and introduce some new workouts to the mix…which leads us to our next point…
What I consider to be one of the strongest arguments for keeping a journal; the ability to plan workouts in advance. Studies have shown that planning your workout schedule in advance makes it more likely you’ll both complete those workouts, as well as continue working out over a longer period of time AND make more progress. Think about it..how many times have you walked into the gym, not quite sure what you’re doing on that particular day. Maybe you piece together a workout plan as you go, doing some of this and that, with no real order or direction. When you plan in advance, you know what you’re doing, and you’re serving as your own personal trainer. Learning to do this effectively will become a very powerful tool in your arsenal over the long run.
Now, there is of course another group of you out there who seemingly have much more discipline than even myself. I’ve heard from several of you guys and girls that you are already keeping a food and/or diet journal, but simply don’t know what to do with all the information you collect. First off, congrats on having the willpower to do something most of us don’t. Second, having all of this data unlocks a world of potential for you.
You’re now able to really analyze your progress, see what’s working, what isn’t, and measure have far you’ve come. Measuring progress is so much more than looking to see how much weight you’ve lost. Look at your exercises and weights lifted. Do you see a trend? Did a specific set of workouts lead to greater strength gains? Were you absolutely killing it during March and April, then slipped a bit in May? Again, you are now working towards becoming your own personal trainer to yourself. To do this effectively, make sure you’re marking down the weights lifted, exercises performed, workouts completed, etc. After a decent chunk of time, go back and look to see where and what was leading towards the most progress. Complement things with pictures of yourself so you can see where and when the most development was occurring.
One of the key attributes of a great personal trainer is the ability to look at, and interpret this kind of data, and effectively plan future workouts based on this knowledge. Learning to do this isn’t something that will happen over night. But if you have been keeping a journal for a while now, complete with progress notes, take some time to look at trends and spikes in your gains. You see, every body is different. What works wonders for one person, may barely make any noticeable difference in another. Our genetic make up is responsible for how we respond to exercise, so the key is to find what type of exercise works best for YOU and your genetic make up. I once had a client who would run TONS of miles, mixed in a good variety of HIIT training, and STILL couldn’t lose the excess body fat around her midsection. After analyzing her workouts, we introduced some heavy complex workouts along with timed cardio intervals to her training plan. It was as if we found the golden key to her genetic lock. Like that, the weight started to slowly but surely melt away. Within 3 months she had accomplished what she hadn’t been able to do in 4 YEARS! So much of achieving your goals is tied to simply figuring out what will open your genetic lock.
If you’re someone at home, sitting there with tons of fitness data on yourself and your workouts, pat yourself on the back. You’ve already made it through the part where most people fail. Now it’s time to take a hard look at the numbers and start planning future workouts (there’s that planning in advance thing again) based on what you’re interpreting. Fitness is a lot of trial and error, so go out there and give it your best shot. You may not create the perfect work out right off the bat, but with increased experience, you’ll become better suited to building more effective workouts, and will become one step closer to becoming your own personal trainer.